The operation of my ‘51 inch plasma TV requires the use of six remote controls. They operate two DVD players (one for recording and one that plays discs from any region in the world), a Blu-ray disc player, the stereo, the digital cable box, and the TV itself. Cable and the internet have become indispensable. Without them, I would not have access to ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN3, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, the 20-plus stations that comprise the Fox Sports Network, the East and West Coast feeds of the major networks, the various Superstations, and oodles of channels dedicated, believe it or not, to soccer. My childhood dream has come good: I have access to virtually every game I want to see.

Such choices simply didn’t exist before cable came along in the late seventies. I had access to the following while growing up in South Florida: every Miami Dolphin’s road game (the home games were always blacked out until 1973), a few Miami Hurricanes road games, whatever the three major networks offered on weekends, and the occasional Atlanta Braves’ game broadcast on UHF. That’s it. Aside from Monday Night Football and special events like the Olympics, sports was not a viewing option at night or during the week.

Obviously cable TV has had a metamorphic effect on what it means to be a fan. I wonder what it would be like to grow up now, free to select from among all these alternatives. An hour of SportsCenter instead of four minutes of sports on the local affiliate; Major League Baseball’s Extra Innings package instead of Curt Gowdy doing the Game of the Week; the availability of 50 college football games on Saturday instead of one or two; and ESPN3, which gives us access to even the most obscure sports and leagues.

This is not meant to suggest that I didn’t pay attention to sports at night or during the week. I did, but my outlets were a lot more limited. I listened to Baltimore Orioles (who held spring training in South Florida) and Miami Floridians’ broadcasts, coveted the brief highlights on the local news, and tried to learn more about sports from radio call-in shows. The majority of time on these shows was spent conjecturing about the Dolphins, the other local teams, and the NFL. The latter was a fit subject for discussion because there were four games on TV every weekend. You were lucky to see more than one game a week in the other major sports. My point is this: we didn’t talk about anything besides our hometown teams and pro football, because we were not well-informed enough to carry on a decent discussion. Our interest in sports had no choice but to revolve around the fates of our local teams.

I rooted for the Dolphins, the Hurricanes, the Floridians, and the Orioles, period. If I had grown up with cable, I may not have fallen in love with these teams.

I listened to almost every one of the Floridians games despite the fact that they were one of the worst teams in the American Basketball Association. They were so bad that they once got away with claiming that thousands of fans had attended a game because there were only a few dozen people (and no members of the press) who could have disputed the figure. If I could have watched, say, the Knicks regularly, with Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Willis Reed, I would have dumped thr Floridians in a heartbeat. Luckily, I had no such choice. They did not have to compete for my loyalty with any other teams. It was either them or no basketball at all.

That would not be the case if I grew up today. The local team would have to be really good every year to keep me from watching Kevin Durant. I grew up with a lot of kids who rooted for Notre Dame even though they were not Irish or Catholic. Why? Because Channel Seven showed an hour-long replay of every game on Sunday morning. Notre Dame was on TV far more often than the Hurricanes, or the Pope. Familiarity did breed a lot of contempt for them, but it also bred a lot of loyalty. Nowadays such sentiments are much harder to cultivate and tend to be far more fickle.

This is a sad, unintended side-effect of having access to everything all the time.

~ Ken Pendleton