For the Record 3/29: What can we learn from ESPN?

I miss the ’90s. And I don’t mean Vanilla Ice, Windows 3.1, Rugrats or presidential sex scandals.

On April 5, 1992, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann co-hosted ESPN’s “SportsCenter” for the first time, a pairing that continued until Olbermann left ESPN in 1997 and a duo that places at or near the top of almost every SportsCenter anchor list floating round the Internet.

With Patrick and Olbermann appearing nightly, SportsCenter became the first studio-produced linchpin of a network lineup that previously subsisted on things like Canadian football, Australian rules football and taped college basketball. Its tone sardonic, its humor self-deprecating and its time slot unofficially labeled “The Big Show,” SportsCenter had become, as SportsGrid.com put it last year, “must-see television for males.”

The Big Show lasted a little more than five years. On June 29, 1997, Olbermann left ESPN; Patrick continued at the network until 2008. In place of the dry humor we once knew now sits an hour of forced catchphrases, drooling over the Yankees, Red Sox, Manning and Tebow, and the occasional sappy feature by Jeremy Schaap.

I could go on about SportsCenter’s zenith and decline for hours – well, at least 15 minutes. But outside of Bristol, Conn., I can’t help noticing what similarity my own life shares to the story of that fabled 11 p.m. hour. I, too, spent the early part of the ’90s figuring out how to put myself together, only using gametes and zygotes rather than screaming Dick Vitale and laughing Charley Steiner. And I, too, have declined throughout the last decade, from being amazed at a 56K dial-up modem to being incensed at a wireless network with something less than 100 percent up time.

Once, I was pleased with a bike ride to the Chief for orange pineapple ice cream, even though, in my experience, pineapple is nasty in every other meal. Now, I’ve reduced myself to soft-serve vanilla with assorted sprinkles, and the hair on my neck bristles at the thought of AVI Fresh turning off that machine at 6:57 p.m. again.

Thankfully, the ESPN principle can apply to situations far beyond critiquing the time management of Goshen’s food-service partners. Instead of the curmudgeonly ways of former anchor Fred Hickman, who reportedly called in sick about once a week, why don’t we strive to follow the path of another noted sportscaster, TBS’s Skip Caray? As I’m sure our resident seriousist and unabashed Braves fan Daniel Penner could tell you, Caray spent a couple of decades behind the microphone for the Atlanta Braves.

The job was, shall we say, arduous: the team finished under .500 in 11 of his first 14 seasons. Yet Caray was almost always gleeful, even the afternoon in the late ’80s when he opened a broadcast with “Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field.” I think we can all take a page from his book and remember this: even when life seems as rough as it can be, there’s always a fluffy sheep to compare things to.

Or you could take a page from my book: watch way too much TV.

Written by Tony Miller

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