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Those Were the Days
Richard Hoffer
March 09, 1998
Sifting through the debris of last week's controversy is journalistic archaeology, given how quickly things move these days. You brush the dust from newspaper clippings, and you wonder, dreamily, whether humans really lived this way. What a time that must have been, a week ago, when our ancestors said that Casey Martin could roll over hill and dale in a golf cart and allowed Nykesha Sales (equally disabled, apparently) to stand all alone under a basket and score her school-record 2,178th point, teammates and opponents cheering the uncontested layup.
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March 09, 1998

Those Were The Days

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Sifting through the debris of last week's controversy is journalistic archaeology, given how quickly things move these days. You brush the dust from newspaper clippings, and you wonder, dreamily, whether humans really lived this way. What a time that must have been, a week ago, when our ancestors said that Casey Martin could roll over hill and dale in a golf cart and allowed Nykesha Sales (equally disabled, apparently) to stand all alone under a basket and score her school-record 2,178th point, teammates and opponents cheering the uncontested layup.

Who was running sports back then? The Make-a-Wish Foundation? This couldn't happen today, but try to imagine what it was like a week ago, when the women's basketball coaches at Connecticut and Villanova conspired to permit the Huskies' Sales, whose ruptured right Achilles had prevented a more traditional assault, to score the two points she needed to set the UConn women's career mark.

It was a feel-good time. Mostly. Some felt that the integrity of sport had been violated by Sales's gimme basket and that fate is best left undisturbed. If athletes overcome bad luck, mat's the glory of their games. If others don't, well, how else can triumph resonate without the sounding board of disappointment? Those who try to engineer heroism are condemned to sleepless nights, the cheapness of their records an awful caffeine.

Still, this kind of thing was done lots back then. It's in all the books of that period. Mickey Mantle himself was given one down the pipe just so he could pass Jimmie Foxx on the career homer list. Mickey! Those were the days when people thought they could tell the difference between compassion and competition. Why, here's a clip from 1979 about somebody named Phil Scaffidi, a spunky guard from Niagara who had been found to have adrenal cancer in his junior season. The coach promised to play him "a minute here, a minute there" his senior season, maybe get him the Purple Eagles' career assist record if it worked out. Scaffidi, hollowed out by his cancer, did indeed get the assist record. It was highly artificial, and the pursuit of it probably cost a more able athlete some playing time, but if the record's cheapness haunted Scaffidi the rest of his life, it didn't haunt him long. He died two months later. Bad luck is the modern way to think. Who were these creatures who played on earth's ancient fields? How naive they must have been. How stupid! Records are nothing against the grinding effects of history. Couldn't they have guessed as much? Scaffidi is now third on Niagara's assist list. Sales's record will topple too. You wonder what these people (so innocent!) were possibly thinking. But that was a long time ago.

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