By JOE R. BOWLING, JR.
Special to the NEWS
My father warned me that once I graduated high school that time would fly so fast that I wouldn’t believe it. As is the case for most words of wisdom bestowed upon me by him, was he ever right. This week I celebrated my 48th year, and all I can say is that it all seems a blur. Yet in that blur of life I can say that there certainly has been a lot of things happen that I was able to see and live through. Here’s my view on 48 years in a hurry.
Born in 1963 I attended my first baseball game which happened to be in September. It would be the final day of Stan Musial’s career and I can say I was there! Two months later President Kennedy was shot which would mark one of many events that would shape the world around me.
Then 1964 would see the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Pennants hung in my room for years from that team. A boxer came along name Cassius Clay that would be a favorite in my home for years to come. He beat Sonny Liston that year.
It was in 1965 when Clay changed his name to Ali. He still beat Liston again. That year they completed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. We lived close enough to it that I could walk to the top of a hill in our back yard and see it shining from a distance on a sunny day. And 1966 would bring the All-Star game to a new Busch Stadium. Another pennant on the wall! Texas Western won the college basketball championship that year too, which I would later appreciate much more as I grew older. And in 1967 the first Super Bowl was played, which means that, yes, I’ve been around for all of them. Later I would get paid to go to one but that was down the road.
The Cardinals also beat the Red Sox that year for the World Series crown. Yes another pennant on the wall of fame in Joe’s room. The 1968 season would have the Cardinals back in the World Series. They lost this one but I still hung another pennant on the wall. NASA made a trip around the moon that year also which meant that my earliest school days would be spent with teachers trying to show us the importance of winning the space race. The year 1969 had Mickey Mantle saying goodbye to baseball. It also had man walking on the moon. Watching from a small black and white television I saw them both. And 1970 would be the start of Monday Night Football. It was a school night but I can still remember getting to watch at least the first half and hearing Howard Cosell recap the Sunday games at half time before I had to go to sleep. Cosell, Meredith and Gifford would lay a foundation for me in my later sports broadcasting football.
By 1971 my dad’s high school made it to the state championship game in basketball. I am quite sure it was the first game I ever attended. The Pirates won the World Series that year and I remember getting to go see them play when they came to St. Louis. I saw Roberto Clemente make two great catches and throw a guy out at home plate from deep right field. It would be the first real memories of baseball of many to come that I would see in person.
Unfortunately, 1972 was my first view of terrorism as they tried to ruin the Olympics. I also remember seeing this crazy stuff on TV called Watergate, which as a kid, was as boring as it got. Problem was it was on every channel! What wasn’t boring was the chance to see the Miami Dolphins play and win every game. I watched them and was a huge fan of Mercury Morris, Larry Csonka and company. In 1973 Secretariat won the Triple Crown. O.J. Simpson was a big hit for the Buffalo Bills and Bill Walton was helping UCLA win a national title in basketball. I was into sports full time now and it didn’t matter what the season was I was listening or watching.
In 1974 I watched Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s record. I also saw the president resign as Richard Nixon stepped aside and they dropped the speed limit to 55 which meant it took a lot longer to get to grandma’s house on the weekends. In 1975 I was rooting hard as the Steelers beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. I also watched the “Thrilla in Manila” as did almost everyone I knew. On Thanksgiving Day in 1976 my dad somehow got tickets for us to see the football Cardinals take on the Buffalo Bills. It was supposed to be the O.J. Simpson show but turned out to be the Dwight Braxton show. Either way the Cards lost on one of the coldest days I can remember. In 1977 I sat and watched as Reggie Jackson hit those homeruns which forever deemed him Mr. October. I also got to go to the movies to see Star Wars! I also remember keeping up with this college running back named Earl Campbell from Texas and on a Monday night my Cardinals upset Roger Staubach and company 24-17. Then in 1978 our high school marching band was asked to provide ushers for the St. Louis Cardinals football games. I was among the first on the list and was happy to get to go to every home game and get paid to be there. It would be the start of many paydays from sporting events as I would later become a full time usher there and lock in more memories than I could write in one hundred columns.
In 1979 the Steelers and the Pirates won championships. It wasn’t that I was a huge fan of either, especially the Pirates, but I got to see them both up front. By now I was a full time usher at the baseball games and got there early to watch batting practice. I can still remember how far Willie Stargell could hit a baseball. Our band played at halftime of a Cardinals football game against the Steelers and I remember taking my little 110 instamatic camera out and snapping a shot of the “Steel Curtain” standing just a few feet in front of me before we took the field. Mean Joe Green never looked any bigger than on that day.
In 1980 they boycotted the Olympics and I hated it. That was the summer Olympics though but the winter games I was among the millions watching when the words “Do you believe in Miracles?” forever framed how big a few words from sports announcer like Al Michaels could be. I also remember watching live as Mount St. Helens erupted. In 1981 I was working on the day that major League Baseball decided to strike. To me the game has never been the same even though it had changed by then already to something much different than what I saw as a young boy. Sports as a whole was changing and so, too, was my interest level. I would graduate high school that year and embark on the journey of work, family and life in general. I have since witnessed many, many more events in life and in sports that could fill page after page. I have played my share of games all along the way too and am comfortable that if I never win another I will be above .500 when it’s all said and done. I think I have hit more shots on the basketball court than I will ever miss, even if I miss them all from here on. As for that? It’s time to step aside. I make sure to hit the court every year on this day and remind my knees that it is something I love to do. Here’s to another 48!