"Howard Cosell," the man said as he looked at the camera with a puzzled face, "who's he?"
The man on camera was, of course, Muhammad Ali. And anyone who knew anything knew that Ali was perfectly aware of who Howard Cosell was. Of course, at the time, I didn't know anything. How could I? I was just a kid. Yet even I knew the colorful Ali, despite the fact his days of ring glory were well behind him.
Funny, famous and literally "the greatest" during his heyday, that's what I knew Ali to be when I was young. Oh, the man was still fighting, but everyone - even I - knew his best days had passed. Still, I remember pulling for Ali when he tried for one last shot at glory against the great Larry Holmes. It was Ali, after all. He was someone special, advancing age be damned.
"See that moon?" me grandfather asked, pointing to a moon which was visible in the midday sky. "That guy's going to send your buddy over it." That was my grandfather's prediction for the impending Ali-Holmes showdown. I remember my father and I being amused. Grandpa, who knew his stuff, was simply saying what everyone else was. But we knew better. We had faith.
But faith in worldly matters too often proves fallible. Holmes ended up breaking his own heart through his utter dominance of Ali. Indeed, had he wanted, Holmes may well have been able to send Ali over the moon that night, fulfilling Grandpa's prediction. Holmes didn't want that, though. He was too decent a guy.
He was also a guy who knew this wasn't the Ali of yore. In fact, he probably knew it better than anyone, as Holmes had been Ali's sparring partner when he was younger. Now, though, it was Holmes who was champ. But champions, if they're worth a damn, respect their own. And just as a younger Ali had spoken flatteringly of Rocky Marciano, Holmes held back from doing what he essentially had every right in the world to do that evening - utterly destroy his opponent.
It wasn't that Holmes couldn't do it. It's that he wouldn't do it.
Some adversaries simply earn that kind of respect.
RIP Muhammad Ali.