That some title isn’t it? If you’re going to talk about the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, you need to have a title that’s fitting. The Champ is definitely in my top five favorite people that I never got to meet of all time. I’m going to tell you why.
My dad came home from Vietnam in September 1970. At least that’s what I first saw him, because it turns out he had actually come back to the United States in July to have an operation on his shoulder. He showed up at the front door in September just as I was starting sixth grade. By December, we were packing everything up and moving from Kansas City, where I lived in a ghetto for the year he was gone, to Loring AFB in Limestone Maine, which was putting me in a drastically different environment that anything I had experienced before and anything I would experience after. Continue reading What Muhammad Ali Meant To Me And The Social Media Lessons We Can Learn From Him→
It was 1971, and I knew that Muhammad Ali was going to be fighting Joe Frazier. Ali was one of my idols; he’s still one of my idols. I was 11 years old, had just moved to a new place 3 months earlier and was struggling to get used to it, and one of my heroes was going to prove that he’d been wronged by so many people years earlier. I didn’t know as much about that, but I did know that Ali was my guy; he was my dad’s guy as well.
Back then I had a couple of transistor radios, and I listened to the play-by-play of the fight from New York City. What would happen is that you’d listen to a lot of talk, then after the round was over someone would tell you what happened and give you his opinion on who won the round. Early on it was all Ali, and I was ecstatic. Then things seemed to have changed, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then I heard the news – Frazier knocks Ali down in the 15th and wins the decision.
I was bitter. A year later they put the fight on ABC and I thought Ali had won, I hated Frazier that much. But it was what it was, and I knew Ali would get him back.
However, there was this little matter of Frazier – Foreman, and as I saw that fith I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Foreman actually looked like he lifted Frazier off the ground; it was frightening. That day I felt sorry for Frazier, scared for Ali because I knew he’d be getting his shot against Foreman, and I was confused.
Then Ali and Frazier fought again, and it was a tough battle that saw Ali win. Then Ali goes and beats Foreman and it was time for the Thrilla in Manila. My support for Ali couldn’t be questioned; the “Gorilla”, as Ali had named Frazier, had to go down. I was lucky to have HBO in 1976 and we got to watch the fight live. What an epic battle, ranked as one of the top fights in history, and Ali won in 14 after Frazier’s corner refused to let him come out for the last round.
At the end of that fight I was elated for Ali but had a new appreciation for Joe Frazier. This man, who never weighed more than 208 pounds for any of his fights, had shown a lot of dignity, even in his 4 losses, two to Ali and two to Foreman. He wasn’t a bad man; not at all. Back then, there were all these social issues that always surrounded Ali, and Frazier got caught up in them. I saw him as a decent man, and couldn’t hate him anymore.
Over the years after he finally retired I saw a guy fighting to find some dignity because of the taunting that Ali had put him through. I learned of all the help Frazier gave Ali and how he always felt betrayed by Ali. He never could figure out that without Ali their fights might not have gotten as much interest and money as they did. I felt bad for that but I also recognized how hurtful it had to be for a black man to have another black man relate him to a gorilla; I wouldn’t have liked that either.
Joe Frazier passed away a couple of days ago of liver cancer. Like the dignified guy he always had been, word didn’t get out until he was in hospice, and he wasn’t there long. People said they’d give him their liver, but of course it doesn’t work that way. Just like that Frazier was gone at age 67. Muhammad Ali said this: “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.”
Joe Frazier earned a lot more respect in retirement than he did during his boxing career, and in retrospect that’s a shame. But that’s what the 70’s were like. And now we’re dealing with the 2010’s. And we’ve lost a good guy; best to you Joe.
Y’all know that I like list posts; truthfully, who doesn’t? Many of them leave us having great debates, although I’ll admit that I wasn’t really expecting much debate when I wrote my opera post. Be that as it may, when we know what the topic is, we love debating it, and I think there should be a few people around ready to talk about this one.
Only it’s not my list. I got this list from a site called the Bleacher Report, which writes only about sports stuff, and they got together and put out what they called The 100 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time. It’s an interesting list, especially because some of the movies aren’t sports related at all; what the hey? Still, they’ve got a list, and it was pretty ambitious. Way more ambitious than I’m ready to be, so I’m only going to comment on their top ten; this isn’t going to be pretty.
No. 10: Slapshot – this is a movie about a rogue minor league hockey team, and you’d think I would like it more because it was filmed right here in Syracuse. But it was filmed before I got here, and even with Paul Newman it just got on my nerves.
No. 9: Hoop Dreams – this was actually a documentary that followed two kids for many years that had dreams of becoming professional basketball players; no, they didn’t make it. Roger Ebert really loved this movie; once again, I didn’t get into it.
No. 8: Caddyshack – one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, even if it was surrounding golf, a sport I don’t like all that much except for Tiger Woods (now don’t start with me). It had Rodney Dangerfield in one of his best performances and Chevy Chase and Bill Murray at a time when not only were both at the top of their game, but they had to bury the hatchet to make this movie together. And it had the gopher; ’nuff said.
No. 7: The Natural – one of my favorite movies of all time; if I’m turning the channels and it’s on I stop what I’m doing and watch it until it’s over. It’s a baseball movie about a guy who gets derailed as a young player and comes back many years later and shows everyone he’s a star, only because they didn’t have 24/7 access to TV or sports back then no one remembers who he was. This is a beautiful movie, start Robert Redford, and you’ll love it whether you like sports or not.
No. 6: Rocky – I’m actually surprised this was so low on their list. Like everyone else, I had no idea who Sylvester Stallone was, but I knew who Burgess Meredith was, though I only knew him as the Penguin from Batman; now that’s a shame! There can’t be anyone who has no clue who Rocky is, so I’ll just leave it with this: “Adrian!!!”
No. 5: Bull Durham – I liked this movie, but for the life of me I really can’t figure out why so many sports guys think it’s so great. Sure, it had Kevin Costner before he started irritating all of us, along with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (who hooked up and lived 19 years or so with each other), but as a baseball movie I keep thinking there were better performances, or at least other movies that touched or entertained me more.
No. 4: Rudy – never saw this one, and I haven’t been compelled either. I just know it’s the supposedly true story of a team manager for Notre Dame that got to play in a game; maybe someone else can enlighten me and tell me why I need to see this.
No. 3: Raging Bull – now this is what I’m talking about. A movie about the one time middleweight champion of the world Jake LaMotta, it was one of the best performances by any actor in history, and in this case it was Robert DeNiro. He had to first get into great shape for the boxing scenes, then gain more than 60 pounds to play the same character as an older guy; it was the first time any actor did that. And it was filmed in black and white; great stuff. The funny thing is that the real Vicki LaMotta was prettier than the actress who played her; that rarely happens.
No. 2: Field Of Dreams – another baseball movie, and once again one that has never really captured me; my favorite baseball movie, very apparent now, is The Natural. But almost everyone knows this line, even if they don’t remember it came from this movie: “If you build it, they will come.” Another Kevin Costner movie.
No. 1: Hoosiers – Gene Hackman won an Oscar for this movie as best actor, and that’s about the only thing I know about it because I never saw it. It’s about a small town high school basketball team in Indiana that ends up winning the state title. That’s all I’ve got.
Anyway, that’s my commentary on someone else’s list. Of course you know that within the next couple of months I’ll be putting together my own list of top whatever number of sports movies I determine I need. And you can bet my top 10 list will have some “real” football movies on it; yeah I said it!