At 9:28 p.m.
Chicago time, November 30, 1956, inside the crimson ropes of the ring under the
white lights of the Stadium, Floyd Patterson became the Heavyweight Champion of
the World. There was only one such moment, a unique point in time that replaced
the one before it and was replaced by the one after it, the victory thus
destroyed and preserved as the young man and the older one advanced through
time and the event receded.
Patterson's dressing room everyone tried to hold the bright moment, to surround
it with words and prevent it from escaping. Floyd smiled at the solid wall of
faces and voices; he had not yet merged with the image of himself freshly
created, for he had not until now an inner conception of his value. SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED had billed him as "the next heavyweight champion." Cus
D'Amato had said that he was good and would be a champion and, the manager and
fans having created the image, he accepted it and did what was necessary, never
knowing until now that it was true. It was true, and the voices said
"Champ!" and "How does it feel?" and "When did you know you
had him?" He was polite, and smiled, and said that he thought he had showed
that he could punch a little.
is kind and thoughtful. His hands are large and simple and make big fists that
move with terrible swiftness. Jack London's description of a fighter fits him:
"The toughness...the instantaneousness of the cell explosions of the
muscles, the fineness of the nerves that wired every part of him into a
splendid fighting mechanism."
He is wonderful to
watch, for his action has a quality of wholeness, so that, while incredibly
fast, he is easy to see. As a diver in perfect form seems to be in the air
longer than he actually is, as the folds of a matador's cape seem to move
slowly in a perfect pass, so Floyd's movements are retained by the eye, seem to
last longer than the elapsed fraction of a second. This speed and wholeness of
movement and the ability to see "so many openings that I try to get to all
of them at once" give him the incomparable skill that must be seen to be
So it is likely
that for a long time to come audiences will see the gentlemen who are now the
custodians of the title coming down the aisle in that almost formal paseo
behind the policemen: Dan Florio, the trainer, and his brother Nick, Dan small
and sad and wise, Nick tough and knowledgeable; Cus D'Amato, with the dignity
of a Roman senator; and Floyd Patterson, the Heavyweight Champion of the World,
who is ready to fight any man alive.
But never again
will they look the same as they did that night, though they stand for their
group portrait a thousand times. Their lives were changed forever at 9:28 p.m.
Chicago time, November 30, 1956. After that moment they began to live
differently, dress differently, speak differently, greet friends and strangers
with a new warmth and dignity. They were changed and changing men.