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On Stuart Scott & The Days When SportsCenter Mattered

Some thoughts on what it was like to grow up in the heyday of SportsCenter when Stuart Scott first graced our television sets.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In Middle School, my mornings were governed by a set of rules not unlike Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

1. I must sleep as long as humanly possible, down to the minute. If I know I can sleep until 7:07 instead of waking up at 7:00 on the dot, I will do so.

2. I must do the minimum amount of grooming and breaking-eating, especially when such things conflict with the First Law.

3. I must watch SportsCenter from the beginning in order to see the Mets/Devils/Giants score & highlights from the previous day, so long as doing so does not conflict with the First Law or make me miss the school bus.

I was exceedingly good at this routine, wasting nary a minute on anything that did not serve me. The bus stop was directly across the street from my house so once I knew the relative arrival time, I could plan down to the second when I'd leave the house.

I'd need to be able to do that because back then, in the early 90's, being a sports fan meant consuming your information as a sort-of Sports Update Roulette. Obviously there was no Internet. We didn't get a newspaper delivered to the house. I was left with television and that meant I relied on ESPN's SportsCenter to tell me everything I needed to know about the only thing in life that was of any importance or use to me...

Sports.

Some days, the Mets game recap would be near the top of the show. Sometimes it would be in the middle. Sometimes they wouldn't get to it until it was too late and I'd have to wait until I got to school so someone could tell me the God damn Phillies beat us again (F you, Dykstra, you traitor!).

Sure, I could just sit there and wait for the little NYM symbol on the ticker to appear and the losing score to appear beside it, but what was the fun in that? That would alway be such a disappointment. I would actually try to train my eyes from even noticing the ticker. I wanted to witness the drama of the entire game condensed into little highlights and high-fives before finding out the Mets had disappointed me once more. I wanted the theater that only SportsCenter could provide.

That's also why it was so critical to be downstairs, ready and in front of the television at the top of the hour. There was no fate worse than turning on the TV, desperately waiting for your specific highlights and getting the sneaking suspicion that you'd already missed them. The horror...

I also remember around 1993 when things started to change. ESPN was all growns up at this point and they had expanded to ESPN2 (a second network? Now I've seen everything...). Keith Olbermann suddenly started wearing leather jackets and a crop of newbies started populating the hallowed SportsCenter desk long the domain of people like Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Chris Myers, Tom Mees, Charley Steiner and Linda Cohn.

All of a sudden, dudes like Craig Kilborn, Karl Ravech, Steve Levy and Stuart Scott started to invade what felt like the strongly-defined parameters of SportsCenter. For the most part, a SC anchor was a very specific breed and these interlopers were coming in and inserting their quirks and catchphrases into what had been a predictably-comforting place for me.

I don't specifically think I stopped watching SportsCenter because of these changes. A few years into high school, my schedule was different, my priorities were different and my modus operandi was different. I think I started reading the newspaper more. The Internet slowly crept into our lives, providing a new way to get sports updates quickly (assuming the phone line was free and you could get a connection on your 28.8k modem). As guys like Scott ascended to become the new Kings of ESPN, and the network officially morphed from cable sports network into The Worldwide Leader, my interest in the channel, and specifically SportsCenter, waned.

That's not to say I wasn't keenly aware of the impact Scott and his compatriots had on the way America consumed sports. Ask anyone to start naming SportsCenter catchphrases and you won't go very far before someone uses a Stuart Scott one. He's one of a select few anchors who are basically archetypes for all who came after. He embodied the SC anchor position and what it was really about better than just about anyone who has graced the set before or since. It wasn't just about telling us who won the game, it was about entertaining us, whether that was early in the morning before we went to school/work or late at night when we just wanted to chill out and enjoy ourselves.

The world is a very different place now. When I wake up in the morning, it wouldn't even occur to me to turn on SportsCenter. I can have all the information, updates and highlights I want within seconds. But I do remember back when SportsCenter felt like the most amazing concept in the world, at least to a thirteen-year-old boy. And people like Stuart Scott were the ones who made that so.

R.I.P. to Stuart Scott. Donate to The V Foundation if you can.