His name was John O’Leary. While the names of other Canadian Football League players have come and gone from my memory bank, and often forgotten, his never will. He was a running back with a big heart, durability and average skill for the Montreal Alouettes in three Grey Cups. Prior to his last Grey Cup, O’Leary was among my subjects for four hours on radio about football players and their music.
I asked them if they could only listen to one song, what would it be…and why.
“Come Monday,” O’Leary replied.
“Because Come Monday, I’ll be going home to my fiancee.”
The night “The Grey Cup Teams and Their Music” aired, my wife was listening (a marital regulation). She was touched by O’Leary’s thought, and by the song. While listening to Come Monday, she became a fan of Jimmy Buffett — for life. Since Buffett died 11 weeks ago, she has been in mourning, comforted not by margaritas but by the music he left behind.
So John O’Leary, who went home that Monday and never returned, impacted our musical taste forever — long before sports and music were entwined the way they are now, in an age when organ music was as good as it got at hockey games.
It was before walk-up songs and dressing room deejays in baseball. Before seismic matches like Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. Before the association between all kinds of music and the games people play became so rampant that now at every game in every sport, music dwarfs silence.
Some choices are obvious. Some are mysterious. Most are distant replays.
Queen’s We Are The Champions (1977) has long been played after title-winning games, because its lyrics are ideal for that celebratory moment, and the sport doesn’t matter.
For years, recordings of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (1968), by The Beatles, have also been played at a appropriate and sometimes critical moments during a break in play — especially at hockey games — when the home team needs to be energized by the pounding pitch of John Lennon’s piano that pre-empts its lyrics.
And then there’s Sweet Caroline (1969).
Really? Among the many songs Neil Diamond made famous, this became an anthem for sports fans. It seems to be at games everywhere and if you’re wondering what “touchin’ me, touchin’ you” has to do with pro sports, welcome to the club. Apparently, the Boston Red Sox lay claim to its sports origin. Legend has it the employee in charge of Fenway Park music in 1997 had just given birth to a baby named…Caroline. It was played only sporadically until Diamond went to the ballpark to sing it live after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, and for the last decade it has become a soundtrack for victory in everything from rugby matches in England to all major sports in North America.
The lyrical punch line is: “So good, so good, so good!”
Another pair of Sox, White and in Chicago, apparently first launched Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ (1981) into anthemship by making it their rally song on the way to winning the World Series. Again, it’s all about adopting the lyrics.
And if it doesn’t happen, teams believe it surely will.