I was reading through a book with some old Hunter S. Thompson letters from the late 80's. His career started with sports, followed a deluded path into the sport of politics and somehow came full circle with a column on ESPN.com's original Page 2 until his suicide three years ago. Damn, I miss him and perhaps that is the reason I began to combine two of my passions - sports and writing. HST was indeed a journalistic hero of mine, no doubt for the Gonzo approach to the sport of journalism as much as the Gonzo sport of life. Although he was more of a gambler - in sport, hobby and life - than I could dare dream to be, I find it eerie how much the World hasn't changed in 20-some years since those letters.
Even the reference points are the same - People were corrupt swine, the youth of America was being taught that sex equals death, the Cubs were setting their fans up for another failure, there was scandal and political unrest revolving around the Middle East, Joe Biden was in an uncomfortable limelight for something that occurred years previous, satellite companies and cable companies were fighting, a Bush was in the White House, the Vikings were quietly in trouble despite their high-profile running back, and drug arrests were rampant in the NBA.
The more things seem to change, the more we can say "here we are".
It's never changed, it's never been different; it's all here, all now. Sun up in the East - the News wires spring to life - Sun down in the West and the News wires stop until the next business day.
Sure we have blogs and access to more media. We've just dressed it up as delightfully oxymoronic - New AND Improved. It's still the same basic crap, the same human flaws magnified by the same human smugness - just more of it and now with the easy access of photoshop. Same "Now", different, glossier, MORE important packaging. It's a race to make whatever is the moment and crystallize it as "forever" - or at least as long as it can still turn a profit - and more of it!
Just like they did in the late 80's.
How are we better?
It is estimated there are currently more fantasy football teams in America than there will be tickets sold to all NFL games played this DECADE. There are NFL teams harboring salary cap space days before the new season begins even though it appears there will be no cap in the very near future - as in next year. For the first time since the cap was introduced, EVER.
There is an outrage over C.C. Sabathia not getting credit for a no-hitter, while the Angels' no-hits allowed performance against the Dodgers earlier this year passed by without a peep. The Angels would have had a "no-hitter" according to the rules that existed in the late 80's. But there are more hitless games than EVER before. And meanwhile, who ever stops to mention that no team in the Major Leagues has had a walk-off win on the road... EVER. Another reason why "walk-off" is just a stupidly over-used and useless term.
The most ironic development of this decade - particularly as it happens with sports - is that when something DOES deviate from the expected pattern and it does resonate on the "forever-ever" scale, it is relegated to dismissed, brushed-off or "let's pretend it isn't happening" status.
Take the Tampa Bay Rays for instance. They're doing something the "You Gotta Believe" '69 Mets did - perennial expansion scrubs to a Championship run - except with a more difficult path and 1/100th the believability and 1/10,000th the fan fare. The Rays are riding strong starting pitching, team defense and a solid bullpen as a team without a .300 hitter or 35 HR guy - similar the '88 Dodgers. People still believe the Rays will never be able to compete in the AL East - even as they are doing it handily, smarter and more fiscally wise.
Just a mere 4 years ago the Boston Red Sox were never going to beat the Yankees , let alone win a World Series. Yet many feel they are favored to win a third in 5 years??? Does the world REALLY change that fast and slow at the same time?
Or what about the impending end of the New York Yankees' unprecedented playoff run - which of course, was precedented by the Atlanta Braves slightly MORE historic playoff streak - remember them?
Instead we fawned over a guy who WAS EXPECTED to win 8 gold medals that actually did win the expected bounty. yet we prepare to dismiss Usain Bolt -who also saved his life's best performance for the right moment - or more assumedly cheated. Phelps was genetically predisposed to be an incredible swimmer we cheer, but a long-legged Jamaican dude must be cheating? When was Matt Biondi a heralded multi-medal winner and when was Ben Johnson a record breaker? Oh yeah... 20 years ago.
Twenty years ago, MLB pitching was dominating hitting though just a year previous it was an offensive explosion - now we have a plethora of pitchers gunning for 20 wins and sub-3.00 ERAs in both leagues.
Twenty years ago, the Yankees weren't in the playoffs but the Mets were.
Twenty Years ago, we were coming off an unlikely and heroic run by NCAA Men's basketball champs, Kansas University, the Lakers were in the NBA Finals, steroids were the big story in all sports, Pete Rose was banned from baseball, a young Pittsburgh Penguin was a Hart Trophy winner, Boxing was still without a true Heavyweight Champion and slowly dying as a sport and a horse won two but not all three legs of the Triple Crown. Eerie, isn't it?
And more importantly...
What about everything that "just" happened? It'll be buried by whatever the new Ever is tomorrow... even though it'll be the same exact "Ever" that happened 20-some years ago. Does it all need to be a ploy to push the now as "It" when there really are living, breathing sports fans that have seen "It" before?
I'm not saying the Past is better and nostalgia is unappreciated. I'm saying that Now is never more important than the Past or the Future. Sure, Now is all we really have, but why can't we just enjoy it without distorting its context? Why must Now be compared to Ever... ever?
Maybe that's why history repeats itself. Because no one seems to listen... Ever.