One moment in time

The 2012 Summer Olympics started with the opening ceremony this evening (or at least that’s when I watched it on tape delay). I wasn’t able to see too much, mostly because I wasn’t interested in it, but also because the reception from the antenna was spotty, at best.

Our cable TV was cancelled at the beginning of the year, and while it’s been liberating for me in many ways, it will make following the Olympics somewhat difficult. Maybe there won’t be much worth following, either.

My interest in the Olympics has fluctuated over the course of my lifetime. The first ones that I can remember were in Montreal in 1976, when Bruce Jenner became the Wheaties box guy after winning the gold in the Decathlon. I remember Frank Shorter was the marathoner, Edwin Moses was the hurdler, and Nadia Comaneci was the girl who scored all of the 10s in gymnastics.

Then in 1980, the Winter Olympics and the Miracle on Ice got all of my attention, and the Summer games in Moscow were boycotted. It was like they didn’t happen, from the perspective of this 12 year-old American boy.

In 1984, the Los Angeles games, it was a whole different story. McDonald’s had a promotion where a gold medal by an American meant a free Big Mac, a silver meant a free french fries, and a bronze meant a free drink. Depending on what the event on your game card was, you could walk in and have a whole meal for free, sometimes. They must have given away lots of food and drinks that summer, but I think they’ve done pretty well for themselves since then.

The Russians boycotted the 1984 Summer games, and so the next Olympic games, in 1988 in Seoul, were the big Cold War games. And they were the last ones too, at least for the Cold War era. I was in college at the time, and the strongest memories I have were that it seemed strange that they were held in September (Summer Olympics, hello?), and Whitney Houston sang her great Olympics theme.

Had I watched more of the ceremonies tonight, I would have known the answer to this, but I hope that her passing was referenced in some way. I still think of her song as the Olympics theme, and if that hasn’t changed after nearly a quarter of a century, it’s unlikely that it ever will, at least for me.

By the time the Olympics came to Barcelona in 1992, I was at the stage of life where it didn’t seem like such a special thing anymore. The high dives were fun to watch, because of all the scenery that was in the background, but that was about it. And the Dream Team in basketball was pretty special, if only for the fact that Michael and Larry and Magic (along with a few other guys I can’t remember very well–and Christian Laettner??) got to play together on the same team.

The Atlanta games in 1996 were great, because Muhammad Ali was very inspirational in lighting the torch. The bombing was a tragedy, and the Macarena was danced at some point, but the Kerri Strug vault, where she won the gold medal for the USA by landing on a bad foot, was something that couldn’t be scripted. It was very riveting, though.

Sadly, the Olympics haven’t been too important to me since 1996. I think having professional athletes has stripped away some of its importance, and perhaps the games just mean more for me when they’re held in North America. The time differences are an issue, and the results of each event can be gathered online, before the prime-time tape delay broadcasts begin. If I already know who will win, why should I tune in to watch it when it’s rebroadcast? There might be an answer for that, but I wouldn’t know what it is.

So I’m hoping that a storyline or two will develop over the coming two weeks. I might even write about it here if it does. This is the first–and perhaps the only–Olympics in this blog’s history, so it would be foolish to pretend they weren’t going on.

I’m hoping these games do turn into a moment in time, and we’ll know the answer to that soon enough. But for now, let the games begin!

#Cubs #DoubleTriple is now just 35 losses away

The Cubs were blown out in St. Louis again today, bringing the historic and unprecedented #DoubleTriple ever closer to becoming a reality. And losing to the Cardinals tomorrow will put the Cubs on pace, percentage-wise, to make this happen. And so we forge ahead deeper into the 1970s. For an explanation of why I’m doing this, click here.

1976 Montreal Expos

Expansion team: No

Overall record: 55-107

# of win streaks of 3 games or more: Five

Manager(s): Karl Kuehl, Charlie Fox

Hall of Famers on roster: Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Larry Doby (as coach)

100 loss seasons since: 2008; 2009 (both as the Washington Nationals)

Pennant wins since: None

In 1976, baseball changed forever. It’s always changing and evolving to some degree, but two pitchers–Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally–had played the 1975 season without a contract, and afterwards they went to an arbitrator and claimed that they were not beholden to the long-standing reserve clause, which bound a player to one team for as long as that team wanted. The arbitrator agreed with them, and Messersmith became baseball’s first millionaire, signing for three years with the Atlanta Braves. It’s just one more sign of how different things are now in baseball–and in all of professional sports–than what they were back then.

The Montreal Expos, in their final year of playing in Jarry Park, were the only team to hit the magic number in losses in 1976. Since it was the summer of Bruce Jenner, Nadia Comaneci, and the other Summer Olympians in Montreal, I don’t think the locals noticed it very much. But after the season was over, Les Expos┬ámoved into Olympic Stadium, which eventually ruined Andre Dawson’s knees. And, for all of the problems they had with the ballpark and with lousy attendance toward the end of their time in Montreal, they never again lost 100 games in Montreal. So that’s a good thing, right?

Although it has nothing to do with 100 losses, the most enduring image of baseball in 1976 was Rick Monday saving the American flag in the outfield of Dodger Stadium on April 25. A man and his son ran onto the field, and were intending to burn the flag as an act of protest. But they fumbled with their matches and lighter fluid, and in the meantime Monday ran over and snatched the flag away from them. The picture of the event above has been colorized, but the event rightly made Monday a hero. As much as I pound on the Cubs sometimes, I was definitely proud of my team at that moment. And with the Bicentennial just two months away, all Americans were inspired by Monday’s action. Has anything ever gone together so well as America and baseball?