It says, right there on my calendar, "Boxing Day - Canada." I just did a quick search of the Internet, and here's one of the results that came back: "There was a time in Canadian sports history when Jews were among the top boxers in the game. Sammy Luftspring, Maxie Berger, 'Baby' Yack and Albert Roher were among the more notable Jewish practitioners of the sweet science." Okay, so I did a search for "Canadian Boxers," but still - it got me thinking about my own experience in the squared circle.
The family across the street was big and Catholic. They had moved to our neighborhood from Kansas City, so for many years I had to endure stories about the greatness of Hank Stram and the venerable Kansas City Chiefs. Their other sports fixation was boxing. As we all started to bump heavily into puberty, there were a number of times that we were all summoned to their basement to sit and watch heavyweight championship fights. I knew precious little about the sport outside of the easy connections to Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges. It turns out that most of the stuff Bugs did in the ring were not strictly legal. I confess that I might have been more interested had there been more horseshoes dropped into gloves, or glue poured into rosin boxes.
No matter - it was an activity that the neighborhood kids all piled in for, and so we all found a spot on the couch or the floor to await the main event. This was during the glory days of ABC Sports, when Howard Cosell was "telling it like it is." Listening to Howard's descriptions were almost always more interesting than the fight itself, but there was always a measure more excitement when Muhammad Ali climbed into the ring. There were some legendary fighters then: George Foreman, Joe Frazier - but Ali was obviously the true superstar. We all understood that we would get a better show if he was in the mix. I spent a good many Saturday afternoons and Friday evenings in that basement watching a sport that was reaching its height.
One night, we all headed over for a fight that was to be no real contest, Ali was defending his title against some up-and-comer, but it was still a chance to see the Greatest perform. We sat through the preliminary bout, and then it was time for the introductions. Aside from the kids, my neighbor's whole family helped fill the room to capacity. His mother sat on the couch, smack in the middle of the room. As the fighters were being introduced, his mom said, "You know, that Muhammad Ali is a pretty nice looking man - for a negro." It wasn't just silence that followed, but more like a noise vortex that emanated from my neighbor's father. A very slow burn had begun, and it is quite possible that it continues to this day. Ali won handily that night. He may have had several more fights, but we didn't see them over there. We weren't asked back. We still heard about it from time to time, but there was no mention of the Champ - the Greatest of All Time. That time had ended.
Enjoy your boxing day, and remember that once there were giants.