John F. Russell: Evel lands a place in my heart
December 2, 2007
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — It was back in the days before hand-held video games, Xbox and remote-controlled cars. — It was back in the days before hand-held video games, Xbox and remote-controlled cars.
Steamboat Springs — It was back in the days before hand-held video games, Xbox and remote-controlled cars.
My favorite toy was the Evel Knievel stunt bike. It was the perfect combination of plastic, gears and legend. I spent hours cranking the miniature motorcycle up to speed and watching it fly over other toys, my parents’ furniture and, sometimes, our family cat. It was the perfect reproduction of the 1970s icon it represented.
Knievel was one part stuntman, one part circus entertainer and the total showman. At times, he was more controversial than many of today’s most notorious sports heroes. My parents didn’t like him, but you didn’t have to like Knievel to be captivated by his accomplishments and crashes.
His legacy has already outlasted many of his modern-day counterparts, and it will probably live on for generations.
Looking back, I can honestly say that I feel sorry for children today. They will never understand the joy that came from playing with the toy or watching the man who inspired it.
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He was a superstar in a time when we had only three channels on our televisions, and nobody complained there was nothing to watch.
We all tuned in when Evel Knievel was scheduled to jump because nobody wanted to miss the action. Watching him jump was like playing in today’s stock market. There are no guarantees, and the longer you watch the more likely you are to witness a crash.
Like most of America, I watched many of his jumps on TV, but some of the biggest jumps Evel ever attempted came in the front hallway of my parents’ house, on the driveway in front of our house and in my imagination.
The real Evel Knievel amazed an entire generation by attempting to jump the fountains at Caeser’s Palace, buses at Wembly and the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. It’s no wonder children thought the toy built to look like him could do almost anything.
I’m not sure that we wanted to be like him, but it was fun to see how far the toy would go, and how long it would take before it crashed. It wasn’t that different from watching him on TV, but we could skip the buildup.
Knievel was a lot like ski jumping legend Carl Howelsen, who grabbed an earlier generation’s attention with his stunts in the early 1900s. It’s not surprising that Knievel was a ski jumper when he was in high school in Montana.
But the time when men like Knievel and Howelsen could capture the public’s attention with death-defying stunts is gone. Today, it’s nothing for athletes to launch high into the air off jumps on motorcycles, snowmobiles and skis. But the spectacle of what they do is lost in a world of video games, 24-hour-a-day sports channels and high-speed Internet.
Evel Kneivel died Friday in Florida at the age of 69, and the world became a little less interesting. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anybody will notice.