Chris Dupuy keeps his New Year’s Resolution to find something “old” from the world of sports every week on YouTube to help him pass the time during the pandemic.
There in a flash (or was it a streak?), I had my retro sports content lined up for Week 7 of 2021. I’d resolved, heading into the New Year, to find something “old” from the world of sports every week to help me remain sane, pass the time, and give me a refreshing break from the tedium of Netflix, stay at home orders, and the pandemic.
And as Super Bowl LV neared its end, a scantily clad fan somehow eluded the Raymond James Stadium security detail and dashed across our television screens. The intruder caused a delay in the action as players shrugged at one another and the TV announcers made weak attempts at humor.
Yet, I was inspired, not by the streaking lunatic but by the spark that had ignited in the fold of my brain reserved for nostalgic memories.
To YouTube I went, typing in the words “Mike Curtis tackles fan,” and my goal of maintaining at least one of my New Year’s Resolutions was satisfied for another week. Because, to my absolute delight, I discovered that NFL Films had dedicated an entire four-minute video to that infamous December afternoon in 1971, when a misguided Baltimore fan had darted onto the Memorial Stadium field.
Smiling broadly with the fearless self-righteousness of a man who’d been day-drinking for several hours, the young Colts fan had swooped in and scooped up the football that lay at the 40-yard-line, midway between Baltimore’s and Miami’s respective huddles. The fan tucked his prize under his arm and took a few glorious steps toward freedom before learning a painful lesson—that Baltimore Colts middle linebacker Mike “Mad Dog” Curtis was a bad man.
As I watch the tape, I see Curtis emerge onto the screen just as the fan (who seems to me to bear more than a passing resemblance to the McDonald’s Hamburgler) begins a drunken shuffle/stutter step move, his ear-to-ear grin captured perfectly by the NFL Films crew. And then Curtis absolutely obliterates the unsuspecting young man with a combination shoulder pad shot/forearm shiver that sends the inebriated buffoon flying ass over teakettle as the football flies off into the Baltimore air. FUMMMM-BLLLLE!
The short documentary was far more entertaining than anything the Bucs and Chiefs had to offer this recent Super Bowl Sunday, and also underscored just how different things were back in 1971. There was zero public outcry or blowback over Curtis’s bone-jarring hit (“I popped him,” Curtis himself says in the film), and there was certainly no social media back then to host a debate over the propriety of Curtis’s aggression. Shit, in those days they probably just put the fan back in his seat with a fresh beer and let him watch the remainder of the game.
As for me? Those four minutes courtesy of NFL Films transported me away from the pandemic and a Super Bowl played in front of a sparse, socially distanced crowd, and back to a time when things were oh so simple and straightforward. It also reminded me, yet again, what a vast array of solid gold video material is out there to entertain the stir crazy, quarantined, sports fan.
From the moment the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve remained disciplined in my commitment to periodic and nostalgic viewing of such sporting events, with a preference for the obscure, historic, bizarre, or some combination thereof. So, for those of you unsure where to turn next for mindless entertainment, uncomfortably aware that your free time is far outpacing the rate at which television writers can crank out new material, I offer you the following suggestions from the YouTube time machine:
- More from the NFL—Jim Marshall was a Hall of Fame defensive end and the spiritual leader of the vaunted Minnesota Vikings defensive line dubbed The Purple Eaters back in the late-’60s. Unfortunately for Marshall, what many remember him for most is the time he recovered a fumble (not really obscure or historic) and returned it sixty-six yards, all the way to the opposing team’s end zone (definitely bizarre), pursued at the end only by his own teammates imploring him to turn around. Type into the YouTube search engine “Jim Marshall wrong way” and learn all about how one of the NFL’s first true iron men got this moment so terribly wrong. NFL Films ranks Marshall’s foible only #5 on its list of worst plays of all-time, and I can’t imagine the four that topped it.
- For baseball fans who also happen to be history buffs, the answer to the question, “Who was the first Negro League player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?” is not Jackie Robinson (although that would be a solid first guess). The answer is Satchel Paige. Plug “Paige” into the YouTube search and up will pop a variety of entertaining interviews, biographical pieces, and old action clips. While most of Satch’s greatness isn’t caught on film, and his best years were spent barnstorming across the country and establishing legendary status in the Negro League, some of his accomplishments once he’d followed Robinson across baseball’s color line are the stuff of legends. Here’s one—in September of 1965, the Kansas City Athletics signed Paige to pitch one final game—twelve years after Paige had thrown his last pitch in the majors. It was a blatant publicity stunt by the struggling Kansas City franchise, looking to cash in on the former star’s popularity dating to his time as the staff ace with the Kansas City Monarchs during the Negro League’s heyday of the 1930s and ’40s. Satch was at least 59 years old (Paige was always cagey when asked about his age or date of birth) when he returned to the K.C. mound to face a hard-hitting Boston Red Sox lineup that could have cared less about the Athletics ticket promo. But what had begun as a stunt to draw a crowd became one more chapter of historic baseball lore when Old Satch threw three scoreless innings allowing only one hit. At 59! I spent over an hour exploring the various YouTube offerings that popped up under “Satchel Paige” and it was the best hour this fan has spent in front of a computer screen in a very long time.
- Sport/Not a Sport—I must admit that, in the name of nostalgia, I’ve also been exploring some of the fringe sports that captured my imagination growing up. For the fan of “professional” wrestling, enter into your trusty YouTube search engine the following names, “Andre the Giant and Chief Jay Strongbow.” You will instantly be beamed back to 1973, where from a ringside seat you and a crowd of rabid, barking degenerates can cheer on two absolute legends of the squared circle. Headlining the main event, Chief Jay and The Giant take on three out of shape schmoes from Palookaville, big bellies hanging over the front of their form-fitting tights. The “bout” was no doubt being held at some converted ice-skating rink deep in America’s heartland, and classic wrestling terms such as “noggin knocker,” “foreign object,” and “belly to belly suplex” filled the air. Pop some popcorn and put your feet up, the fake blood is about to be spilled.
- Taking the “Not a Sport” theme one step deeper down Dante’s Inferno, who remembers Roller Derby and its flagship franchise, the L.A. T-Birds? In 1973, the T-Birds traveled all the way to Tokyo to take on a team of Japanese All-Stars, and to the good fortune of future YouTubers everywhere, someone had the foresight to record the proceedings. Enter the words “L.A. T-Birds Tokyo,” and be greeted in the Land of the Rising Sun by the T-Birds play-by-play man (a throaty, bloated fellow by the name of Elmer Anderson), and listen along as he breaks every rule of modern-day political correctness in the first ten minutes of the broadcast. Looking back, I’m hard pressed to remember exactly why I found Roller Derby so riveting as a boy. But then again, hearing Anderson going full-on apoplectic as the T-Birds female star—“Skinny” Minny Anderson—drop-kicks one of her opponents to the face (Anderson described Skinny Minny’s adversary as “the Oriental,” claiming he didn’t know the young woman’s name because “they all looked alike”—yeah, Elmer Anderson really said that!), made my half hour of viewing worthwhile simply for the reminder of how much the world has changed (and sadly how much it hasn’t) over these last four decades.
- What do we have for fans of the Sweet Science? Only the greatest heavyweight fight you’ve likely never seen. And thanks to modern-day technology, all the action can be brought to your Smart TV simply by hunting and pecking onto your keyboard “George Foreman/Ron Lyle.” This bout originally aired as a Wide World of Sports segment back in 1975, with the sizzle being that both men had recently lost title fights to Muhammad Ali. Foreman, a former Olympic gold medalist, has reinvented himself many times since the ’70s (even managing to regain the heavyweight title in 1994), and has evolved into a beloved figure. But before charming the masses while peddling his self-named electric grills, Foreman was a surly, intimidating brute with a thundering right hand. Ron Lyle was an ex-con who’d learned to box while doing time for murder, his face permanently contorted into a menacing scowl. And when the opening bell rang on this day, Lyle was every bit Big George’s equal. The fight boasts more action in only a few rounds than you will witness in a year’s worth of heavyweight matchups today, with both men tasting canvas while landing haymaker after haymaker. Adding to the nostalgia, you get the one and only Howard Cosell calling the fight, which automatically increases the entertainment value tenfold for any 1970s sporting event.
- Speaking of Olympians, or for those merely looking to stoke a little patriotic fire, plug into your laptop “Jesse Owens Olympics.” Watch the track and field legend take it to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party, dominating the 1936 games under the most pressure-packed scrutiny one could ever imagine. YouTube’s search dials up a fifteen-minute documentary that includes commentary on the political backstory of the day, along with actual footage that helps the viewer capture just how meaningful a statement Owens, in his dignified excellence, made to the entire free world.
With that you now have the first seven weeks of my 2021 promise to myself. And with what appears to be at least a couple more months standing between me and a vaccination appointment, I’ve already scouted out a handful of promising options geared toward keeping the monotony at bay in the weeks to come …
- With pitchers and catchers beginning to report to training camps, next up will be baseball’s most famous walk-off home runs—Bobby Thompson in 1951, Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Chris Chambliss in 1976, and Joe Carter in 1993.
- The Battle of the Sexes tennis match between male chauvinist Bobby Riggs and pioneer Billy Jean King.
- Bill Russell’s last basketball game—Russell’s Celtics are opposed by the Lakers and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1969 NBA Finals Game 7.
- The Joe Namath “Guarantee” interview prior to Super Bowl III in Miami.
- Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” that launched the Pittsburgh Steelers Dynasty of the 1970s.
- The Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig (and Babe Ruth as himself). Best baseball movie of all-time in this fan’s humble opinion.
Luckily for us all, this sampling represents only the tip of an enormous, sports nostalgia iceberg. And once a week I resolve to continuing tuning in—for a little relief, some fond memories, and the chance to laugh out loud—like I used to when I was just a kid.