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I do go back a ways. In 1965, playing softball in the Army, I hit a home run off Rollie Stichweh. Two years before that, Stichweh, at quarterback for West Point, had appeared in the very first TV instant replay. He ran for a touchdown and then, apparently, did it identically again. The CBS switchboard lit up. Viewers were mystified. What happened? He scored twice? How can such a thing be?
Several years later, when I was a staff writer for SI, it was state of the art to lug around a manual typewriter. Metal keys and an inky ribbon. I typed my fingers down to the elbows.
Even so, I was startled to read recently, in a post about Serena Williams at Tennis.com: "Another thing I've learned is that it can be hard to get away from what the old SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer Roy Blount Jr. termed 'respectful racism.'"
The old? Why not just go ahead and make it the late? Or of sainted memory? As it happens, I have recently returned to the SI masthead, as a senior contributor, so I'm no longer even the former. If I hadn't left the SI staff to freelance in 1975, by now I might be the venerable. Respectful ageism, but at least a brand.
Just thinking careerwise, though, here is where I really went wrong.
Back in the early '80s, I took part in a TV pilot. I was host of a sports talk show to be called Sportsnight. Tony Kornheiser was my Ed McMahon. In the monologue, I demonstrated how to talk sports while chewing and spitting tobacco. I signed off by smashing an enormous plaster golf ball (we had only one, had to get it right) with a three wood. And who was our famous guest? None other than Howard Cosell. I pressed him on the matter of his conversational style. "Yes," he said grandly, "I have become a caricature of myself." And that, the look on his face seemed to say, is the American dream.
Well, isn't it? To have become so iconic as to serve also, with every stroke, as your own iconoclast? Shamelessness, undoubtedly, is next to rockgodliness. My follow-up to Cosell was something to the effect of, "Hmm." Why didn't I pump him for advice? I should have sold my soul to make that talk show work. Who are you today if you're not a TV personality? By now, after 30 years of hosting Sportsnight, I could be Charles Barkley and Willow Bay (in her prime, I mean) rolled into one.
"Tonight we have as our guest the old Knick and also the old senator Bill Bradley, to talk about his brand-new book, We Can All Do Better. So, Bill, that's got to be the wiggiest title since Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Come to you in a dream? Why didn't you just call it Oh, Come On, Everyone?"
People would beg to be on that show. "So, Rooney Mara, how much of your righteous viciousness toward men as the Dragon Tattoo girl do you owe to all those times you must have been thrown out of Giants and Steelers locker rooms as a pesky little moppet?" Then we have Eli Manning and Troy Polamalu pop up in full uniform—not just actors playing them, because, like I say, we can get anybody—and she beats the crap out of them. It's a setup. Or is it? Either way, killer TV.
By now, maybe, I would have had my retirement special, with Serena herself sitting on my desk singing The Way We Were. But I would be immortal on YouTube, and I would own 17 cars, or at least a new one, and for Mardi Gras I could masquerade as myself and everybody would immediately get it.