Saturday, March 16, 2013

And now, a little something about Chester Marcol and me.

This following trip down memory lane and how sports has changed for me since I was a boy has nothing to do with the Dallas sports scene at all.

I have been a sports junkie my entire life.  The short explanation is that I was born this way, with the slightly longer explanation being that my parents closely monitored the media intake of their children for various religious reasons and therefore unknowingly pushed me into sports.  That was because their idea to limit the amount of television we consumed at an early age did not include sports.  But it did include nearly everything else.  As early as I can recall, the television had a massive set of restrictions on it, but none of those included watching men play games in uniforms as they represented certain arbitrary geographical locations that they may or may not have any regard for beyond a paycheck twice a month.

This loophole in the restrictions over the magic box had this young boy, even as early as 5 or 6 years old, looking forward to games that might be on television.  Like I said, I have no idea which came first here, the chicken or the egg.  Was the sports interesting to me or was it simply something moving on that screen?  If, for instance, the loophole in my household rules was cooking shows, might I have turned into a chef or restaurant critic?  I don't know.

Regardless, as I sit here at 40 years old, I only know the world through a lens of sports.  I follow closely a number of leagues in a number of sports on a number of continents.  There is almost no mens sport that I don't follow at some level.  On weekends, I will often watch 3 games in a day in 3 different sports.  And it doesn't even seem weird to me.

Part of this only existence I have ever known is to document as much of it as possible.  That explains my enjoyment of writing on blogs like this, but it also explains the contents of my closets at my house.  In one, you will find sports-pages from things I have found to be relevant at one point of my life.  In another, a sports card collection that is huge, but has gone largely untouched since about 1990.  As a kid growing up, I was once sure that I would never grow tired of collecting and sorting cards, but then again, I am sure most kids feel that way about things they do and how they might feel about them in the future.

But, then, there are about 12 boxes that my wife hates that have been with us since we were married in 1995.  These boxes have been moved from place to place as our lives have progressed, and she knows that battling me on this is simply a bridge too far.  It is my video tape collection.  Hundreds of VHS tapes that captured every sporting event I could think of from 1986 (the year of my family's first VCR) until my transition to recordable DVDs in about 2005.  Incidentally, I still have the problem - not as bad as it used to be, but I still have it - of keeping events that I deem worthy and saving them for reviewing down the road.  This re-watching of old sporting events is seldom ever executed as my schedule is very full these days, but I still do it.  I keep them all.  I am a sports hoarder.

In recent years, I have become a bit more educated in the ability for modern technology to both save the VHS tapes from age and deterioration and also to fit hundreds of hours of video onto a simple external hard drive that would allow your digitized files to last for a long time until another technological creation renders that idea antiquated.  By simply digitizing your tapes, you can now move them around your computers with ease and take the tapes to the trash.  If nothing else, you can rest easy that the 1988 NCAA Final Four is preserved for future generations that won't watch it either and also you can free up the guest room closet so that your mother in law can hang her clothes when she stays with the family.

Digitizing happens in real time, so if you have 500 tapes and they each hold 6 hours of sports, you can imagine how long it might take to go the entire journey, but I chip away at a pace of about 1 tape a day.  Hit record on the computer, play on the VCR (I actually had to find a new VCR) and walk away for a while.  But, slowly the the pile of tapes to be converted shrinks as the pile of tapes to be disposed grows.

It is a lot of stuff.  Every single NBA Finals from 1987 until 1998.  All of the Final Fours in that span.  Every Green Bay Packers win from 1986 until the present day.  College football.  Super Bowls.  Drafts.  Hockey games going back all the way to Lake Placid.  And on and on and on.  Heck, since moving to Dallas and covering the Cowboys, I have a Cowboys video library that could rival many with games going all the way back to the 1960s.

Oh yes, I am beyond arguing whether this makes me sick.  I know it does.  And yet, I continue looking for games that I don't have.

One of my favorite things to do is to retrace the steps of the games I have attended in my childhood.  To find video tapes of the games I have been at is something I will often do with likeminded sports nerds online.  We all need hobbies, right?  Some people keep ticket stubs, well I want a 3 hour video file of the game I was at that meant something to me.

Anyway, I said all of that to bring this up.  Recently, I acquired a game on video that I converted last night onto my hard-drive.  The reason it is noteworthy to me is that it represents my very first sports memory of a play "I would never forget".

I have no idea how our memories work and I don't know why our memory decides to earmark certain moments with "do not delete".  I know I had watched sports for several years before this moment happened and I also know that I could recall things all the way back to 1977 when I was 5.

But, in 1980 - September 7th, 1980, in particular - was the first time I lost my mind on a sports moment.  It was a moment that my mind engraved and was referenced 100 times with my friends the rest of our childhood.  You have to remember: back then, we didn't have recording devices on our televisions.  We certainly didn't have a way to see these moments again - and I didn't have cable until I went to college in 1990.  If you missed the game, you watched the news that day.  If it was just a regular game, you may never see it again.  So when a collector I knew sent me a copy of this game, I was very excited that the 8-year old version of me would now be able to watch what his memory had preserved for over 30 years.

My house was not filled with Packers' fanatics.  I think my dad was fine with them, but like most things at the time, I pretty much remember his loathing of them more than his actual enjoyment of their product.  Perhaps he hoped for a return of the Lombardi-era dominance, but it seemed like a fall past-time to complain about how utterly awful they were.  And they really were.

There are tons of pictures of me as a child wearing Packers gear.  Really young pictures where a boy has no ability to pick his own clothing.  So somehow, without fanatics for parents, they still steered me to a team that was lousy my entire childhood.  From the year I was born (1972) until my senior year in high school, they never won more than 8 games in a season.  Think about that.  During the same span, the Cowboys won 10 games or more on 10 different occasions.  We stunk. And I didn't care, because I had this weird unconditional love for them.

Anyway, back to Week 1 of 1980.  This year would turn out another 5-10-1 season by the time it ended, but for some reason, everyone was really looking forward to 1980.  Perhaps because our QB, Lynn Dickey, was returning after another broken leg, everyone felt like maybe they could accomplish something under head coach Bart Starr.  Well, they were wrong.  Starr coached the Packers for 8 years, and they were all bad seasons.  They wasted James Lofton's prime and never came close to getting anywhere except in the 1982 strike shortened year.  The entire NFL was a farce that year, playing just 9 games, and the Packers did make the farcical playoffs that year, which would be the only playoff appearance of my life before Brett Favre came along and put them in in 1993.

This Week 1 game in 1980 was against the Chicago Bears and their slightly-less ridiculous run of form between George Halas retiring in 1967 and Mike Ditka being hired in 1982.  Mike Phipps and Dickey squared off in a match-up of Quarterbacks that resulted in 4 interceptions and 0 touchdowns on the day.

Lambeau Field was filled with optimistic fans who had no reason for optimism as a poorly played game of football lasted all afternoon.  The game went into overtime and this is where my memory takes over. I believe I was watching the game for most of the day, but as the game went late, my mom made me go with her to the store (as 8 year olds often must do).

My memory clearly can recall listening to the following play on the radio.  In fact, somehow, I know exactly where I was when this play happened.  Let me prove it below:

We were driving north at precisely this moment when Chester Marcol, the Green Bay kicker, scored an unlikely overtime touchdown after his blocked field goal attempt flew right back into his arms.

I have no idea what mom needed at the store that couldn't wait until the Bears-Packers game was over, but she couldn't wait.  I remember lining up for a field goal in overtime and waiting for Jim Irwin to call the play on the Packers Radio Network with Max McGee.  Honestly, I don't think the call was able to convey to little me what was happening, and hopefully, you will understand why on the the video below.  It was truly a wild play and really amazing that a kicker in glasses could run that far without being tackled.

It is funny to look at a moment that your memory held tight but that you can't totally recall precisely.

Marcol actually seemed to have decent wheels around the corner and then was mobbed in a stadium that went out of its mind.

The Packers would ride the momentum of this amazing moment and lose their next 3 games and have another disastrous season.  They would lose to this same Bears team in December at Soldiers Field by the score of 61-7.  That game also has significance in my life, because that was the game where I called the Sportsline (900-976-1313) that ran those score update commercials to basically see if they would have the score updated even though I was watching the game.  I called a total of 11 times during the game and when the phone bill arrived I found out that my parents would notice the $0.99 charge that each call billed, explaining why they thought you should get your parent's permission before calling.

Anyway, if someone would ever ask what is your first happy Packers memory, it would surely be this play.  And now, even though the quality is far from HD, I have the entire game on my external hard drive for future non-viewing (there is no way I would sit through that 3 hours of awful football with that awful picture).

But, it was fun to see the play that my memory has held on to all over again.  A similar play - say the Tony Romo hold in Seattle in 2006 - has played a billion times on tv since it happened.  But, in 1980, you either saw it live or you didn't see it.  Especially if your team was 5-10-1 that year.

I didn't care then and Chester still has a place in my heart all of these years later.

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