Tonawanda News

Columns

July 26, 2013

Emile Griffith and the 'fatal barrage'

Tonawanda News — Funny, what you remember. Contrary to modern belief, life was in color, prior to the advent of color television. I grew up in a house painted green, had a bedroom painted blue with white woodwork. The television was black and white, and I watched plenty of it.

I was around to see the sport of boxing go into decline and disrepute (there was a time, pre-television, in which baseball, boxing and horse racing were America’s premier sports), and it did so largely, I suspect, because of television. Once casual fans got an up-close-and-personal view of boxing, as television can offer better than anything other than actually being there, it lost whatever mystery and excitement it had. Unlike football, the elements and complexities of which are multiplied by TV.

There actually was a television presentation called “Gillette Friday Night Fights.” I forget the network, but for those of use awake but too young to go out on a Friday, it remains in memory. A boxing match of flexible length (three-minute rounds and a one-minute break, between rounds, meant a razor blades commercial every three minutes. Perfect.) was followed by an interview with the winner. 

A boxing match could be over in seconds, but the program, as I recall, was scheduled for 45 minutes and followed by some sort of bowling show that included advertisements for pipe tobacco, sung by the Sportsmen’s Quartet, who also did occasional duty as singers on Jack Benny’s program.

I saw a Saturday night fight as well, with details I could not comprehend, but they were details nonetheless. 

Madison Square Garden, 1962. Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret, for the welterweight championship. All that New York City action and hubbub, all that metropolitan speed and motion. Pre-fight rumors of bad blood between the fighters (Paret, a brash Cuban, called Griffith a maricon, a slang word for gay and not a complimentary one). 

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