Saturday, January 21, 2012

Me and Muhammad Ali

The first time I laid eyes on Muhammad Ali was in 1973 when he was getting into an elevator in the Prudential Center in Boston where I was going to college.

It was my first brush with greatness (other than seeing Johnny Cash in the Bangor, Maine airport terminal) but there were about 20 people between me and Ali.

He was that famous. He had that large of an entourage.

I saw only one of his fights live and it’s one I’m sure people never remember. It was in the middle of Mile High Stadium in Denver and his opponent was the late Lyle Alzado. The Denver Broncos’ defensive star was holding out of training camp, trying to get a new contract, when he somehow convinced Ali to get into the ring with him for an exhibition match on July 14, 1979.

Alzado, a former Golden Gloves boxer in South Dakota, said he was considering retiring as a NFL player to become a professional boxer and insisted his fight with Ali was not a stunt to call attention to holding out with the Broncos.

Wink. Wink.

Anyway, I was covering the fight at ringside for the Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald and the ring was staged in the middle of the field at the 50-yard line. Ali, who weighed something like 230 pounds at the time, was out of shape so he just toyed with Alzado, who was a Chuck Wepner-like brawler.

Ali won the exhibition with shear skill, though Alzado made a nice account of himself. He wasn’t bad, but it was obvious he should keep his day job, which he did with the Broncos.

That was the last time I saw Ali in person. He turned 70 years old this week and he reminds me of my youth growing up in Maine where I first knew him as Cassius Clay and he was beating Sonny Liston and the only way then we heard about it was via radio. This is before ESPN and cable TV and we had only three local television stations we could watch. The first time I saw Clay on TV was on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

There of course was a fascination about Clay because he ran his mouth. He was so brash but so good and the legend grew.

I’ll always remember the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympiad in Atlanta and the mystery surrounding whom would be chosen to light the Olympic torch. When Ali appeared to do it, there was just one word that overcame me in that moment.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home