It seems like every weekend is a sports spectacular of some sort: hockey, basketball, baseball and football have all have staked out their highlight events and playoffs; tennis has it's four majors, as does golf; there are the amateur world championships in all kinds of sports, and of course, the Olympics, Pan Ams, and Commonwealth Games to pay attention to. There is hardly a break for a sports fan.
Common to all those events are the ubiquitous sports betting opportunities, from office pools to in-your-face website bookies. There is a large part of society that thrives on betting as recreation or addiction.
It is all so familiar now. You either tune in and get absorbed or just tune sports right out. The casual sports fan is becoming a bit of a thing of the past.
But, you know, modern sports are not so different from sports 100 years ago. Sure, now there are way more "big" events vying for our attention now, but 100 years ago there were events just as big on a local scale.
When Walter Knox would have a high profile matched race in some small mining town in BC, the chatter and excitement was just as all-encompassing as our super bowl this weekend. The miners had very little distraction from their plodding days. To have this "champion" take on that "champion" was a spectacle only seen once or twice a year. It was wildly anticipated.
And these miners, holed up in isolated towns with money burning holes in their pockets, were quite willing to put their money where their mouths were. The gambling was integral to the whole event, it drove up the excitement.
Naturally, the local newspapers beat the drums - it sold papers.
It was not uncommon for a little town of 500 people to have 500 men lining the two sides of the race course down the main street whooping and hollering when Walter stepped up to the starting line. Men from miles around gathered for the novelty of a big race.
And who were the big winners? The saloons, of course.
These little towns wanted nothing to do with the Amateur Athletic Associations and their codes of conduct and rules against gambling. These matched race spectacles were good for business, good recreation for the miners and a good payday for sports hustlers like Walter.
Boys will be boys.
So, today when I'm settling into the couch to watch "the Big Game", I'll be reminded of Nelson, BC or Cory, Pennsylvania or Mexicali, Mexico, towns that got swept up by Walter Knox's sporting spectacles 100 years ago. Towns that got "worked" in just the same way that ESPN "works" us today on a grander scale.