Monday, September 7, 2009

Hall of Fame, ESPN Mark Milestones

On this day in 1963, pro football's Hall of Fame opened its doors in Canton, Ohio.

There were 17 charter inductees. All of them are dead now. The last survivor, Sammy Baugh, died at the age of 94 last December.

According to the Hall of Fame's website, there are 253 members of the Hall of Fame. And the living Hall of Famer who has been a member the longest is Steve Van Buren (class of 1965). A halfback who played his college ball at LSU and then played his pro ball for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1940s, Van Buren is now in his late 80s.

It was probably coincidental, but on this day in 1979, ESPN (an acronym for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) was launched.

Over the years, ESPN has evolved considerably. These days, it carries live broadcasts of popular mainstream sports. Today, in fact, ESPN will broadcast a couple of college football games — Cincinnati at Rutgers (3 p.m. Central) and Miami at Florida State (7 p.m. Central). The network also televises pro football, baseball and basketball games.

Initially, though, ESPN aired a lot of stuff that wasn't part of mainstream programming — like Australian Rules Football, Davis Cup tennis, pro wrestling, boxing and some college football and basketball games. And it didn't show exclusively sports programming.

But things changed in the late 1980s. ESPN gradually added NFL and college football and major league baseball to its lineup. Today, it provides live coverage of such mainstream sports on nearly a daily basis.

One thing that hasn't changed is "SportsCenter," the network's flagship program. It aired once a day originally — now it is shown as many as a dozen times in a single day. A noteworthy exception was Sept. 11, 2001, when it interrupted its regular schedule to show coverage of the terrorist attacks.

The network considered not airing "SportsCenter" that day, but eventually it did air that evening, reporting the cancellations of sports events that had been announced up to that time.

Most, if not all, of the inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the last decade or so appeared on ESPN at least once. They would probably tell you their lives would have been different — to a certain extent — if ESPN had not existed.

Most of the non–athletes of the world would probably say the same thing.

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