Ghosts of the Game: Athletes Throughout History

No NameAnalyst IJune 9, 2010

One of the greatest things about sports is their history. The players of the past have affected all of the players of today in a special way.

There have been several generations of athletes, and with those athletes are the fans that followed them throughout their careers. The fans remember everything about them, and the experiences they had with them.

What about the youthful generation of today? What about those of us born in the mid-to-late '80s that missed so much? All we have are the highlights and stories of others from those historic eras.

As a fan today, I feel grateful that I can watch Peyton Manning and Tom Brady duel it out right before my eyes and feel the anticipation that leads up to the game.

I appreciate the fact that I can watch LeBron James and Kobe Bryant go head-to-head as they play out their sure-fire Hall of Fame careers.

While I know I am fortunate to watch these Hall of Famers play during their careers, I can't help but think about all I have missed. I may have been alive during some of these historic events, but not old enough to remember any of them.

Whether it is baseball, football, hockey, or basketball, there are so many moments that I was not able to experience first hand.

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The 1980 Miracle on Ice is one of the greatest moments in all of sports. I was still five years away from being born when it took place.

In 1969, Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory when his Jets were 18-point underdogs. They went on to win the game. That was 16 years before my birth.

Ali vs Frazier, 1971. All I can do is listen to the stories and read about it in books.

Wayne Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading scorer as I turned four years old.

In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points in a game. My only memory of that event is the hand-written "100" sign he is holding up in that famous picture.

In 1983, I missed Jimmy V and N.C. State pull off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.

Jack Nicklaus wins his last Masters Title in 1986. I have the videos on the Internet to watch that event.

All I know about John Wooden is he was the greatest coach in men's college basketball. I know that because I read about him in a book and on the Internet.

In 1979, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird squared off in the college basketball championship—one of the greatest rivalries in basketball history, just another moment that I wasn't alive for.

Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1989, three years before I became a Cincinnati Reds fan.

Not only are these some of the moments that I wasn't around for, but also some of the greatest athletes in history were before my time.

In baseball, I never got to watch any of these famous players live; Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Cy Young.

I don't think we appreciate our past enough in sports today. We are all caught up on today's players and want to talk about how much better they are than players of the past.

As a huge basketball fan, it is sad to realize that I never got to see any of these players during their prime; Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Willis Reed, "Pistol" Pete Marovich, Kareem, Bird, Magic, Dr. J, Moses Malone.

I can find endless amounts of game footage and pictures with stories, but nothing will ever compare to the thrill that the older generations got to experience.

In football, some of the players from the past are still considered some of the best to ever play the game. I also missed out on these players during their football careers; Joe Namath, Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, OJ Simpson, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown.

To those of us born in the late '80s, we look back on these players and respect them, but we don't know what it was like to watch them on a weekly basis. The story lines that build up before each game, and what the players were like in person.

The generations before us know so much more about these players than we ever will, and lucky for us, they are kind enough to share stories about them with us.

There seems to be somewhat of an urban legend feel with some of these athletes, because all we hear are stories. We don't get to interview them, or hang out with them before or after games.

Some stories about Babe Ruth are so astonishing, but we don't know if they are real or made up.

What I am getting at is that we should remember those players from the past and appreciate them, but we must also cherish the time we have with today's athletes, because they will just be memories to our children some day.

We will have the privilege of telling our children and grandchildren about the Kobe Bryant's of the world. We will tell them stories about the great Peyton Manning and Randy Moss.

Someday when these players are all gone, and replaced with the next generation of athletes, we will just have our memories to serve us during our storytelling.

We can have all the film and interviews in the world, but nothing will ever be like the real encounters that we are having today.

My generation will never really get to know any of the past players mentioned in this article. We won't ever be able to feel the emotion that was felt during those days. That is something we will never be able to share with the older generations.

What we have today is the opportunity to watch and be grateful of what is in front of our eyes. We need to be thankful for what we do have, but also continue to respect those ghosts of the game that came before us.

It is scary to think that in 10 years, teenagers won't know who Michael Jordan was. They will know his name, and see his highlights, but they will never feel what we felt when he hit that shot over Craig Ehlo.

In 15 or 20 years, kids will be asking what Tiger Woods was like as a player in his prime.

It sounds crazy right now, but these players of today will soon be just a memory; a memory that we will be lucky to share with the next generation.