Flashback to Friday night, two weeks ago. Two Yale Daily News bigwigs, whom we’ll call “Leech” and “Michelle,” are out searching for a social gathering. They think they hear music in my entryway and come up to investigate. What do they find?
A. One happenin’ party.
B. One not-so-happenin’ party.
C. God Shammgod
D. Me, alone on the couch, watching ESPN Classic.
If you guessed “D,” then you know how desperate I am during the offseason. When I need to watch football in February, there’s only one place to go: the happy land of classic sports. Where else can you see the 1985 Orange Bowl, in all its splendor? Watch Fran Tarkenton disprove the notion that mobile quarterbacks are a recent invention? Laugh at the pain on Scott Norwood’s face when he began the Buffalo Super Curse? And there’s more than just football. There’s C-Webb calling the phantom timeout that doomed the Fab Five. There’s Kirk Gibson whacking his improbable pinch-hit game winner. And of course there’s Bill Buckner watching the ball go through his legs, replaying the Red Sox’s trauma again and again.
Growing up in a PBS-loving household without cable, I suffered through 18 years as a sports fan without any of the ESPN family of networks. Upon arriving at Yale, I spent the first three weeks (you know, the time you’re supposed to spend meeting people) glued to the television. The sheer coverage was jaw-dropping. But after hours and hours of watching Sunbelt conference basketball on ESPN and lumber sports on ESPN2, I came to love ESPN Classic above them all.
Not only does ESPN Classic have all of sport’s greatest moments, but it profiles all of sport’s greatest athletes. On a program called “SportsCentury,” ESPN Classic explores the life and times of the greatest ever to play their respective games. Or so I thought. Last Friday, as I sat enjoying another Classic sports marathon, I was shocked and amazed at the subject of SportsCentury’s latest profiling: Jason Williams.
Jason Williams, for those of you not familiar with the Goliath that is Duke basketball, is the current point guard for the Blue Devils. A junior, Williams is expected to declare himself eligible for the NBA draft after this season. Considered the best player at the college level, he will probably be the first pick. Williams is a phenomenal talent. That said, he does not deserve to be profiled on ESPN Classic. Jason Williams’ career isn’t over. Heck, it hasn’t even started. Sure, he led Duke to the national title, but that was LAST SEASON, for crying out loud. One measly year ago! You can’t become an epic, legendary or classic sports hero in the span of one year’s memory.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Jason Williams shouldn’t be profiled. Knowing him, he’ll win the title again this year, and he’ll probably have an immensely successful pro career. But if you’re going to profile him now, at the dawn of his basketball manhood, don’t put it on ESPN Classic. Put it on ESPN, or ESPN2, or on Fox Sports, but don’t taint the glory of the athletic giants who came before him. It doesn’t make sense to profile Jason Williams right next to Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. Granted they qualified things by titling the program “College” SportsCentury, but that makes little difference. His college career isn’t even over. He shouldn’t be compared to Len Bias or Pete Maravich when he isn’t even done playing yet.
Unfortunately for me, and other purists, the line between legend and budding star is only becoming more smudged. On the docket for profiling on SportsCentury this week is a fellow by the name of Marcus Houston. Never heard of him? That’s because he’s a seventh string redshirt freshman running back at Colorado. Oh, but his prep career was legendary. Better profile him now, before he breaks his leg and falls into total obscurity.
Disturbed as I am that Magic now shares the stage with current college players on a network that claims to take historical importance into account, I can’t stay mad at my favorite network. Next Friday night I’ll be back on the couch, taking in whatever sports history ESPN Classic has to offer, even if it’s the story of Chris Duhon’s 8th grade AAU basketball team. Now there’s a classic.