Sitting on my porch and enjoying the family, an outrageously beautiful day with a cool breeze every now and then, creating my outline for tonight’s piece and the idea hit me right in the mouth. As I started writing any and all ideas that popped in my head when all of a sudden it came to sports 200-plus years ago. My outline and thoughts took me so far I needed my computer. That’s crazy, because when I was in high school, computers, ATM’s or flat-screen televisions were not even invented … OK, that’s for another column.
I know when I mentioned “Independence Day” in my title a lot of younger readers immediately thought of Will Smith and how he saved the world from extinction from an alien life force.
No I’m talking about, let’s see if I can get this right, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yes, I did it. The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when our founding fathers signed off on some very meaningful words that hold true several hundred years later.
I was a junior in high school when the calendar year turned to 1976. What a celebration that was! Two hundred years as a country, and how far we have come in life and society not to mention sports (the common denominator of most social separations that bridges the gap between men and women, races and genders).
While there were several major world events that year, I witnessed an event that took place in the weight room of Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash. There was a young man by the name of Matthew Bustead, slight of build, thin but cut with a well-defined frame who probably weighed all of 140 pounds. He put his mark on 1976 with the attempt and completion of 1,776 sit-ups on an old Universal circuit gym set with a detachable sit-up board that allowed different incline increments. That was incredible.
Let’s take a look at sports in 1776 and take it in 100-year increments in time moving forward to the present day. In 1776, they didn’t have the hundreds of sports like we do today. There were three major sports: Boxing, cricket and horse racing.
In boxing, Harry Sellers defeated Peter Corcoran at Staines to claim the Championship of England. The fight’s duration lasted either 18 or 32 rounds. With boxing comes much controversy in 1776 like today, there is a strong possibility that Corcoran “threw” the fight. Sellers held the title until 1779-80. In my research, the earliest known “scorecard” templates where introduced in 1776 by T Pratt of Sevenoaks.
In cricket, England Champion County; Hampshire Hambledon; most runs scored by John Small (423), the most wickets by Lumpy Stevens (27). While the concept of the great American pastime, American baseball may have been formed from cricket, the games are totally unlike each other. In baseball the only similarity is the batting of the ball and again the baseball bat is much different than the cricket bat the “albeit,” which has a flat surface and a rounded back. The balls used in both sports are much different as well, in color, shape, size and material. The pitching style, batting style, and scoring are all different from American baseball.
Now let’s look at horse racing, where the inaugural St. Leger Stakes was won by Allabaculia.
By the time 1876 rolled around, the world of both professional and collegiate sports had taken on a much different face. There was American football, rugby (two different styles, league and union) Association club football (soccer), yacht racing, baseball, boxing, cricket, horse racing, golf, ice skating and rowing.
The British Open was won by Bob Martin. Horse racing competition had stretched across several continents (England, Ireland, USA, Canada and Australia) and the New York Yacht Club retained the most prestigious trophy called “Americas Cup” from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
With another hundred years under our belts let’s take a look at even more sports that were introduced. There was Alpine skiing, Australian rules football, Canadian football, cycling, dogsled racing, harness racing, ice hockey, motor racing, field hockey, snooker, swimming, water polo and tennis.
The major event in 1976 was the Olympic Games, where the United States finished second to Germany in gold medals (GDR 11/USA 6) and in overall medals as well (GDR 27/USA 22) with the Soviet Union coming in third, and the PGA tour leader was Jack Nicklaus ($266,439).
I remember 1976 like it was yesterday. The Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds) swept the New York Yankees in four games to win their second straight World Series. The Boston Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns in the finals and the ABA’s (American Basketball Association) New York Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets.
Watching all sports was huge in my upbringing. One of the biggest fights in 1976 was Muhammad Ali facing Ken Norton in a 15-round heavyweight championship fight. I remember watching it with my father, uncles and brother. What a fight that was!
The millennium brought us into the 21st century, and while all professional and collegiate sports were established and thriving, Title IX was and in some instances still is taking a toll on college sports. It is amazing that globalization, which has intensified even more after the Cold War still continues to have somewhat of an influence on the world today.
The major difference in the world and in sports is the internet, a true independence and the prime contributor to globalization, personal interaction, research and the ability to learn about anything and anybody in sports. Online betting is big. Fantasy football is a huge billion-dollar industry along with sports leagues which are viewed in a much different light.
When analyzing football both collegiately and professionally in this decade, I found that the NFL is thriving as the most popular sport of the four majors (football, baseball, basketball and hockey), with over $9 billion in revenue (and the projection into the future should double).
Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner led his junior-college team to a national title. He then signed on with Auburn University amid a lot of controversy with his father allegedly holding bidding wars for his son’s talents. Regardless, he still steered the ship straight and brought the War Eagles a national championship.
In 2011, the fans finds themselves in the middle, as billionaires and millionaires fight over billions of dollars in revenue and the possibility of missed games, not only in NFL, but now the NBA as well. What the hell is going on with professional sports? We have come so far in the development of many sports. The athletes have grown and progressed over several hundred years. When it comes to labor disputes by either the owner or players it affects the bottom line, the fan and then it starts to erode the great game which is now a big business.