My Treatment For Missing Sports 1: Monday Night Football, September 21, 1970. Jets vs. Browns

Welcome to a new feature for my fellow sports addicts going through withdrawal.

The other day, I watched MLB Network’s broadcast of the 1978 Yankee/Red Sox divisional play-off, the Bucky Dent game. They showed the entirety of the game with a few pop-up trivia overlays, but essentially just gave us the old WPIX broadcast complete with Bill White and Phil Rizzuto.

And I thought, with ALL sports gone for a while, why don’t the other sports channels run old games? They own the films of all of ’em, and could add panels with surviving players the way MLB does, or put in pop-up trivia, or what have you.

But I then I remembered how people upload their own private video stash to youtube, and sure enough, there’s GOLD like this – the complete broadcast of ABC’s Monday Night Football premiere game of 1970, with the original commercials intact.

There’s a lot to digest here – Keith Jackson’s announcing, Howard Cosell on highlights, and Don Meredith on very infrequent color commentary. The differences both in how the game is broadcast and how the game is played from now is pretty striking.

The broadcast is simple – no frills, very few replays. Limited camerawork given the technology of the day, but all the key action captured. Cosell starts the show off with a nice dig at Meredith, introducing him with a lowlight reel of his QB career, but the tradition of the insults flying in the booth wouldn’t really get going until the show aged a bit.

God… those titles and theme song. Hardly the big production and hype we get now. No yellow first down line. No scores or ticker flashing. We don’t even get to see the game clock unless they cut to a shot of the one at the stadium,

And somehow, it didn’t really matter.

The game play is something to see as well. No celebrations or showboating after mere sacks and tackles. Not even after touchdowns. The guys just play, and try to play well. It didn’t seem like there were as many penalties. The refs weren’t even mic’ed up, their calls had to be explained by Jackson unless you knew the hand signals.

And way fewer injuries, even with the defenses playing with a lot more contact, especially in the secondary.

Oh, and those ads! Never mind the Marlboro ciggie ads as a glimpse into a lost world… all the ads with athletes pitching stuff are SO much more likeable than the ENDLESS God damn insurance company drek that runs over and over and over again during today’s sportscasts. We get Len Dawson & Joe Kapp pitching Gillette before Tom Seaver does. Other ads feature Roger Maris and Bart Starr. It almost rivaled the nostalgia brought back by the players on the field… Joe Namath, Emerson Boozer & Matt Snell on the Jets, or the guy with one of the best names in sports history, Fair Hooker on the Browns.

The halftime highlights go through some of the previous weekend’s games, with Cosell selling it like it’s a huge innovation to see league films. Maybe it was back then.

Those Boston Patriots managed to beat the Miami Dolphins, though! But the seeds of the Dolphins’ future Superbowl champions were in place… some highlight plays include Griese passing to Paul Warfield, a combo I remember very well.

And there’s always Rod Serling selling Ford LTDs or Goodyear tires that’ll keep EVEN YOUR WIFE safe if she drives alone… but one of the ads that really jumped out at me was the United Airlines ad touting flying a 747. Look at the people in it – how well dressed they are, how spacious and relaxed that plane cabin looks, the people strolling around. Flying was once glamorous, luxurious… now they cram you in like sardines, nickel and dime you six different ways and take away your water.

This is a lot of fun to watch – and it’s just a regular game from another era. No playoff or memorable game where some record was broken, just a normal weekly broadcast. The Jets were a year after winning their upset Superbowl, the fans in Cleveland still had hope, and no one knew that veteran Johnny Unitas would finally win a Superbowl that season.

Well, if NFL network or ESPN won’t run stuff like this, I’ll post it to share, and invite your viewership and comments! I can’t be the only one who misses present sports and loves sports history.

So as therapy for our sports on hiatus, look for old games here – football, baseball, basketball, hockey… whatever I can find, especially if it has the original commercials and show bumpers. I want the complete experience, right down to the lame synth theme songs, hairstyles, dated celebrity references… you name it.

My Past Continues To Die

A flurry of celebrity deaths of people all connected to the entertainment of my childhood and beyond…

First, producer Gene Reynolds died at a ripe old 96. He’d produced the early seasons of M*A*S*H along with Lou Grant and Hogan’s Heroes, Room 222 and a bunch of other stuff. Especially considering that M*A*S*H’s best years were under his & Larry Gelbart’s supervision, countless hours were spent (and often still are) watching Reynolds’ shows.

Then Orson Bean got hit by two cars while walking in Venice Beach. The first knocked the 91 year old to the ground and the second ran him over. I haven’t read any more about it – I hope it wasn’t some moron on their phone. Bean was a mainstay on game shows like To Tell The Truth back in the day, and more recently was wonderful in Being John Malkovich. Long ago, a friend of mine appeared with Bean in a small theater production out here – a very odd musical about John Cleves Symmes’ attempt in the 19th century to find the hole at the north pole leading to the center of the Earth. I’ll always remember hearing how after the playwright got stone-drunk after witnessing the flop of premiere night, supposedly Bean, playing Symmes’ old professor narrating the tale, came backstage and announced something along the lines of “Looks like we got us here a real bomb, folks!” and everyone erupted in laughter.

For the record, the actors were fine, some set design items were clever… but the script? Ye Gods!

Every backstage story I heard about Bean fit his TV persona.

And then, Robert Conrad died yesterday, star of one of my favorite old shows, The Wild Wild West. Conrad was always reliable for fist fights with his stuntmen buddies in numerous scenes (usually the legendary Red West and Whitey Hughes), and for playing tough guys. He played one of the scuzzier Columbo villains as well, a fitness guru who runs a string of crooked health clubs and murders the guy who discovers the Ponzi scheme behind them. His WW2 TV show got made fun of a lot in its day, but looking back on it in reruns, it’s a decent wartime adventure show with its plots loosely based on the memoirs of Conrad’s role, “Pappy” Boyington.

Conrad had a sense of humor about his image, doing those silly battery ads or losing foot races to Gabe Kaplan on Battle of the Network Stars. Many years ago when Howard Stern’s fans made it their business to phone into the Larry King Live show on CNN and annoy King with endless Stern promotion after King and Stern had some feud, Conrad was on King’s show being interviewed about some project he had coming up, and the Stern-themed calls started rolling in. King kept getting angrier and angrier, but Conrad couldn’t stop laughing and playing along with them.

It’s what Jim West woulda done, with Artie Gordon calling in.

Want more treasured elements of the past to blow up before your eyes? Well, why not start with tonight’s Oscar Awards.

I won’t make any Oscar predictions this year. I just don’t care anymore. I haven’t watched the broadcast in the last couple of years, and I’m not missing anything. I still love movies, but this event no longer has any sort of luster or importance to me at all.

And the WORST of all?

Well, I just got back from running some errands which included a stop at the 99 Cents Only store. And as I browsed the aisles, I noticed more and more items that are NOT 99 cents, but are labeled as supposed “bargains” at 2.99, 3.99, 9.99 and so forth.

They ought to change the name of the store to 99 Cents On Some Stuff, Anyway instead of 99 Cents Only. Amirite?

AND they didn’t have a big plastic pasta strainer to replace the one I have that developed a few cracks. NOR did they have the brand of deodorant I like. THOSE BASTARDS.

But karma – the shopping Gods smiled upon me, and I found a very nice wool winter jacket up the street at Goodwill for only twenty bucks. SO SUCK IT, 99 CENTS FOR WHAT WE BAIT AND SWITCH YOU WITH STORE.

Now I’m home, about to check the math on my friggin taxes. Bah.

When Topps Got Lazy: 1972 & 1973 Mickey Rivers

“Just zoom out a bit and sharpen the photo. Maybe a little color tinting on the sky, yeah, that’s it…. NONE OF THOSE LITTLE KIDS WILL EVER NOTICE.”

Oh YEAH TOPPS????

I NOTICED!!!!

And he wasn’t even on the Yankees yet. You lazy BUMS. Get off your fat bubblegum stained asses and take a new photo of the man.

OR – perhaps you could use the exact same photo every year for his career, and when he switches teams, simply write in the new logos with a crayon.

The Yankees got him & Ed Figueroa from the Angels before the ’76 season for Bobby Bonds, which turned out better for NY over the next three seasons where both players were instrumental to 3 pennants and 2 world championships.

When Reggie Jackson told a reporter he had an IQ of 160, Rivers responded “What, like out of a thousand?”

But then the Yankees traded Mick the Quick to the Rangers in the awful summer of ’79, when the Yanks struggled to catch the Orioles and Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. They got Oscar Gamble & his impressive hair back, but Gamble only really served as a platoon outfielder. Rivers played a good centerfield and was a great leadoff hitter, averaging .300 or better and distracting pitchers with base stealing and general speed, back when hit and run still existed.

He trained horses for a while, now he’s back in the Yankee organization (yay!) You can read more about him at his spiffy website here.

Just look at all those photos…. JUST LOOK AT THEM, TOPPS! Gawd.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Topps 1972 Rich Reese

Back before the times of ubiquitous digital photos and wall-to-wall television coverage of every game, the majority of the photos on baseball cards came from posed sessions with Topps usually done during spring training or even the previous season. Older cards have players in obvious staged poses faking a pitching windup or fielding stance or whatever.

I like this one of Rich Reese and his gigantic Freudian bat.

Is he trying to bash the photographer’s head in? Was he psychically predicting a light saber battle pose five years early? Was he doing his impression of Al Capone? Or is he merely illustrating a phallocentric interpretation of baseball’s emphasis on male virility via a cross-cultural archetype of traditional masculine power within the extradiogetical space? Well, that last part is what it says on the back of the card, right after how much he enjoys hunting & fishing during the off-season and before his stats. But I’m still leaning towards the light saber theory.

No big surprise that Reese would rather pose with a bat than a glove – he spent a bunch of years, mostly with some decent Twins teams, as a backup infielder and premier pinch-hitter. He’s still tied for the all-time pinch hit grand slam record with 3.

He did better after he left baseball. He went to work in sales in the liquor industry, first for the old Hamm brewery (long since bought out by Miller/Coors) and eventually became CEO of Jim Beam brands before retiring some years ago.

I’d like to think he swang that bat against his competitors in the booze biz the same way Al Capone did.

And now I’m thinking about having a bourbon. Thanks Rich!

So Long, MAD Magazine

A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.

And now it’s going away.

A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.

Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.

Fancy words for NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO JUST LAUGH AT CRAP ANYMORE.

MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.

Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.

Continue reading “So Long, MAD Magazine”

Truly Reliving My Childhood

Ah, Topps baseball cards… how much money and time did I spend buying wax packs of you back in the day? Chewing that cement-like gum sometimes, throwing it out more often… and sorting through the seemingly endless variety of benchwarmers to cull the great players, hall of famers and stars that I’d want to make sure I had in my collection?

Nowadays, a pack of Topps cards ain’t 10 cards for a dime, that’s for damn sure. And if I as a mature adult (cough) decided to buy this year’s set, I’d probably just buy some factory set on amazon or ebay and then enjoy parusing through it.

But then I’d miss all the fun of wax-pack-discovery…. what I experienced as a kid ripping open pack after pack and seeing the random assortment of cards inside. Maybe there was a Reggie Jackson or a Frank Robinson… more likely there were multiple Fred Lashers and Jim Gosgers.

Nothing against you personally, Fred & Jim, but I lost count of how many hard-earned-for-a-7-year-old dimes went across the counter in pursuit of that Ernie Banks.

AND THEN I MISTAKENLY TRADED IT AWAY…. oh GOD, that’s a sad story for another time.

Anyway, today I was in the local Target checking out some housewares as a diversion from the other grocery store in the same strip-mall, and found myself browing through the packs of sports cards.

They were to the left of the numerous packs of non-sports cards for all sorts of crap I’d sort-of heard of, like Pok√©mon type stuff, and other stuff I had no clue about.

They had hockey cards and baseball cards. (Surprisingly, no basketball cards). Topps puts out what they call a “Heritage” set every year, where they produce cards of today’s players with yesterday’s clearly better, memory-poking and altogether wonderful card designs. This year’s heritage set are styled like the 1970 Topps set, with the gray framing and cursive handwriting.

Not one of my favorite old designs, I must admit… (I’m especially partial to the look of the 1967 and 1973 sets, if you must know) but I prefer it to the new modern themes.

So I started looking through the various cello-wrapped cards out there hanging on those racks…. and found myself doing EXACTLY what I used to do as a kid – I carefully examined each back to see if I could identify the top and bottom card in the stack by looking through the wrapper.

We used to cheat & peel back the wax paper, returning reject packs to the counter & grabbing any pack that revealed a Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver or whoever. Today I found myself, a supposedly responsible adult, standing in Target holding cello-wrapped jumbo packs of Topps Heritage cards up to the light & pressing down on them to see enough of that cursive writing to find out if Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar or any other Yankee I’d feel like a happy 7 year old getting in a pack were on the top or bottom of the damn thing.

The only thing missing was some annoying clerk coming over with a “Hey, this ain’t a library, kid” or some other such witticism to completely bring back my childhood.

I woulda shelled out the five bucks if they were. I came up empty, noticing more than one pack with Chris “I get paid even if I suck” Davis and Nick “Who?” Pivetta in more than one pack on the top, CONFIRMING MY LONG STANDING CONSPIRATORIAL BELIEF ABOUT TOPPS that they print WAY more cards for players who SUCK versus the players who don’t.

Funny… I don’t think any of today’s baseball cards featuring big stars will attain the value of the cards of olden days stars. The players’ stats might all be competitive… Hell, Mike Trout puts up numbers that evoke Mickey Mantle with healthy knees, but I know that Trout’s cards will never be as valuable as any Mantle card. I’ll hunt for & buy old cards here and there, every so often… I’d only buy today’s cards for collection filler…. and that’s why I’d much rather they’d still be 10 in a pack for a dime, to be honest. An inflation calculator tells me that 10 cents back in 1970 is pretty much equivalent to a dollar now, and I think a dollar now would feel a lot less to me than ten cents did when I was a kid…. but there’s no friggin way I’m spending five bucks for only a chance at players I’d like to have with only Chris Davis as the guarantee.

The child in the image of the man, after all….

A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)

The vast majority of the crime ‘n’ mayhem category in my to-watch list are old black & white b-movies from the ’40s and ’50s, and I was more in the mood to see some out of date fashion and even more out of date social mores in living color, so I watched these two. One was very good nearly great, the other not so good but not terrible.

Do you like my precise review categories? Why, you’re welcome.

Let’s start with the good-to-great The Silent Partner, directed by long-time TV director Daryl Duke and scripted by none other than Curtis Hanson, from the novel “Pick Any Number.” Gould plays a nerdish bank teller in Toronto who puts himself into a chess-like battle of power and brains with a psycho robber played by Christopher Plummer. Gould figures out that Plummer is casing the bank, sets it up to skim money from the robbery, but then Plummer finds out, and wants his money…. and then the two of them keep trying to screw the other one over. And it’s wonderfully clever and fun.

Continue reading “A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)”

That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 2

After starting off with XTC’s final two albums, I thought I’d go all the way back to the beginning of their career and focus on their first few records.

It’s a lot like listening to Abbey Road and then going back to Please Please Me and reminding yourself it’s the same band, although the difference between early/late XTC and early/late Beatles is fairly stark. XTC evolved a LOT over a longer period of time.

Other than the distinctive quality of Andy Partridge’s voice, the debut album White Music sounds like a completely different band than the XTC of Apple Venus/Wasp Star. And to a large degree, it was a completely different band, also featuring the keyboards of Barry Andrews and the drums of Terry Chambers, but mostly featuring an earlier and rawer Partridge and Moulding at the center.

While there are hints of the literate quality of Partridge’s lyrics to come, the songs here are simple and quick. Some of them seem rushed and unfinished. But it doesn’t matter – White Music from 1978 overflows with energy, fast nervous beats, overdone affected singing styles and a lot of really good songs. It matches up nicely with the first/early albums of their contemporaries in the New Wave/Postpunk material that certainly flooded my record collection at the time – debut albums from Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, The Cars, Joe Jackson, Devo, Blondie, The Jam and others all came out around this time. And like White Music, they all stand as bursts of energy from acts that evolved, developed, mellowed and altered their sounds and styles over the years, some more than others, and some more successfully than others. The brash we-don’t-care youthful attitude of the brand new rock band permeates this record, and it’s a wonderful listening exercise in tracing the band’s evolution, finding the little hints of what was to come, and hearing a lot of what got left behind. A lot of it is quick and forgettable, but the better cuts like Radios In Motion, This Is Pop, or Statue of Liberty stand out, as well as the lone cover in XTC’s catalogue, an odd version of All Along The Watchtower.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 2”

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