Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thank You Smokin' Joe!

As a kid I looked up to my Pop. I still do. I remember way back when the way we used to take in the games together given the relatively limited technology available to access the sporting world.

Memory lane includes summers with extension cords, rabbit ear antennas and tin foil to take a portable black and white TV on to the patio to watch O’s games; listening to Chuck Thompson and Vince Bagli on WCBM, hanging on their every word as the Colts competed to pull off another win; trying to work through the fuzzy static on Channel 20 in my parent’s bedroom – the best vantage point in the house to soak in the signal and take in the Bullets game.

“Bullseye!”, exclaimed Jim Karvellas.

And then there was professional boxing.

Boxing seemed like a very macho sport for men only. Moms in the neighborhood didn’t care much for it but the Dads embraced it with the same affinity that they did basement poker games with their buddies and cheap cigars.

Some might go to closed circuit events which in those days seemed very pricey. Others would tune in by radio, waiting with baited breath for post round updates.

My earliest recollections of these days included the combatants Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

I didn’t quite get the name of Ali, particularly when Dad would refer to him simply as “Clay.”

The political and religious aspects of Ali’s new name didn’t resonate with me. I remember not understanding them but given the context in which he was described, I sensed that he was a polarizing figure. For reasons that have nothing to do with politics or religion I may have picked Cassius Clay as my guy. I just thought the name was cool. But Muhammad – I couldn’t relate to. It sounded to me like a name I’d heard in my Catholic elementary religion class.

My guy was Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

Smokin’ Joe would bob and weave like a malfunctioning piston. He didn’t talk as much as Ali preferring instead to let his left hook do the talking. And boy did it make a statement to those who felt its wrath.

Joe won that first epic battle with Ali. I remember Dad talking about how both fighters spent days in the hospital after their match. Their heads looked like warped melons. These men were then modern day gladiators. And it was hard not to at least in some way idolize them.

Boxing back then seemed to have more dignity than today. It almost had a higher social status vibe about it than other sports. Maybe it was the exclusivity of it that made it appear that way. And it was real unlike my other Channel 20 favorite – the roller derby or even WWF (which never appealed to me).

Whatever the reason, I know that even today when I hear the name Joe Frazier that somehow, it inspires a smile or at the very least it reminds me of a childhood memory that reconnects me to people, places and things that have come and gone.

And in these busy days, the cerebral respite is welcomed.

Thanks once again Smokin’ Joe for the ride down memory lane.

You will be missed.


Anonymous said...

Right on, TL....I am from that same era, and 'smokin' Joe was a real man, taking almost as much punishment as he dished out, but boy was he a Fighter! RIP, 'smokin' Joe!

Jerry B said...

Nice tribute to a great champion and, from all accounts, a true gentleman!