Who doesn’t love this time of year? As far as weather when the sweltering heat gives way to more mild temperatures? In the sports world there is not a better time on the calendar to be a fan of the big three of football, baseball, and basketball. I also love hockey and golf and I even played tennis in high school, but for this conversation let’s keep it to the 3. I got the “itch” for athletics when I was a kid living in Metaire, Louisiana in the mid 1970s.
I saw “Pistol” Pete Maravich with the New Orleans Jazz and Archie Manning and the Saints live and on television, I even listened on the radio as well. The only baseball team I could get on my transistor radio was the Houston Astros, so I became a fan of that team. Later when we moved to Houston I got to see possibly my all time favorite athlete, Nolan Ryan, pitch a few games in the Astrodome. With Maravich, who also was an LSU alumn, he was a combination of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Harry Potter. He was an absolute wizard with the ball in his hands and still holds the NCAA career scoring record at over 44 points a game before the three pointer was introduced.
Archie Manning was the face of a horrendous and glorious Saints team that was a cellar dweller and averaged just under 4 wins the entire decade of the 1970s. Charles McClendon was leading players like Charles “The Great” Alexander for the LSU football team. Bear Bryant had Alabama near the top as was USC, Oklahoma and Nebraska. The Steelers and Cowboys were great then as was Miami, the Raiders and hard luck Vikings with Fran Tarkenton captured my attention as well. The “Purple People Eaters”, “Steel Curtain” “Doomsday Defense”, “Killer Bs”, “Fearsome Foursome” were nicknames of some of the NFL defenses back then.
Baseball has the World Series this time of year and as an Astro fan it’s the greatest stretch in their history as they try to repeat as World Champions this season. I was enthralled by watching players like Nolan Ryan, Don Mattingly, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt every Saturday on the baseball game if the week. The personalities of sports drew you in as well Woody Hayes and Billy Martin had punching incidents and Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles manager, kicked dirt on umpires for fun. Bobby Knight was another great coach with anger management problems, but that’s the thing, sports playing or watching can get emotional as you become invested in the outcomes.
John McEnroe was a tennis player I modeled my game after, he was an artist and used angles mlst players couldn’t even imagine, but he was an emotional player who thrived after getting upset. My game on the basketball or tennis court suffered immensely if I got excited. I’ve teared up a few times during my fandom, twice was the racing deaths of Aryton Senna and Dale Earnhardt Sr and when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. Who Dat Nation was a younger version of the Boston Red Sox fan who thought there was a possible, and some thought likely, voodoo curse. Then as Jim Henderson said “Pigs fly” and yours truly cried.
I am not ashamed to say I got a bit weepy that night, because I have an investment in these teams, these players, and all the stories that make sports the ultimate diversion. It is an escape from things like Katrina, when Steve Gleason and company started the “Rebirth.” When I was a kid sports was a babysitter for me and whether watching or playing it kept me out of trouble. Maybe you have a sick friend and you don’t have much money and you just want to help them forget for awhile. What can you do? You can turn the game on, sports are made for times like that, especially this time of year. One last thing it’s always better when the teams you love are good too, how are the Saints, LSU, and Houston Astros doing anyway?