Jack Dempsey was one of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing. He was the heavyweight champion of the world from 1919 until 1927. His bobbing and weaving style made him not only the most popular boxer of his time, but a cultural icon as well. He fought in front of enormous crowds for huge purses and was named the greatest boxer in the first half of the 20th century.
Dempsey said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t”. To me that statement summarizes the hard work and heart of an athletic champion, no matter what the sport.
My own sports life was limited to football, basketball and baseball. My younger brother, Ernest, inherited most of the family’s athletic genes, but I have always loved competition no matter what form it takes.
This past week, Mary Lou and I continued on our journey of visiting sporting events of all kinds, even if we are not familiar with the rules of the game. After all, just attending an athletic event is half the experience.
Thursday night we attended our first match of the Nashville Predators. Though I have been to an occasional professional ice hockey match over the years, I must confess that I did not even know that Nashville had a team. Oh boy, do they have a team.
Formed in 1998, Nashville is currently ranked #1 in the Central Division of the National Hockey League. The match at the Bridgestone Arena was packed with over 17,000 enthusiastic fans on Thursday night, their 50th straight sellout.
There were three fights during the match, which the fans seem to love no matter what the score. Even as the Predators pulled ahead, no one left the arena though it was a cold and windy weekday evening. It was a fabulous sporting atmosphere even for a hockey novice.
The next day we traveled to our first Auburn baseball game since I was in college there over 40 years ago. Plainsman Park is a beautiful stadium just across the street from the Auburn Arena and Jordan Hare Stadium. What a great setting for the special game we were about to see.
Casey Mize, a Junior right hander, threw a no-hitter, the first by an Auburn pitcher since 2002. It was not just a no-hitter, but a brilliant performance. A perfect game was missed by a single error as Mize threw 13 strikeouts without a single base on balls.
The next evening we watched another baseball game between Auburn and Northeastern University from Boston. This time, the Northeastern pitcher had a no-hitter until the seventh inning. Auburn lost 2-1, their first loss of the season after 15 straight wins. The journey from the mountain to the valley is pretty swift in sports.
Saturday we enjoyed our first equestrian meet at the beautiful Auburn University Horse Park. We were there to cheer on the daughter of one of my best childhood friends, Keith Granger. His daughter, Terri June, was masterful in winning her point for the team in reining. The grace and poise with which she handled her horse were amazing.
We learned so much at the equestrian meet and left wondering why we had never attended a match in Auburn. We will definitely be back as our horizons expand in the collegiate sports world.
The rain on Sunday prevented our attending the men’s tennis match against Florida. That was a shame as we are both very familiar with tennis and Florida always has a great team.
There were great athletes on every team that we watched no matter what the sport. I am sure that several could relate to Jack Dempsey’s words about getting up when you can’t.
After four days of watching different sports, perhaps I identified even more with the following quote from columnist George Will.: “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence”. Amen.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]