WHERE HAVE ALL THE (LOCAL) HEROES GONE? By Brad Eastland, Your Sports Philosopher

September 17, 2010
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      My son isn’t nearly as big a sports fan as I am.

      Sometimes I don’t think he’s a sports fan at all.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.   Anyone who knows Rob will tell you he’s as exceptional a kid as has yet been born, part stand-up comic, part virtuoso guitar jammer.   And he’s also sweet, unselfish, and honest to a fault.   Any father’s joy.   So no, I guess I wouldn’t trade him for anyone; not even for a sweet-swinging, switch-hitting, 14-year-old Mickey Mantle clone.

Where have you gone Roman Gabriel, a city turns its lonely eyes to you….

Where have you gone Roman Gabriel, a city turns its lonely eyes to you….

      Still, it has always vexed and confused me that he didn’t follow more closely in his father’s footsteps as a sports fan.   I mean I’ve written two novels and at least a half dozen short-stories about sports, wrote about sports in high school and college, and of course am now the Sports Philosopher.   And I always tried my best to make sports fun and magical for him.   So what happened?

      I think I figured it out.

      No heroes.

      More accurately, no local heroes.

      Rob’s first favorite sports guy was Sammy Sosa.   Rob was three.    But Sammy was way the heck over in Chicago, and then he turned out to be a steroid-gulping-lying-to-Congress bum, so that didn’t work out.   In football, as a loyal Bears fan like his dad and his uncle, Rob has tried his best to get behind quarterbacks Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, and now Jay Cutler.   You can only imagine what kind of torture that sort of inherited masochism has been for a young man….especially a young man without enough money to afford his own personal therapist.

      And in basketball he grew up in L.A. with Shaq, but then Shaq left.   It hurts to have a hero leave town.   Or get traded.   I myself remember my indignation when the Giants traded Bobby Bonds, when the Raiders traded Ken Stabler, when the Angels didn’t re-sign Nolan Ryan.   I was livid and disillusioned.   Still am.

      So I got to thinking; what makes a kid become a fan and stay a fan?   The answer came quickly.  

      That’s right.   Local heroes.

      Growing up in the 60s and 70s, here in L.A., it was easy for people like me, my brothers, the publisher of this newspaper, and everybody else we knew to invest our awe and faith in mortal men.   We had it good here and then, perhaps too good.   For example: In college football we had the two great City teams at the peak of their power, USC and UCLA, with heroes in abundance.   In 1967 alone we could pick from UCLA’s great Gary Beban and USC’s even-greater O.J. Simpson, and a perky, pristine, pre-homicidal O.J. at that.   Nowadays USC’s running backs are reduced to giving back their Heisman Trophies, and I challenge you to name three players on UCLA’s unbelievably pathetic roster.

      In college basketball, UCLA had the two greatest college players of all time in Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.   I loved them both.   In pro hoops, local Laker and man of character Elgin Baylor was the worthiest kind of a hero for me; but at a similar age all my son had after Shaq blew town was Kobe Bean Bryant.   Yes, the Bean can sure play, but when he was about nine or ten years old my son—like any other kid, his brain bombarded by TV—kept coming to me and asking questions like, “Daddy, what are they so mad at Kobe for?   What did he do to that girl in Colorado that was so bad?”   What was I supposed to tell him it was?   Rape?   Consensual infidelity?   A penchant for buggery?   Fatherhood is hard.

      In baseball, my brother Chris’s favorite player in the 60s was Maury Wills.   A Dodger.   A local guy.   But the current Dodgers are one of the most under-achieving bands of men in baseball history, a team so screwed up that they were recently forced to release their best player, even though their record is under .500 and they are about 10 games out of first.   And can you even name three players on the Angels?   Even if you can, none of them are the stuff of heroes.

      Bet’cha thought I forgot to mention pro football.   No such luck.   Since L.A. has no pro football team, my son has had no opportunity to pick a local football hero.   Sad.   You might recall that to give him his first in-the-flesh taste of the pro game I had to drive him all the way the hell to Arizona last year:  http://www.laverneonline.com/2009/10/19/the-sports-philosopher-turns-cardinal-fan-for-a-day-or-if-you-prefer-why-la-doesnt-deserve-an-nfl-team/

      Conversely, back in the 60s, if you were a Ram fan (I wasn’t, but I heard that other kids were), you could pick a legit hero from either Merlin Olsen or Deacon Jones (both Hall-of-Famers) or the quarterback with the coolest name of all, Roman Gabriel.   Roman Gabriel!   Now that’s a name for a hero a kid can take to the bank!   (Roman Gabriel might be the best name in NFL history, just ahead of Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch and Dick “Night Train” Lane.)   Yeah, these were real heroes all right, as if bogarted straight from a Hollywood script.   In fact, Gabriel and Olsen did indeed make a Rock Hudson movie together.   Gabriel, half Filipino and half Irish, played an Indian.   No, I’m not kidding.

      Gabriel would have been a great local hero for Rob.   At 6-feet 4-inches and 235 pounds, Gabriel was the first “big” quarterback of the modern era.   He had a rocket for a right arm.   He was tall, handsome, and dynamic.   A four-time all-star, Gabriel reached his peak in 1969, when he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.   He even wormed his way into an episode of “Gilligan’s Island”, which dovetails perfectly with Rob’s dual love of comedy and TV.

      But in 1995 the Rams left town for good, leaving L.A. without a pro football team.   So then what does Rob get in the way of quarterbacks to root for?   The interception-prone Chicago law firm of Grossman, Orton, and Cutler!   Good grief.

      In other words, Rob’s not being a mega sports fan isn’t my fault.

      So let’s wrap this up by making this column interactive.   Just out of curiosity.   Back in the day, who were your local heroes?   Who are your kids’ local heroes.…if any.   And remember, I’m talking about sports heroes, sports heroes in L.A. to be exact, I don’t want any replies about your kids’ heroes coming back with names like Justin Bieber, Zac Efron, or Prince Poppycock.   Please.   I’m begging you.  

      As for you Baby-Boomers, I bet we’ll be able to make quite an all-star team out of your heroes.   Those were the days, huh?



*PS—By the way, one last thought regarding Reggie Bush having to give back his Heisman Trophy.   I think it was the wrong decision by the Heisman Trophy Trust to not give the trophy to the runner-up in the 2005 voting, U of Texas quarterback Vince Young, instead opting to leave the 2005 award “vacant”.   For one thing, vacant is a very unsatisfying word.   But seriously, if Young was second in the voting, and he was eligible and the gift-grabbing Bush, it turns out, was not, why shouldn’t the #2 guy get the prize?   Just because it’s too late to do a “re-vote”?   So what!   Fair is fair, man.   I think leaving it vacant sends the wrong message to kids.   It says it’s okay that Vince Young got screwed.   One guy didn’t play fair, and even though he was caught and had to give the damn thing back, the guy who played fair still got screwed.   Kids can always sense unfairness, and they hate it more than anything.   I don’t have to even ask Rob if he agrees with me….I already know what he would say.  

If they knew back then that Bush was ineligible Young would have won the award in a landslide.   Right???   In fact, many people think he had the better year anyway.   And don’t forget, after the voting was in and the award was given to Bush, a month later Young played just about the greatest game of football any college player has ever played in the BCS Championship Game, when Texas came from 12 points down late in the 4th quarter to defeat the Bush-led Trojans.   It was all Vince that day.   He did everything in that game but twirl the cheerleaders and clean the bathroom toilets.   I think he deserves a Heisman Trophy for that game alone—not to mention for what Reggie Bush’s treachery took from him.              

Feel free to let us know if you agree or disagree….or don’t care….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!

The Sports Philosopher

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and a big believer in sports heroes for our kids—in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered within the mysterious links below:





3 Responses to “WHERE HAVE ALL THE (LOCAL) HEROES GONE? By Brad Eastland, Your Sports Philosopher”

  1. Love hearing about Rob………..


  2. Hey Brad. Jerry West, Don Sutton, and Merlin Olsen. I also liked Tom Mack very much. My dad played O.Line high school football and he would always point out Mack’s correct play.

  3. As a kid, sports was forced upon me by virtue of having 3 older brothers. I didn’t give it much thought, but have always found it interesting psychologically that millions of people invest so much financially and emotionally in people they don’t know romping around on some sports field. As you know, our brother Chris was mega-invested in his team’s outcomes. Too much so, I think.
    With today’s intrusive media, it’s pretty difficult for the famous to remain hero-like. I preferred it when you didn’t know that much about them and could simply appreciate their talent!

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