A sports fan from another era

The boy was about 10. Sports consumed him, sometimes at the expense of school. This time of year — when early fall becomes early winter – was compelling. Baseball was wrapping up, hockey was winding up and football was playoff time. The boy loved it.

Television was new. World Series games were during the day. Always. This conflicted with elementary school, 15 minutes away by bike. He always went home for lunch and, during the Series, for a half-hour window to watch baseball.

One weekday, his fourth-grade teacher asked him to deliver homework to a fellow student who was away sick. Knowing this cut into his World Series window, the boy became mysteriously ill, went to the principal’s office to rest and ultimately was allowed to go home. Just in time for the first pitch.

Against her better judgment, the boy’s mother allowed him to “recover” on the couch, in front of the TV. During the fourth inning, he called from the living room: “What’s for lunch?” He was…sick.

On days when faking sickness didn’t fly, the boy smuggled his transistor radio into class (who even knows what a transistor radio is?). He opened his desktop (of wood), put the radio inside, threaded the earphone cord through the inkwell (inkwell?), under his shirt and up its sleeve to his ear. It beat listening to social studies. He got caught. The radio was confiscated. His day was extended — detention.

Hockey was easier to follow. Games were on the radio, at night. Foster Hewitt’s voice crackled through the speaker, to which the boy’s ear was pinned. When hockey was on TV, in black and white, it featured the Toronto Maple Leafs. Always. In Manitoba, the telecast picked up the game partway through the second period. It was half a game, but the boy loved it. Understandably, he became a Leafs’ fan. After the third period, a famous Canadian singer, Juliette, appeared on the TV. He hated Juliette. She stood for game over.

Football was king. Grey Cup time. Before television, the boy listened on radio. The first Grey Cup he watched was down the street at a neighbour’s, because the neighbour had a TV. The game was on Saturday afternoon. Always. The boy watched it on Friday night…six days later, after the film had been shipped west from Toronto, presumably by Pony Express.

The boy’s most memorable Grey Cup was amazing. His favourite team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, were down 14-0 early against Hamilton. His mother walked in from a shopping trip and said to dry his tears, because the Bombers would win. His mother knew little about football. The Bombers won, 35-28.

That boy wrote this Distant Replay, prompting his wife to quip: “Wow…that’s a very distant Distant Replay.” It is, back to an age when instant replays on TV were new, and played just once — today, that’s six replays from different angles. An age when sports announcers could be heard — today, crowd noise and in-stadium entertainment drowns out everything, and when it was impossible to PVR a game to watch it later, hoping nobody told you the score. And an age before sports fans like my grandson could become in his words a “highlights kind of guy.”

Maybe that’s why in distant eras, sports felt so romantic.