Most of us can remember a time when we weren’t so jaded and beaten down by life. These were days of great possibility, when life was what you made of it. The future was something greatly anticipated, with new things to experience and lessons to learn.
In these halcyon days of youth, we always saw the best in things, and in people. It was okay to have heroes—individuals to whom we could look with unwavering admiration and affection, without the slightest hint of cynicism or fear that they might not be exactly as they appear. To return to those days would be return to a time when “The Juice” was a reference to O.J. Simpson (football player, actor, and spokesperson), and had nothing to do with blood doping or anabolic steroids.
Unfortunately, with adulthood comes a knowledge of good and evil, and the understanding that those we held in such high esteem might not have deserved all the love we were all too willing to shower upon them. (One needn’t look back too far. A recent purge of collected Sports Illustrated magazines revealed many cover stories dedicated to the likes of Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, and Tiger Woods. A particularly amusing cover from 2000 announced, “With Sammy [Sosa], Junior [Griffey], and Mac [McGwire], the juice is in the National League Central.” Yes. Yes it was.)
The ’70s were a great time to grow up as a sports-crazy boy in Ohio. The “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati was arguably the best baseball team in history that didn’t call Yankee Stadium home. In college football, Ohio State and Michigan were in the midst of the “ten year war” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler that would take an already heated rivalry off the charts in terms of intensity. These teams boasted legendary names. Bench. Morgan. Rose. Griffin. Tatum. Gradishar.
While I loved all these guys, my first love was the expansion professional football team in Cincinnati. And my favorite player was a slight tailback out of Grambling State University, all but forgotten for all but the most ardent of Bengal fans.