Sports Talk with Mike 5-5-'20

Updated: May 17, 2020

—The world of sports, oh how I am missing it. Yes, the professional athletes are overpaid. Yes, the results in professional baseball are skewed toward those who are willing to compensate their players the most. Sometimes in college athletics, the best of the best end up at a university that has recruited them illegally or has promised “help” with their academics. Yes, boxing can be downright vicious and there are links to the beating that football players take and brain disease. But, for all that is wrong with athletics, there is so much more that is right. There is just something about competition that can’t be beat. There is something about seeing two individuals or two teams strapping on their equipment and going head to head. It is the rush of adrenaline. It is the escape from the “real” world. It is the memories that are made. It is the talking points that we can discuss for the rest of our lives. The world of sports, oh how I am missing it. — I often think about how lucky I am to have witnessed as much as I have through the years in the world of sports whether it was on television or in person. Growing up, I was a huge fan of boxing, and if the brutality of the sport didn’t turn you off, the 70’s and 80’s had many can’t miss moments. The heavyweight division was beyond belief back then with Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Shavers, Holmes and more. The Thrilla in Manila and The Rumble in the Jungle were must-see tv. Then there were those in the welterweight and middle weight divisions like Leonard, Hagler, Holmes, Arguello and Duran. You didn’t want to miss any of these fights. And, that Mike Tyson, he was just an animal. I don’t watch boxing so much anymore. When they quit airing the championship fights on network television and started putting everything on pay-per-view, that was the end for me. It was a sport that the best man usually won. But, every once in a while, the underdog would land a haymaker and history would be written. That’s why they play the games, or in the case of boxing, that’s why the fight the fights. —When one watches sports, one seems to be able to identify with certain athletes. Whether it is the team they play for, the talent they display, the person’s look, the color of their uniform, we like certain athletes more than others. Two of my favorite athletes of all time were Willie Stargell and Franco Harris. I always enjoyed watching them perform. Willie gained recognition as the leader of the Pirates in his later years when he was affectionately known as “Pops” for being a father-figure to his teammates. He had a Hall of Fame career with the Pirates and could hit the ball a country mile. When working at Big Six Shopper after graduating from high school, I had the pleasure to meet Stargell. He came into the store one day to purchase a box of garbage bags and a pack of gum. I chatted with him for a few minutes, but, it was a few minutes that I will never forget. Why would Willie stop at a little convenience store off of I-80 to purchase garbage bags and gum? Who knows, but, it was a thrill to meet one of my sporting idols. In another chance meeting, my daughter Andrea and I wound up being on an elevator in an office complex in Cranberry Township with Franco Harris. Franco also had a Hall of Fame career and his Immaculate Reception seemed to jumpstart the Steelers to what would be a decade of unforgettable moments. Again, it was only a few minutes and there was some small talk about the Steelers glory days for the three floors that we traveled together. And again, it was a moment with a sporting idol that I will never forget. One thing that I have found out, is that while these guys have a whole lot more athletic ability than most of us do, they are still human beings. They have health issues, some don’t know how to manage their money, many have legal issues and the divorce rate among athletes is every bit as high as it is for non-athletes. It just so happened that these two human beings were good enough to talk with a guy for a few minutes that thought the world of them.

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