I recently turned 35, the male sports fan's sell-by date, after
which he recedes, for the remainder of his days, further and
further from the 18-to-34 demographic that is so coveted by
leagues, networks and breweries. In an instant I became an
advertiser's afterthought. Bikini-clad beer-commercial
spokesmodels who only days ago gave me come-hither looks now fix
me--unmistakably--with go-thither looks.
Sportscasters no longer speak my language, which is deader than
Latin. Not for me is Stuart Scott serving up his "Boo-yah"-based
bouillabaisse. I should be watching C-Span, not C-Web. I can
barely say "A-Rod" or "J-Will" or "T-Mac" without feeling like a
convertible-driving comb-over trying desperately to stay hip. (Or
"hep." Or "with it." Or whatever the word is for Puff Daddy. Or
P. Diddy. Or whatever the word is for him.)
Professional golfer Ty Tryon is half my age--or would be, if I
were a year younger. The 17-year-old and I have little in common
beyond this: We're both outside looking in, enviously fogging the
glass of the 18-to-34 demographic. Those 17 years were, as I now
dimly recall, a wonderland, an Eden in which I could "talk smack"
with Romey, pretend to care about Kournikova and aspire to a set
of magazine-cover abs that would make my stomach look like a
sheet of corrugated metal.
Now, alas, I find myself in a demographic DMZ--the 35-to-54 age
group--lost in a no-man's land between X Games and Ex-Lax.
Watching Britney Spears grind through last year's Super Bowl
halftime show, I felt like the science-teacher chaperone at a
high school dance. Which is to say, just barely invited. By the
time Britney was joined by *NSync, I had long been *NBed.
I was not, metaphorically speaking, alone. Is it strange that
games dominated by Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson,
Roger Clemens, Michael Jordan and Mario Lemieux--games brought to
you by Madden and Summerall, Michaels and Miller, Berman and
Costas and Nantz and Musburger (all older than 34, some
considerably so)--are presented primarily for the consumption of
none of the aforementioned? Is it odd that Terry Bradshaw, Howie
Long and Cris Collinsworth (average age: 46) can interview Jerry
Rice (39), then throw it over to anchor James Brown (50), who in
turn throws it to a commercial in which comprehensively pierced
sky surfers bail out of airplanes at 14,000 feet while
shotgunning Mountain Dew?
In sports, age is a Rorschach test for the beholder. Raiders
coach Jon Gruden, 38, is an up-and-comer, while tennis player
Martina Hingis, 21, is over-the-hill. Nolan Ryan was older than
Methuselah while pitching into his middle 40s--the same age at
which Congressman Henry Hyde was committing what he referred to
as his "youthful indiscretions." By retiring last October, Cal
Ripken Jr. became, in an instant, much younger than before,
morphing from a broken-down shortstop into the fittest
41-year-old on his (or any other) block.
Yet only weeks removed from the 18-to-34 demo, I already feel
like a gate-crasher at NBA games, which turn--at every break in
the action--into strobe-lit Stuttgart discotheques. Why
58-year-old season-ticket holders are gumming popcorn to Back
That Azz Up is beyond my powers of comprehension. So I look on
with the same slack-jawed confusion displayed by 75-year-old Marv
Levy, who blinks in bafflement each Sunday at his fart-lighting
colleagues on Fox Sports Net's NFL pregame show.
Last Saturday, on MTV's Super Bowl special, rapper Ludacris wore
a Johnny Unitas jersey. Nice touch, but beware those who do the
reverse: A crew-cut Johnny Unitas, say, listening to Ludacris.
That's the temptation for sports fans and sports journalists
alike, aging inexorably while the average age of athletes remains
more or less fixed in the mid-20s.
In other words, it is possible to age with dignity, Deion Sanders
notwithstanding. It helps to have an athletic superstar to steer
my ship by, a man almost exactly my age--84 days older, to be
precise--who is traveling the very timeline of life that I am. As
long as he stays relevant to sports fans, without looking
desperate or ridiculous in that pursuit, I'll know that I, too,
am growing old gracefully.
Thank you, Mike Tyson.
B/W ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO