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Columns

March 30, 2013

Remembering the glory of their times

(Continued)

“Clay’s eyes are as big as doorknobs!”

That’s how I remember the announcer describing Ali’s semi-blindness and his attempts to clear his vision from a substance his gloves apparently picked up from Liston’s body.

It’s hard to imagine any 14-year-old kids today abandoning their video games for a night to obtain a memory like that.

Those surrounding Ali’s career seemed bigger than life, too. One was the United States government, which didn’t believe Ali when he said he was a Muslim minister and a conscientious objector while refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

It cost him 3½ years of his career, but Ali won that battle in the Supreme Court.

There was Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who beat Ali in their first fight in 1971 (I saw that one on Pay-per-view as a member of the working press), but lost to Ali in two subsequent fights, including the “Thrilla in Manila,” that epic struggle about which Ali would say, “It was like death. The closest thing to dying I know.”

There was Howard Cosell, a self-promoting, pontificating sportscaster who was one of the few media people who defended Ali for rejecting the draft and became a star in his own right for his connection to Ali and outrageous comments on “Monday Night Football.”

Cosell, once holding court in a bar filled with other media types, approached the great sports columnist Red Smith and loudly asked him how many great sportscasters Smith thought there were in America. The professorial, dignified Smith brought down the house when he calmly replied:

“One fewer than you think, Howard.”

The massive and formidable George Foreman, who knocked out Frazier twice (and who could forget Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” description during one of those fights?), fell victim to Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy and got knocked out in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974.

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