I recently turned 35, the male sports fan's sell-by date, after which he recedes, for the remainder of his days, further and further from the l8-to-34 demographic that is so coveted by leagues, networks and breweries. In an instant I became an advertiser's afterthought. Bikini-clad beer-commercial spokesmodels who only days ago gave me come-hither looks now fix me—unmistakably—with go-thither looks.
Sportscasters no longer speak my language, which is deader than Latin. Not for me is Stuart Scott serving up his "Boo-yah"-based bouillabaisse. I should be watching C-Span, not C-Web. I can barely say " A-Rod" or "J- Will" or "T-Mac" without feeling like a convertible-driving comb-over trying desperately to stay hip. (Or "hep." Or "with it." Or whatever the word is for Puff Daddy. Or P. Diddy. Or whatever the word is for him.)
Professional golfer Ty Tryon is half my age—or would be, if I were a year younger. The 17-year-old and I have little in common beyond this: We're both outside looking in, enviously fogging the glass of the l8-to-34 demographic. Those 17 years were, as I now dimly recall, a wonderland, an Eden in which I could "talk smack" with Romey, pretend to care about Kournikova and aspire to a set of magazine-cover abs that would make my stomach look like a sheet of corrugated metal.
Now, alas, I find myself in a demographic DMZ—the 35-to-54 age group—lost in a no-man's land between X Games and Ex-Lax. Watching Britney Spears grind through last year's Super Bowl halftime show, I felt like the science-teacher chaper-one at a high school dance. Which is to say, just barely invited. By the time Britney was joined by *NSync, I had long been *NBed.
I was not, metaphorically speaking, alone. Is it strange that games dominated by Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Michael Jordan and Mario Lemieux—games brought to you by Madden and Summerall, Michaels and Miller, Berman and Costas and Nantz and Musburger (all older than 34, some considerably so)—are presented primarily for the consumption of none of the aforementioned? Is it odd that Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Cris Collinsworth (average age: 46) can interview Jerry Rice (39), then throw it over to anchor James Brown (50), who in turn throws it to a commercial in which comprehensively pierced sky surfers bail out of airplanes at 14,000 feet while shotgunning Mountain Dew?
In sports, age is a Rorschach test for the beholder. Raiders coach Jon Gruden, 38, is an up-and-comer, while tennis player Martina Hingis, 21, is over-the-hill. Nolan Ryan was older than Methuselah while pitching into his middle 40s—the same age at which Congressman Henry Hyde was committing what he referred to as his "youthful indiscretions." By retiring last October, Cal Ripken Jr. became, in an instant, much younger than before, morphing from a broken-down shortstop into the fittest 41-year-old on his (or any other) block.
Yet only weeks removed from the l8-to-34 demo, I already feel like a gate-crasher at NBA games, which turn—at every break in the action—into strobe-lit Stuttgart discotheques. Why 58-year-old season-ticket holders are gumming popcorn to Back That Azz Up is beyond my powers of comprehension. So I look on with the same slack-jawed confusion displayed by 75-year-old Marv Levy, who blinks in bafflement each Sunday at his fart-lighting colleagues on Fox Sports Net's NFL pregame show.
Last Saturday, on MTV's Super Bowl special, rapper Ludacris wore a Johnny Unitas jersey. Nice touch, but beware those who do the reverse: A crew-cut Johnny Unitas, say, listening to Ludacris. That's the temptation for sports fans and sports journalists alike, aging inexorably while the average age of athletes remains more or less fixed in the mid-20s.
In other words, it is possible to age with dignity, Deion Sanders notwithstanding. It helps to have an athletic superstar to steer my ship by, a man almost exactly my age—84 days older, to be precise—who is traveling the very timeline of life that I am. As long as he stays relevant to sports fans, without looking desperate or ridiculous in that pursuit, I'll know that I, too, am growing old gracefully.
Thank you, Mike Tyson.