Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Moment of Silence

In the ‘70s, my favorite toy was my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle Set.

It was a pretty basic toy - you placed Evel on the bike, you put the bike on the platform, you revved up the winder and let’er rip. Depending on his placement on the bike, Evel would pop a wheelie, go straight, or jump a ramp.

Hours of fun for kids of all ages.

It was such an immortal toy they re-released it a few years back.

By now, I'm sure that you all have heard that Robert 'Evel' Knievel passed away Friday. Every newspaper and television news program in the country carried the news and a report on his life and his stunts.

But no one has mentioned his indelible mark on history. Nobody has said (at least not that I’ve read) that we can thank Evel for the entire “extreme sports” genre.

What’s that you say? How can that be? A multi-billion dollar a year industry that has spawned everything from sub-cultures, movies, videos, video games, the X-Games and an Olympic sport (snowboarding), all thanks to one man?

Yes sir, all thanks to Mr. Knievel.

You might argue that the Z-Boys and the Southern California skateboard culture of the mid-1970s spawned extreme sports. I would counter that unless you were a skater/surfer, you didn’t know who the Z-Boys were before the 2005 movie “The Lords of Dogtown”.
[ed. note: see the documentary Z-Boys and Dogtown, it’s much better -rb]

But Evel, on the other hand, was on national television for an entire decade – from his first televised jump in 1969, to his last in 1980. He took a “sport” that was relegated to amusement parks, carnivals, and local stock car races, and brought it to the national stage.

Because of those glowing images of a man, a motorcycle, and long rows of school buses, every boy in America wanted to be Evel Knievel.

Especially a chubby 8 year-old boy in Ft. Worth, Tx, with a Schwinn Stingray bicycle sporting mini-ape hangers and a banana seat.

A bike that was definitely not made for stunts.

I still sport scars from attempted jumps on crudely constructed ramps of plywood and haydite blocks.

Every extreme sports star – from pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk to Olympic snowboarder Shaun “Flying Tomato” White – extreme sports star wannabe, and extreme sports fan should bow their heads a give a thanks that Robert ‘Evel’ Knievel created their passion.