This article is dedicated to and in memory of my beloved dog, Cruiser. I had to put her to sleep on May 10th. two years ago. Had she lived, she would have been 19 years old yesterday. I miss her very much, and always will. I wrote a feature story about Cruiser on May 20, 2004. To quote the closing statement of that article, Cruiser will always be in the most expensive luxury box seat on the 50-yard-line of my heart.
Story of the Week
Anyone can, with sufficient notice, come up with famous last words. But true genius is marked by famous first words. The first words on the telephone were, “Mr. Watson. Come here. I want you.” The first words on the moon were, “Houston, tranquility base here. The eagle has landed.”
But lunar exploration and the land-line telephone have been combined in (and trumped by) ESPN, beamed into space and carried through a cable. And so the most enduring of famous words may prove to be those spoken on September 7, 1979. “If you’re a fan,” said SportsCenter anchor Lee Leonard in his first utterance ever on ESPN, “what you’ll see in the next few minutes, hours and days to follow may convince you you’ve gone to sports heaven.”
26+ years later, it is difficult to overstate the importance of ESPN, though ESPN has certainly tried. It has, more than any single entity, changed the way sports are viewed (as a 24/7 obsession) and probably even played (with an eye to making SportsCenter highlights.) The self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports has certainly made me happier for it.
ESPN started as an alternative to standard television and newspapers. It was launched, as noted above, on September 7, 1979 under the direction of Chet Simmons, who was the network’s first President and CEO. In the beginning, it was not the force it is today, to be sure. Its most viewed sporting events were the games of the United States Football League. ESPN worked to gain viewing ground, and it did. In 1987, it hit the big time. It landed a contract to show NFL games on Sunday evenings, an event which marked the turning point in its development from a smaller cable TV network to the incredible marketing empire it is today. And 2006 will find Monday Night Football departing ABC and joining the ESPN network.
I promised myself I wouldn’t get into the subject of ESPN broadcast personalities in this article, and how I really feel about Joe Theismann and his very trite generalizations. What the hell; I'm entitled to just one. Now for the quintessential positive. Noted ESPN host and anchor Chris Berman is absolutely brilliant. He has done so much for that network. I love the guy!
ESPN was originally owned by a joint venture between Getty Oil Co. and Nabisco. Since 1984, the entire family of ESPN networks and franchises have been owned by ABC (80%), which itself became part of the Walt Disney Company in 1996, and the Hearst Corporation (20%).
It is estimated that ESPN is viewed in 90+ million homes in the United States. ESPN, as advertised, truly is the ‘Worldwide Leader In Sports.’ And for the very best in sports nostalgia, ESPN Classic is it!
Last Week’s Trivia
In what year was the first NFL overtime game played? I originally intended to make the epic 1958 NFL Championship game the answer.The Baltimore Colts defeated the N.Y. Giants in that game, and put the NFL on the big-time sports map once and for all. However, there was an earlier NFL overtime game played. It was in 1955 in Portland, Oregon, a pre-season game (that’s why I wasn’t going to count it) won by the L.A. Rams over the N.Y. Giants. Although pre-season, it technically was the very first NFL overtime game ever played. Ironically, both of those games ended 23-17. With all the e-mails sent me depicting the answer to be that 1958 spectacular, only my learned junkie regular, Jonathan Krost, came up with that 1955 game.
Trivia Question of the Week
1947 was the first year the MLB Rookie of the Year Award took place. It started in the National League and was awarded to Jackie Robinson, and has been known as the Jackie Robinson Award since 1987, some 40 years after the fact. The American League has honored its top rookie since 1949.
Here’s the question. Can you name the major league team that once produced five consecutive rookies-of-the-year, the winners and the years? Can you name the team that later produced four straight rookie award winners, the recipients of the award and the years? Both are incredible team feats obviously. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.