Could You Consider Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady a “Larger Than Life” Athlete? Who Was Yours in Your Youth?

Lou Gamelin

This weekend, we got to witness some of the greatest playoff football in quite some time.  In my lifetime, it may have been the greatest collection of a weekend of pro football games I have seen.  Some fantastic finishes. Some iconic plays.  One of the other things it brought us was the crossroads for two iconic players.  Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both exited the playoffs a little earlier than they had hoped.  Both have had hall of fame careers, accolades and multiple MVP awards.  But both are at a turning point in their careers.  Do they move on from their present team, which is the case for Rodgers, or do they retire, which could be the case for Rodgers, but more of a question for Brady.  But another question popped up in my head.  Would they be in somebody's category of "larger than life?"

A few weeks back, after the passing of John Madden, I posed the question on my Facebook and Twitter pages, "Who is that athlete or sports personality you would consider larger than life?"  It could be when you were a youth growing up, or even now if you are like me, a little more seasoned.

I look back on love and passion for sports and it started when I was about 5 years old.  I would watch my dad, who was so passionate about the Detroit Lions and Tigers, that it got me hooked.  He was probably my first personality that I thought was larger than life.  But as I got into sports, obviously my teams were from Detroit, just like my dad's.  I can remember Al Kaline towards the end of his career in Detroit, the hustle, playing in the playoff series against Oakland in 1972.  I can remember watching Greg Landry running that quarterback sneak against the Green Bay Packers 75 yards back in 1970, I believe it was.  Where I grew up,  on the shores of Lake Superior, in Munising, Michigan, we only got three games a year to see the Lions.  Both against  Green Bay, and the Thanksgiving game.  I would be glued to the radio, listening and following each play.   As a 7 or 8 year old,  I could only imagine what it would be like to see such a big person in real life.  I grew up 400 miles away from Detroit.  180 miles away from Green Bay.  It seemed like a whole world away.   Is it possible to have those same feelings about players in this day and age of social media and the ability to watch every game?

When I put out that question about who is your larger than life athlete, it was so much fun to see the answers.   Friends that were my age and a little bit older brought up Al Kaline, Bart Starr, which I have to say, would have to be one of mine too, even though he played for my evil empire.  I also heard some giants like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.  Another one that really hit me was Muhammed Ali.  He was probably the more popular one of folks my age, and even a little younger.   Tuesday, on my show, The Captain Lou Extravaganza, which you can hear on this network, from 8-10 pmET, I am interviewing a gentleman by the name of Bob Every, who was friends with Ali.  I can't wait to swap memories of watching Ali with Bob, and hearing what he was like in person.   I can tell you already, I am nervous talking to Bob about Ali.  It's so funny.  It has been, what, over 40 years since Ali fought, and since we watched him in the ring.  But he was such an important figure growing up in the 70s,  not just in sports, but life in general. You couldn't wait to watch him fight.  He was like that relative you only got to see once or twice a year.  You couldn't wait.  And you didn't have to pay $70 to watch him. It was still an event. to see him.    I guess that is what makes him larger than life to me.

With my passion for broadcasting that started when I was 9 or 10, I could only imagine what it was like to call a major league game or even be in the presence of the people calling the games.  I would write letters to the local CBS affiliate in Marquette, Michigan, just hoping for some pointers when I graduated high school.  I got a phone call from Scott Fure from TV-6 at like 9:30 at night one time, and was speechless.  Fast forward to College, I got to work at a college radio station, and got a chance to cover a Pistons game.  I was so nervous going there, actually walking right by the floor the Pistons actually played.  I went into the media room, sat down to the meal, and who else but George Blaha sits right next to me.  THE voice of the Pistons since the 70s, and still going strong today, along with the voice of Michigan State football.  I was tongue tied.  He was so gracious.  I still think back on that and think, that has to be a Larger than Life person.  My first encounter with Ernie Harwell in 1989, as well.  He was like a long time uncle.  He was part of my family.  Every night, he and Paul Carey would be in my living room, in my back yard, in our car, bringing me every Jack Morris pitch, every Kirk Gibson home run, and the 1984 World Series.   I would sit there and think, "I wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with them?"   When I talked with Ernie that day in May 1989, when he was the Grand Marshall of the Holland, Michigan Tulip Time Parade,  he calmed my nerves by saying "Lou, just keep smiling and be yourself".  I will never forget that.  That is Larger than Life, in my book.

I could go on an on.  Sliding into second base like Pete Rose in the 70s.  High stepping like Billy "White Shoes" Johnson in the End Zone.  Doing a hook shot like Kareem.  Always wondering what it would like to meet them.  Or be in their shoes.

Do people think of athletes like that in this day and age still?  Am I aging myself that much?   With the advent of social media and all the access that we seem to have these days with modern athletes, do youngsters or younger people still think of athletes in that way?  Do they think of them even more as "larger than life?"  My son, when younger, thought Tom Brady was all of that and a kettle of fish.  Had his jersey.  That was only ten years ago.  I would have to say yes.

I watched Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady walk off the field this weekend on my television set and pondered, is this the last time I see them in a football uniform on Sundays.  They have been such a fixture for us on Sundays, one for almost a generation, and one for a little more than a generation.   I wonder how many people are going to miss them leading their teams down the field, if this is indeed the end.  I wonder how many folks think of them as a fixture to their Sundays, a part of their family, if you will.  If they do, doesn't that kind of make them larger than life?  How many would be tongue tied at first meeting like I would still be.  I guess that makes them "Larger than Life!"

Lou Gamelin

The Captain Lou Extravaganza

8-10 PMET Tuesday nights


photo credit:  sunil-gc-B9-f13_v8dw-unsplash.jpg

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