…And the Agony of Defeat…

A conversation with my brother and a simple act of research has caught me in the event horizon of the black hole that is the internet…or my mind.  My mind…I don’t seem to be able to escape the pull of my own mind. 

I’m on my twelfth Jim McKay narrated ABC’s The Wide World of Sports intro and I’ve lost count of John Cameron Swayze’s Timex commercials. All courtesy of YouTube, thank you. 

Somehow they are connected by something other than the black and white I watched them in but I’ve yet to figure out what that connection is. Later there was the black and white picture I discovered of YA Tittle battered and bleeding on the turf in Pittsburg. Where did that come from? The black hole of the internet of course.

All I know? Timex watches and an Italian ski jumper “takes a licking, but keeps on ticking” and the Italian ski jumper is probably happy Wide World of Sports was canceled.  We just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his failure this past April. What about YA Tittle? After a crunching tackle in a 1964 game with Pittsburg left him with a concussion and a cracked sternum, he suited up for every remaining game of the 2-10-2 season but retired at its end. He barely kept on ticking and experienced “The Agony of Defeat.”

The iconic picture of YA Tittle

The skier’s name was Vinko Bogataj but no one knew at the time.  With limited TV in Italy, Bogataj didn’t know he was a television star…even if it was for “the Agony of Defeat.”.  He was the nameless guy on a fuzzy black and white screen who wiped out on an attempted ski jump in 1961 and was immortalized on film by ABC and now on YouTube. 

Bogataj was the epitome of the “Agony of Defeat”, the posterchild for failure, and remained so for three decades after his broken ankle and concussion had healed. He even continued to compete…just not well. ABC added a crashing motorcycle later but it just didn’t catch on like Vinko.

In case you have forgotten…or are too young to know.  Here is Jim McKay’s rousing 1978 Wide World of Sports intro preceded by Charles Fox’s ringing brass…

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

The 1978 Introduction to The Wide World of Sports. Snowy and blurry like I saw it.

When Wild World of Sports premiered, 1961 was still BAC, before air conditioning, and BC, before cable.  Our RCA TV only received two and a half channels.  Why do I say half?  The closest ABC affiliate was still in distant Asheville, NC, some one hundred thirty miles away as the cow patty flies, and the VHF signal just wasn’t strong enough and subject to shifts in the ionosphere. 

Too much science, right? Right! No matter how much we tried to fine-tune the Rototenna, it was always snowing on Channel 13.

No matter. On Saturdays, we sat down to the snowy Wide World of Sports before the weekly battles erupted over whether to watch The Lawrence Welk Show, Have Gun Will Travel, or the NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies while eating Mom’s spaghetti, Sloppy Joes, or breakfast at suppertime. Seems Lawrence Welk won most Saturday nights and why polka music and champagne bubbles make me ill. “Ah one, and ah two…”

Sports programming was nothing like the unfettered access we are afforded today.  The Game of the Week was just that, the lone game of the week and “lesser” sports were overlooked until Wide World of Sports came along.  It was the big three, baseball, football, basketball, and if you were lucky you might get one pro and one college basketball game a week…except I’m not a lover of basketball and didn’t tune in unless Bill Russell was playing.  Why Bill Russell?  I have no clue.

Speaking of agony. Due to the way pro football coverage was allocated, our game of the week usually meant watching the always struggling, awful Washington Football Team, known as the Redskins. Even Sonny Jurgenson couldn’t lead them to victory. I am reminded of many late fourth quarter failures and my father’s exclamation, “Well, I believe they’ve shot their wad.”

 “Wide World” was different. It included many sporting events not seen on American television, such as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, firefighter’s competitions, wrist wrestling, powerlifting, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby, slow-pitch softball, barrel jumping, and badminton.  

Deadpan Jim McKay calling curling was not one of my favorites but he hosted for over three decades. Don’t confuse hurling and curling. Hurling is interesting, curling is not…at least not south of the Mason-Dixon.

NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup racing first appeared on “Wide World.” Traditional Olympic sports such as figure skating, skiing, gymnastics, and track, and field competitions were also regular features of the show.

Another memorable regular feature played to two of my worst fears, heights, and drowning. The scary Mexican cliff diving.

The first national television broadcast of the Canadian Football League was a Wide World of Sports broadcast of the 1966 Grey Cup game; ABC paid the league a whopping $500 for the rights. 

Wimbledon, The Indy 500, the NCAA Basketball Championships, Little League World Series, and the British Open all debuted on “Wide World” before they became wire to wire on a network or pay-TV.

I think we’ve lost something with our twenty-four/seven access to whatever it is we want to watch.  Nothing seems to be special. There is no excited anticipation for the Game of the Week because there is no Game of the Week…there are dozens.  There was more excitement when there was “just one”. We are flooded to the point of saturation and lose a bit of the uniqueness, “Would Christmas be as special if it happened every day of the week?”

I’m still trying to figure out how Wide World of Sports led me to Timex watch commercials.  Maybe it is the similarities between John McKay’s and John Cameron Swayze’s deliveries or that I watched them in glorious black and white until the late Sixties.  May be there is no connection. I thought they were both a bit deadpan until I found McKay’s call of the 1972 massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Jim McKay informing us of the deaths of the hostages.

Next year will mark the fiftieth year since “our worst fears have been realized.”  Fifty years? With recent events I would say our worst fears, like too much access to TV and internet, have saturated us.

On a lighter note, here is John Cameron Swayze. A commercial that aired live and didn’t work out as planned. Like McKay he was the consummate pro. Like Bogataj and Tittle, he recovered. Swayze broke nothing, not even the watch.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2Uc4u_Ru_3f-hHEt9wpgjXtKYKBTOUhSMRy_EtVLVtnbpSZo1laWAwFIw