Beacon Street Diary blog

Post-Superbowl reflections

The Superbowl was a luxury for Patriots fans this year, at least for some of us. Yes, we lost to Denver and didn't get to play in Santa Clara — but there's something warm and enjoyable about watching a game just for fun, knowing that in the end you'll be pretty much the same emotionally as you were at the beginning. Call me shallow, but I have more than a little scarring, courtesy of the New York Giants and I admit, even Peyton Manning.

Sports radio makes it even more fun. It's basically gossip for men, of course, mostly snark and hearsay about what someone said to somebody else, and can you believe the nerve of those people? It's also generally immature and often sexist and dumb, and sometimes I just have to turn it off and walk away. But over the years I have been a loyal listener. Maybe it's because sports fans are some of the few people out there who appreciate history.

Compare sports radio with other stations, the kind you hear at the gym or shopping malls. Their definition of "oldies" is just puzzling — it seems to be pretty much everything before last month, a mishmash of the rock music I heard in high school in the 1970s up to last week.

At thirteen, my treasured possession was a small plastic transistor radio strapped into in a white fake leather case. That radio, I dearly hoped, was the first step in a wonderful journey. I was on my way to being cool.

Of course, you had to know what station to listen to. In my town it was WBBF, the local top-40 station, "better by far." And you had to keep up with the play list. It changed all the time, force-feeding us the latest new hits (did anybody really like Bobby Goldsboro?) and tracking their progress up or down the popularity chart. You also had to have a favorite song, one you waited for hours through hours of commercials and DJ blather. But that song would only be around a week or two; after a while it kind of disappeared. And so to stay cool you picked another one. And on it went, year after year. The songs ticked off weeks and months and years. "Hey Jude" was sophomore art class (the teacher was extremely cool and let us play the radio) and "Fire and Rain" the background track to moody months of senioritis.

Now oldies can be anything, including some of the dumbest songs I thought I'd never hear again, forgettable 60s schlock with pseudo-hippy outrage and Jesus freak pieties. There is no concept of time in adult contemporary radio any more.

Not so my friends on the sports station. That's where you go to get the long perspective, the endlessly dissected back story behind every "storied rivalry" or devastating loss. I hate the Yankees because of Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson, all that swagger and spit still fresh after three decades or more. I am a Red Sox fan, but I will always love the Orioles because Eddie Murphy and Ken Singleton and Gary Roenike got me through graduate school. "We Are Family" by Sly and the Family Stone still makes me sad because it was the Pittsburgh Pirates' dopey theme song, the year they beat the Orioles in the World Series.

There are still places in our world today where the past matters, I guess, but you have to look for them. It's worth it though. When you do, you'll find people who really care about something, who have — let's say it — a passion. Maybe that's why some sports still matters so much, even after all the drugs and bad behavior and obscene amounts of money. (Underinflated footballs don't count.) Peyton Manning isn't just another quarterback, any more than Aaron Boone is just another baseball player. As every sports radio diva knows, the past is never really past. It's always alive and ready to bite. It brings pain and sorrow, but also real emotion, genuine feelings. Without history, the container of all those hopes, dreams, and fears, sports and life itself wouldn't matter half as much — and it wouldn't be half as fun.



photograph of vintage transistor radio found via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of user Joe Haupt

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January 24, 2019
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