The other day I turned a game on just as some dude was standing over a quarterback he had sacked and before I could sit down he commenced to prancing around like James Cagney portraying George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy or, to the young crowd, like Chris Brown doing the James Brown.
Then I saw the score and this guy’s team was about 30 points down. So I couldn’t help but wonder, pray tell, what was he celebrating? Especially since he got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct or was it for not knowing the choreography well?
Hey, I know, the young man was acting out a scene in the new ways of these new days. But in my jock days if somebody was whomping me like that I wouldn’t have wanted to be seen and this guy was doing a Radio City Rockettes dance routine.
Truth is, celebrating isn’t the only difference between these athletes of today and my generation of competitors. They do things athletically we couldn’t have dreamed of doing no matter how “in the zone” we were.
I mean we used to talk about it like we really could do it, but these guys can practically literally “jump out of the gym!” They can hang with kangaroos.
If the ball is not hit clean out of the park they will run it down like a greyhound chasing a frisbee.
They’re big. They’re strong. They go to sports camps. They work out all year long. But other than being tons better than us another big difference between them and my peers is that it never occurred to us to seek any attention beyond just playing the game. We wouldn’t have ever thought of jumping into the stands into the arms of the fans or dunking the ball over the goalpost (the few among us who could do such a thing) or pretending the football is a newborn baby or a chainsaw.
I’m trying to picture anybody, outside of Muhammad Ali (and he was a master showman), back in my day, who was overly demonstrative.
We just weren’t ready for “entertaining.” If Bill Russell blocked shots like these guys do today, slapping the ball like it was a menace to society, nobody would come to the games because the ball would have been flying into the crowd like richocheting machine gun bullets. He just tapped the ball to himself or a teammate and the Celtics were off to the races.
And speaking of races, if Jesse Owens had strutted around and played with the other runners in the olympics like Usain Bolt did, Adolph Hitler would have been eating even more Aryan Superiority crow and, of course, that would have been a good thing, don’t you know. Jesse was just a little too much Negro for the Fuehrer.
There are just sights I can’t imagine, like Jim Brown running would be tacklers over and then roaring at them as would an alpha lion standing on the chest of a felled wildebeast. That would have been something awfully fearful for those times.
It would be hard visualizing Johnny Unitas doing a “State Farm Discount Double Check” touchdown dance or Dick Butkus executing a “Lights Out” two-step routine over some running back he’s driven into the turf. Talking about insult to injury.
I can’t begin to picture Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman doing a running chest bump after one of Cooz’s no look behind the back passes for an easy two. It was just all in a day’s work for them.
Neither can I form a mental image of Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, rounding the bases, pointing to the sky, thanking “the man upstairs,” after hitting a breaking ball that got hung up deliciously over the plate to the far reaches of Yankee Stadium. They were just doing what they were born to do, knock a hardball silly. No big deal.
I can, however, picture Early Wynn and Bob Gibson nearly beheading some showy batter with a wayward 100 mile per hour fastball the next time whoever he was came up to the plate. The scene would have not been sedate.
Some say all the showboating is just indicative of the so-called “Me” generation. I don’t know if I would go that far but I’ve heard players referring to their antics as “entertaining” and I definitely beg to differ with them on that.
I remember one of these super athletes, who made that claim, juking and zipping past blitzing linebackers and blasting through a seam leaving a couple of corners and a free safety, in his wake, left to deal with the jockstraps he faked them out of and soaring over the last man standing between him and the end zone like a hurdler trying out for the Olympics, landing on his feet like a freestyle gymnast. Now that was “entertaining,” far more so than his feeble little boogaloo in football cleats. Putting a towel over your arm pretending like you’re a waiter after pulling off something like all that is way too anti-climatic for me. Trivial to a high degree.
Oh, well, I guess all I’m trying to say is: I just like it best when, after a guy sinks a smooth three pointer or smashes a laser double off the fence or gets to the end zone in a spectacular way, he plays it like, as we used to say, it “ain’t no thang,” like he’s done it before, like it’s just another day at the office: get back on defense, look to the third base coach to see what’s next, give the ball to the ref – or if the desire to show off is so deep and wide, maybe a healthy spike, every now and then, in stride, would be okay with the addition of a little “Mile High Salute” if you really just have to be cute.
But the handwriting is on the wall when it comes to doing something nifty in the heat of the game and then putting on an aftershow as, not too long ago, I saw a little boy kick a soccer ball past his dad and then ran around him in circles, doing a forward roll, a somersault and the splits, all the while letting go with “Goallllllllllllllllllll, Mexico!”
His actions said it all that day: when it comes to sports, dancing on the playing fields is here to stay, “entertaining” or not, as it is just how it’s done today.
So I’d best learn a couple new snazzy dance steps aka: adapt to the changes. That’s something we human beings have to do over a lifetime, isn’t it? Enjoy the fun and games, my friends.