The Great Sports Awakening of '88

The year was 1988. Guns N' Roses and Rick Astley ruled the airwaves. George Bush Sr. was on his way to the White House. The Wonder Years premiered on ABC, popularizing voice-over narration that whimsically put things in context. As for me (cue "Sweet Child O' Mine" as I stare off into the horizon), I may not have fully realized it at the time, but it was then that I first became aware of the world of sports.

The World Series

In my first season rooting for the Yankees, they finished only 3.5 games behind the first place Red Sox, but that was only good enough for 5th place in a crowded, pre-wild card AL East. Thus the Oakland A's, artificially powered by "bash brothers" Jose Canseco and Mark Mcgwire, became my surrogate team for the playoffs.

The A's swept the Sox in the ALCS en route to meeting the Dodgers in the World Series. I watched enough of game one to see the A's take the early lead on a Canseco grand slam that dented a camera in the bleachers. But by the time the famous Dennis Eckersley/Kirk Gibson battle of the bad mustaches rolled around with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, I had already gone to bed.

Yes, I missed it all: Gibson's improbable, game-winning pinch hit homer, his ensuing hobble around the bases and awkward double fist pump, pre-Slim-Fast Tommy Lasorda euphorically leaping out of the dugout, and announcer Jack Buck famously declaring, "I don't believe what I just saw!" When I saw the headline in the sports page the next day I likewise thought, "I don't believe what I just missed!" The heavily favored A's never recovered, falling to the Dodgers in 5 games.

The Super Bowl

My newfound interest in sports carried over into the 1988-89 NFL season. I pledged my allegiance to the Minnesota Vikings (of all teams) based on the influence of 4th grade classmate Dave Rovell. The two of us may have shared the same first name, but he was bigger than me, cooler than me, and had a mullet that wouldn't quit.

The San Francisco 49ers, a perennial '80s powerhouse featuring hall of famers Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, were a popular team at Lincoln/Roosevelt Elementary, so I hopped on their playoff bandwagon after my Vikings were eliminated. They ended up meeting the surprising Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, led by league MVP Boomer Esiason and rookie running back Ickey Woods (aka the mastermind of the legendary "Ickey Shuffle").

It was a tightly contested game, but with a little over 3 minutes to go the Bengals kicked a field goal to put them ahead 16-13. Still not used to the frequent disappointment of sports, I didn't want to stay up to see the team I was rooting for lose. Having learned nothing from my World Series blunder just a few months prior, I hastily turned off the TV and trudged off to bed before the game ended.

Once again the morning newspaper informed me of the surprising outcome: 49ers 20, Bengals 16. Montana had led a game-winning 92-yard drive culminating in a 10 yard touchdown pass to receiver John Taylor with only 39 seconds left. D'oh.

("Oh, oh oh oh, sweet child o' miiiiine...") Looking back now, I picked a pretty darn good year to have my sports awakening. I just had to learn the hard way that it ain't over 'til it's over.


Ben said...

Too bad that, during your sports awakening, you couldn't even stay awake.

Krissy said...

Those photos make me think you ought to grow a nasty mustache. And that Rick Astley video makes me think you should button your shirts to the very top button and get some pleat-front pants.

ScottBoomer said...

1988 was a great year. The Gibson home run and Montana to Taylor are two of the most famous sports highlights ever.
Not rub salt in the wounds to much, but man you sure missed out. I guess when your children ask you where you were when... You can say,"In bed". Thats kind of sad.

Dave said...

Bravo, Benjamin. You came up with a better closing line than I did.