50 years is a long time. For instance, 50 years ago . . .

Jack Nicklaus had just turned pro . . . Dean Smith was a unknown rookie basketball coach at North Carolina . . . No one ever imagined Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record would be broken and, if so, certainly not by someone named Roger Maris . . . Bobby Knight was a sub on the Ohio State basketball team . . . Johnny Unitas was the king of the NFL, which ranked well below Major League Baseball in popularity . . . Racing king Richard Petty was still known as Lee’s boy . . . NFL Monday Night Football was still a decade away . . . Sports events on TV were a rarity . . . Athletes smoked in the dugout. Hell, everybody smoked . . . Major League Baseball had 16 teams .. . the NHL had 6 teams . . . The NCAA Basketball Tournament field was made up of 16 teams and to qualify you had to be a conference champ . . . Wilt Chamberlain probably had slept with only a couple of thousand women at that point . . . Duke’s Coach K was a teenager in Chicago . . . Black athletes were few and far between in pro sports . . . and I was a rookie sports writer in Rocky Mount, North Carolina . . .

Today’s athletes, with few exceptions, are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than they were 50 years ago. Today’s teams would crush the champions back then.

Some things were better, though, in my opinion.

Back then, fans seemed to enjoy sports more for the thrill of the competition. Sure, winning was important. Winners celebrated and losers cried then, too. But there wasn’t a win-at-all-costs mentality. I’m not saying coaches didn’t cheat and fans didn’t clamor for coaches to be fired, but most of us enjoyed our teams whether they won or lost.

Indeed, 50 years is a long time, but from a personal point it feels like a blink of an eye.


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