LOS ANGELES — A few hours after Twitter told me legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was retiring after 38 seasons, Twitter told me that we lost a broadcasting legend in Dick Clark, who passed away at age 82 after suffering a heart attack. (Long are the days of Walter Cronkite delivering us the big news in black and white.)
Two icons of their industry, Summitt and Clark changed the way we thought about their avenue of expertise. Summitt is arguably the greatest collegiate coach (mens or womens) of all time and if she isn’t, is only second to UCLA icon John Wooden. Clark brought modern music to middle America with “American Band Stand” and later made Dec. 31 a marquee event with “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
Let me start there. Growing up, I never understood the hoopla that was the turning of the new year. To me, New Year’s Day was for football, as back then all the major bowl games were played on Jan. 1, and the Tournament of Roses parade that no one watched. But as I grew and stayed up later and later, tuning in to see Dick Clark do his thing in Times Square became a ritual. The Ball Drop became an iconic kickoff to each year and was not to be missed.
Shortly after college, my friends and I would try and meet in New York City to celebrate the New Year at a local upper east side establishment. We managed to five in a row and while it wasn’t Times Square to say the least (and thank goodness for that) the bar always had Dick Clark on the TV and counted down the final 20 seconds before the real celebration began.
Clark also hosted “$10,000 Pyramid” and all its variations throughout the years, which was one of the greatest game shows of all time (essentially, it’s Taboo, for those clueless folk) and what got me into game shows to begin with. When I was ages 6-9, my family lived in Virginia, which was a stone’s throw from both my mom and dad’s parents’ houses in Pennslyvania, and such, we’d visit often. My mom’s mom always had daytime television on her 13-inch kitchen TV set, and knowing this was where I could get constant goodies, I’d hang out there and watch all these shows with her; Pyramid, Family Feud, Price is Right and later on, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. It was a fun bonding experience for both of us and probably why I enjoy trivia and useless information to this day.
Clark was also a Syracuse University alumnus, Class of 1951, and set the stage for the run of famous broadcasters to grace central New York with their presence, so he’s got a special place in my heart for that. Though it’s always been funny to me how much we value those who attended the same college and university before us. Like it matters, or their previous success matters as to how you’ll turn out as a student. It’s all a mere coincidence. Though, who among us didn’t, at least in some small way, base which college they attended on famous alumni. [sheepishly raises hand]
It was rough seeing Clark on television in recent years after his stroke in 2006 left him debilitated. There’s just something about seeing those we care about not at 100%. It pains us. We want to remember them on top of their game. Sharp. Witty. Strong-willed and minded. It’s why it’s hard to see Muhammad Ali at public functions these days, or even when I ran into James Earl Jones at the Oscars this past February. Even my own grandmother, I’m guessing, will be hard to handle at my cousin’s wedding next month.
It’s why the news of Summitt, the winningest NCAA basketball coach of all time, being diagnosed with the early stages of dementia last fall was tough to swallow as well. Her iron will, stare, determination and drive are well documented and to think she could be anything slightly less than that was unfathomable. How could something like dementia strike her. Hopefully, now that she’s left her duties at Tennessee, she can become the face of helping to find a cure for this sickening disease. There’s no doubt she’ll attack this challenge with the strength she gave the Volunteers over her 38 years and eight championships.
In the span of a couple hours on Wednesday, two great Americans left us. One for good, the other just in the professionally. But what they meant to their fans and those they touched will live on forever. It’s said, “everything happens in threes,” so I’m anxious to see who’s the next to retire or leave us prematurely. Longtime CBS News man Mike Wallace passed last week so maybe he was the first and Summitt and Clark completed the trio.
Either way, I’m sure Twitter will let me know.