The space shuttle Challenger exploded on this day, January 28, in 1986. I found this reflection from the following day.

A national tragedy. The first fatal accident involving an American spacecraft in flight, killing all seven people onboard. People compared its impact to the Kennedy assassination. Everyone knows where they were when they heard the news. Feelings nationwide are of an ecumenical loss.

Today, the day after, the stories are of coping. How it happened is far away and, in this regard, immaterial. That it happened is what we all have to deal with.

The media quickly centered on: how are the children taking this tragedy? But the sense here is that adults are more concerned about how they feel than about the way kids are taking it. The more we ask “how do you feel” to the children, the more we question how it is we feel ourselves.

To those who work among the young every day, the message is simple: “at that age, there are fast impressions and equally fast putting it all in the past.” Kids do not think more than of the moment. That is their strength. The past and future don’t count for much in youth. That’s the beauty and innocence of youth. It is adults with the scope of time who have the capacity and inclination to dwell and consider.

We compare the Challenger’s explosion to Kennedy’s assassination because our lives have encompassed both events. But we bring in child psychologists and psychiatrists to talk to kids. Why? Because we are looking for signs of understanding that we feel slipping away in ourselves. And in doing so, we create an atmosphere more dangerous than the explosion of the Challenger.

Little adults are not what kids are supposed to be. The French have a phrase for teenagers, “L’age ingrat“, meaning awkward, thankless age. That is their way.

73 seconds after takeoff

When we were young, in the early 1960s, we sat in our early morning classrooms as TVs from the audio-visual department would be wheeled in. Lights would dim, shades pulled down. And we would watch expectantly as first the Mercury, then the Apollo flights blasted off from Cape Canaveral. We held our breath collectively, believing that at any time this blast-off would turn into what happened with Challenger a full generation after our expectation of it.

But after its long string of successes, and finally the landing on the moon in October 1969, we began taking the space program for granted and out of the classrooms.

Today’s generation grew up with success in space in place, with no TVs on carts, but guns in the classroom. And death everywhere on TV serving as babysitters for the Me-generation parents. We watched the Challenger explosion on TV on videotape; it wasn’t even live. But it is the same way death is delivered every week on The A Team, Hill Street Blues, and the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. It is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the real from the imagined, hence our order of concern for the children.

In 1985, the average American watched television seven hours plus per day, up two minutes from 1984’s consumption, the previous high-water mark. The message has become lost in the electronic delivery system. Each act is followed too closely by station identification and Toyota Savings Days commercials.

We have grown up in a society inundated with death, violence, and neglect, all presented in half-hour block packages. How can it but inure us, anesthetize us to death in real life?

We want this tragedy to mean more because it stemmed from a higher cause. But true feelings spur action. We’ve shared death so many times electronically, then gone beyond to find out what’s on Dynasty at nine, eight Central on most of these ABC stations.

Action in the face of this unending barrage has been deafened by the clicks of millions of remote controls, blinded by the harsh light of the cathode rays, and been replaced by a dull shroud of personal safety as perceived from the living room couch.

The real sights and sounds of death, so remote to the young in America, are all too common in much of the outside world.

The Challenger tragedy and its aftermath only brought out our feelings of a new, perhaps just another, lost generation. We ask “how do you feel”, hoping they can and someday will.



I’ve been watching professional (American) football pretty closely since 1958 when, as a little kid in St. Louis, Missouri, wearing my Cub Scout uniform, I attended my dad’s U.S. Army Reserve year-end party at the Reserve Center on South Kingshighway. 

They held the party on 28 December, the same day as the NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium pitting the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts versus the Y.A. Tittle led New York Giants. 

As the party went on in the big room, a bunch of us took our paper plates of food into a smaller room nearby, where we huddled around a grainy black-and-white TV to watch the end of the game. 

When the Colt’s fullback, Alan “The Horse” Ameche, busted into the end zone to score the winning touchdown, ending the first overtime game in NFL championship history, Colts 23 v. Giants 17, it marked a turning point for the sport. 

It was the first NFL Championship to be seen nationwide on television (NBC), and many consider it the greatest NFL game ever played, the game that eventually led to the gridiron replacing the baseball diamond in the hearts of the American sporting (betting) public. In 2019, a panel of sportswriters voted it the best game in the NFL’s first 100 years. 

Fast-forward 64 years to this morning, 24 January 2022. Today, people are already calling yesterday‘s division-round playoff game between the Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City Chiefs and the Josh Allen led Buffalo Bills perhaps the greatest playoff game in history, with its three lead changes and 25 points in the last 1:54, and unbelievable play after unbelievable play leading to the Chiefs 42-36 win in OT.  

And they’re calling the four games played this divisional weekend, two on Saturday, then two more on Sunday, perhaps the greatest weekend of playoff football ever. 

KC Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes Strikes again (& again)

Recency bias, anybody?

OK, I will accept the weekend proposition. All four games came down to the wire, the first three ending on a last second, walk-off field goal by the visiting team.

But let’s at least be honest with ourselves. Why do you think the game on the field resembles the game on PlayStation monitors? Why all the wild, exciting plays? Simple. It’s not the same game it once was. And I’m not talking about playing both ways like in the Ice Age of the early NFL years.

Let’s see, you eliminate the concept of defense and then tout how great the offenses are. Of course, we all understand why. Kind of hard to sell brain damage and shortened lifespans. Bread and circus, and all that. 

Hey, I am addicted to it, too. And it may be a beautiful game to watch in high-def, but the brutality is right there for all to see, as well. And maybe – no, definitely we don’t have the stomach to keep watching football the way it was once played, especially after the money grew so large and the attention to weight work, PEDs, diet and violence became so extreme that lives were at stake.

Moms weren’t letting their kids get involved anymore. Pop Warner Football altered their rules to reduce the violence as numbers dropped precipitously after the onset of concussion data began to circulate.

Hell, even now, when some poor guy gets laid out on the field, the announcers quickly throw to commercial as they cart the poor soul off the field and into the blue tent on the sidelines or to the locker room to get X-rayed. And when we come back, it’s like – poof! – it never happened.

So they had to do something to take the Uber violence out. But what they’ve done is turn the game into a bowling alley without gutters, a pinball machine without a gap between the flippers. 

So, yeah, it’s fun to watch, as long as you don’t linger on the hospitalizations. But there have to be other ways to offset the violence and still retain the essential game. 

I wish they’d just go back to no face guards and less impactful helmets. That would take care of a lot of the violence right there. Hard-shell, high-impact composite helmets with steel cages bolted to the front aren’t protection devices, they are weapons. Players don’t feel the danger until they’re seeing stars or can’t feel their arms. Then, it’s too late. 

Jim David
Jim David, defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1952 until 1959

If they wore less severe headgear, they wouldn’t be as likely to lead with their noggins. They’d feel the risk and tackle differently without having to be told to. 

Imagine if in world football (soccer) they eliminated the offsides rule, THEN widened and heightened the goal? Lots more scoring, yeah, maybe even a lot more exciting, too. But not “The Beautiful game” it once was.

I’m not really saying American football should go back. But let’s at least tamp down our hosannas. It’s like getting overly excited about all the running records being set these days. 

Well, when you change the fatigue factor and energy return via shoe technology, it would be more surprising if the records didn’t fall. Not that we don’t love seeing them. But let’s not compare apples with oranges and then give apples all the credit for being red. Just saying’