Not sure what got me thinking about this topic this past weekend, but I couldn’t help but reminisce about the sports coverage shows that I used to watch over the weekends. There are three that stick out to me by far, and I love being able to go online and look back at some of the clips from each one. These were shows that were sports GOLD prior to the rise of ESPN, and especially for those of us who grew up in the dark ages without cable.
First, there was ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which ran from 1961-1998. This was the all-around sports show that covered every kind of sport you could think of, from alpine skiing to car racing. I love watching the Olympics due in large part to the variety of sports covered plus all the human interest stories, and the Wide World of Sports had both of those in spades. Jim McKay was absolutely great in covering the most eclectic mix of sports and making them seem absolutely fascinating. He could have you hanging on his every word when telling you about some random athlete you’d never heard of that had spent his entire life to become the world’s most amazing cliff diver.
Next, there was This Week in Baseball, or TWIB, which ran from 1977-2011 (albeit with a 1 year hiatus in the late 90’s). This was a weekly digest show hosted by the great Mel Allen that showed you all the great plays of the week before, plus tell you the inside scoop of what was going on in locker rooms and back offices around the league. It was the show to catch if you were a baseball fan because you trusted pretty much anything you were told so long as it was Mel Allen who told you. For a huge baseball nut like I was, the best part was when they interviewed one of my favorite players, like Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, or Johnny Bench, mainly because we didn’t live in a big baseball market so I didn’t see much of them otherwise. The greatness of the timing of this show was that it typically seemed to come on right after Saturday morning cartoons, and before the afternoon baseball game of the week. It made for a great transition right into watching a game, or going out and playing one with my friends in the neighborhood. The show wasn’t nearly as good after Mel Allen passed away in 1996.
Last but not least, was the The George Michael Sports Machine, which ran from 1984-2007. George Michael was a sportscaster in the Washington DC area and this syndicated show typically came on after the local news on Sunday evenings (at least in the Houston area where I lived). The format of the show seemed to be a bit of a cross between a local sports newscast and SportsCenter. It covered mostly major sports, but would throw out a few odd sports here and there (like a solid bio on let’s say bull riding champion Tuff Hedeman). The design of the set and the show was as if there was this actual machine that spit out great sports highlights of the week, and then George would punch a button and the machine would play the tape and he’d narrate. Absolutely cheesy, but somehow he made it awesome, probably just because he seemed like he really enjoyed what he was doing. I think they kept that motif through the end of the shows run, which made it a bit campy, but I didn’t mind it.
As with anything from childhood or “the good old days”, I get a bit nostalgic when reminiscing about past sports heroes. What may have been great about being a kid at that time was that you weren’t bombarded with knowing everything about the athletes themselves, you got just enough to make you be awe struck with what they could do in their respective sports. It was just enough to get you excited to enjoy watching them take the field each week, and then want to be them when you played with your friends. So many great times and memories.