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Rich Kimball Rich Kimball
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Past imperfect

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Sports fans have always been among the best at building up memories at the expense of the present. Perhaps because most of us became fans at a young age, we look back with an affection that can sometimes blind us to the good that exists in the here and now.

The most recent epidemic of backwards-gazing has come with the arrival of the final high school basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium. Seemingly every human being within a hundred miles of Buck Street has been asked about their favorite memory of the place, and the tributes to a facility that was outdated by the Carter administration are pouring in from all quarters. Unfortunately, there are also those who romanticize the past so much they can't see the present or future with any clarity. Like so many others, I recall many great times spent at the Auditorium, but personally, I can't wait to see the wrecking ball turn that mid-20th century paradise into a 21st-century parking lot. The new Cross Insurance Center is shaping up to be the kind of facility that this area has needed for decades and will signify a glorious new day for any fan with a sense of civic pride that outweighs their misty, watercolor memories.

The older we get, the more we tend to engage in this behavior. Is there a basketball fan over 40 who hasn't openly yearned for the days of Bird, McHale and Parish, back when they played 'real' basketball? To really think that way is to deny the obvious. The talent level of today's athletes is so much higher than earlier generations that younger fans watching highlights from the '70s and '80s probably think those short-short-wearing Celtics look as silly as a tip-toeing Babe Ruth did to us in grainy, 1920s footage.

Regardless of the sport, the game has changed, primarily for the better. Those who whine about performance enhancing drugs inflating the numbers of modern baseball players conveniently ignore an earlier generation's transgressions. Who can say what statistical impact there was from guys in earlier decades downing amphetamines in the clubhouse like jelly beans? Can anyone seriously think that buzz-cut, high-topped Johnny Unitas could do anything more than hold a clipboard were he competing with the likes of Manning or Brady, let alone new-style QBs like Wilson and Kaepernick? I recently interviewed John Schmitt, who started at center for the Jets in Super Bowl III, weighing less than many of today's defensive backs. The game is made up of guys who are bigger, stronger and faster, and they manage playbooks that have a complexity that would've made Vince Lombardi's head spin.

Look, there's nothing wrong with fondly remembering the games of your youth, but when you filter those black and white memories through rose-colored glasses, you're missing out on a lot of amazing talent. Plus, you start sounding like those old coots Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, grumbling about how nothing today measures up. Celebrating the evolution of athletics doesn't automatically mean diminishing the past - merely placing it in its proper context. If you need a little proof this week, as you're strolling into the somehow always-too-hot-or-too-cold auditorium to sit on your little wooden seat, look down the hill to your right at the new Cross Insurance Center. From that vantage point, I think you'll see that the future doesn't look that bad after all.


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