A Few Words up Front: A Personal Romance With Sports History
By Tom Sheehan
To go back part way or all the way in my memory, to the fields and confines of my youth, is to color or discolor those most real situations, is to make more pleasant the quick reverie of triumph, is to soften the seeming indignity of loss. There was a point in time, which seems had no beginning or an end, when I grew with heroes, lived and died with them in their joys and agonies, when I hurt at their fading, saw them one step slower, one ounce weaker, the dream going down the hill. Oh, thus I come and thus I pass.
Not all of the heroes were nova stars leaping at me out of infinity, though some had singular qualities that for times took them above journeyman status. There was the endless and dominant hustle of Red Sox outfielder Al Zarilla, the bulldog determination of early Patriot halfback Larry Garron, the laboring graces of Tommy Holmes who belonged to the people of the pasture in old Braves Field right field, and the near-journeyman substitutes who waited out the interminable times to make one dream move. There was marathoner Johnny Kelly running forever and a sub lineman on the Boston College 1941 Sugar Bowl team who mustered an unquenchable desire and not such great talent whom I shall leave nameless for the knowledgeable. (But I was born an Eagle then, in spite of all other loves.)
I remember, radio-wise, alone, couched in a darkened room with but a dial’s pink glow, crying out my sledge-hammered sadness when the Duke Blue Devils, whom I had never seen, lost a Rose Bowl game to USC 7- 3. I think it was 1939. That association is still unfathomed, its cause or its coming, though the pain of those moments lasted for years, and brings still a hollow feeling in the chest something else has not yet filled.
Through all those aggregate times of joy and pain, the quick winds of exhilaration, being crushed by an odd score for a span of hours or days, the names and the deeds came and went, comets afoot in the universe, loose in the void; Sweet Jim Lelani, Hurryin’ Hugh McElhenny, Sweetness himself, kneeless Kyle Rote, Toz throwing a crushing rolling-body block in the Tennessee secondary, Iron Mike…