Storyline: There have been many fighters and fights since. But in my lifetime the biggest fight of all was Joe Louis v. Max Schmeling, 1938.
The date was June 22, 1938. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis scored a knockout over Max Schmeling that day. The fight was held in New York’s Yankee Stadium before a crowd of more than 70,000 fans–with millions more listening on radio.
I was one of those millions. I was only four years old.
We lived in Florence, Alabama. Will Bates, my grandfather, role model, and constant companion, was the proud owner of a Philco radio!
“Papa” kept it on a little table in our dining room, near the window, to improve reception.
We called it “our dining room,” but it really served as our family’s primary gathering place. It boasted a small fireplace, a bookcase full of ideas, a round table, a few chairs, and–on chilly bath nights–the family’s largest tin wash tub.
The Philco had three knobs–on and off, volume, and station selection. The tiny dial in the middle of the oval-shaped wooden face showed a dim orange back light that illuminated the magic radio station numbers, from 600 to 1600.
That radio opened the whole world to the Bates family. And that June night the world revolved around Joe Louis. He was our Joe!
To get ready for the broadcast Papa soaked the ground around the iron spike that held the antenna wire to the ground. That maneuver cut down the level of radio static.
When it was time for the fight, Papa, Aunt Pearl, and I gathered around the radio. Thankfully, they let me stay up late for this momentous occasion.
I think may have known that Max Schmeling had beaten Joe two years before. But maybe I didn’t.
Anyway, we were all excited. We all kept quiet so we wouldn’t miss a single punch.
Then, before I could comprehend what was going on, the fight was over! Joe had knocked out Max in the very first round!
Papa and Aunt Pearl raised the roof. They started cheering and couldn’t stop. So did I.
We rocked that little dining room like there was no tomorrow!
Over the next few years that old Philco radio introduced me to a succession of fights–heavyweights, welterweights, lightweights, and middleweights.
I picked my favorites fighters, mostly because I liked the sound of their names…fighters like Jake LaMotta, Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan, and Rocky Graziano. There were others, too: Fritzie Zivic, Tony Zale and Tony Janiro were among them. They weren’t as well known then and few are remembered today. But I named my second puppy, Tony, after one of those fighters (in Janiro’s honor).
I listened to those fights, trying to imagine what the fighters looked like.
Then television came around. But, to be honest, neither the fights nor the fighters were ever quite the same.