Going To The Extreme In Sports

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - November 30, 2005
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When I was a kid I just loved football (I guess that makes me a kid still), and some of my favorite memories are of driving with my dad and my grandpa from California’s San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco’s Kezar stadium in Golden Gate Park to watch the 49ers play ball.

In those days there were only about 12 NFL teams, all with good husky names like Rams, Bears, Packers and Giants, to name a few. I knew the names of the stars on each team, and the color schemes of each team’s uniforms. Of course, my hero was Y.A. Tittle, the 49er quarterback - bald head and all.

My favorite indoor game - when I couldn’t be playing in a pickup game of “touch” outdoors - was “Photo-Electric Football.” Who remembers that one? At the time, this was as high tech as it got! You had to plug it in! “PEF” consisted of a lightbulb in a light box about 10-by-14-inches square with a translucent paper on top and a sliding cover that pulled in and out. With the slide “in” - covering the lighted screen - a transparent offensive play and a defensive play were laid one on top of the other, over the slide so that when the slide was pulled “out” revealing the light as it went, the offensive play - squiggly line for a run, straight dotted line for a pass - evolved. So long as the run or pass didn’t intersect a dot on the defensive play before reaching the bottom of the screen, it was a touch-down. A spinner and dice accounted for the subtleties of field goals and points after touchdown, and kick off and punt returns. Although the game actually allowed for “cat-and-mouse” strategies, it was still a far cry from the animated, pixelized computer games of today. But everything was more simple then, including football season itself.

Who remembers when football season went from September through December? OK, the World Series infringed a little in September, and the college holiday basketball tournaments distracted a little too, but not enough to distract from the four bowl games all on New Year’s Day: Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange.

Basketball held the stage from December through March (I don’t recall any professional league then) overlapping a little with baseball. As a California kid, hockey was as foreign as ... well, as soccer! But in the East, basketball and hockey shared the limelight. In spring and summer, baseball was king. Track and field remained in the background except in Olympic years. Yes, there was a time when sport seasons were as simple and logical as the natural turning seasons.

But not anymore.

For starters, every professional sport season has been stretched in both directions, with at least a third more games per season: $$$! The NFL now goes from exhibition games in August to the Super and Pro Bowls in February. The NBA now starts in early November and goes on forever. Baseball’s spring training and exhibition games in Florida and Arizona start in February and stretch to the Series in October. Now, in November, we no sooner put the World Series behind us, and with the NHL back off strike, we have the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, NASCAR, the World Cup of soccer, and except for NASCAR, the college equivalents and the women’s equivalents and the Little League equivalent of everything too. Plus we have the PGA, LPGA and WTA with men’s and women’s tournaments. Then there’s Arena Football, Canadian football, European football and Aussie football. There’s in-line hockey, field hockey, skateboarding, snowboarding, speed skiing, trick skiing, snow biking, dirt biking and “Extreme” versions of them all. We use to have “surfing,” but now we have wind surfing, kite surfing, tow-in surfing and humongous wave surfing for money. We have Boogie Boarding, belly boarding, knee boarding, wake boarding and sand boarding.

The sports toys we once used only in the summer we now use in the winter and vice versa. But whenever and whatever, everything now requires special gloves, special pads, special shoes, special conditioning and a helmet. OK, except for beach volleyball in bikinis.

Whatever happened to those pickup games of “touch” on fall afternoons, and the “PEF” with the light bulb in front of the fire?

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