Friday, November 15, 2013

MY OTHER HERO'S EVEL








I got this tiny Evel Knievel card in the mail a couple weeks ago as part of a box break hosted by Red Sox Fan in Nebraska. Going through the stack, it tumbled out and landed face down on the floor.

How fitting.

As an adult, I'm not blind to the fact Knievel was a hard-drinking huckster with more skeletons in his closet than broken bones. But that's not what the 9-year-old in me remembers. 

Evel was the X Games before the X Games

John Wayne on a motorcycle.

The wild child swinging and swilling from a cane filled with Wild Turkey.

The Hell's Angel cracking his own skull.

The greaser with balls bigger than the cuffs on his leather jumpsuits.

Watching his biography, Evel Knievel, in 1971 at a drive-in elevated him in my twinkling eyes. From then on, his jumps on Wide World of Sports in the '70s were not to be missed. If he didn't get whisked away in an ambulance, I always hung around for his interview with Frank Gifford afterward.

Giff seemed to be best buds with Evel, even helping him stagger away after one particularly horrific crash in London in '75. I'll always connect the two, like Ali and Cosell.



My parents would've preferred I broke my connection to Evel. Brooks Robinson embodied their idea of the perfect role model, but I guess I needed a bad guy to cheer for, too. Because of Evel's influence, I eventually badgered them into buying a Honda XR 75 dirt bike in 1974 when I was 12. 

It remains my greatest Christmas gift. 

While not brave enough to jump it over things, preferring to race and ride trails, I set up ramps and launched my bicycle over milk crates, pretending they were double-decker buses. I'd pedal that same bicycle to 7-Eleven to buy cards or a Slurpee, while on the way practicing wheelies. 

All I needed was a cape.

Thanks to Evel, two-wheeled theatrics were the ultimate way to prove you had sack. His toughness was proven repeatedly, especially at Cesars Palace in '67. Him going over the fountains and then head over handlebars over heels left an impression as big as the dents to his body. 

As did his crash landing at Wembley Stadium attempting to clear 13 double-decker buses. He announced his retirement that day, even getting a short segment on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, only to come back five months later and successfully jump 14 Greyhound buses. 

He certainly had a flair for the dramatic, all the while knowing safe landings rarely get the headlines.

But crashes always do.

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