Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Updated: December 23, 4:15 PM ET
ESPN25: 100 Biggest Innovations

By Jeff Merron
Page 2

The "Big Bang" change of the past quarter century can be precisely dated: Sept. 7, 1979, when "SportsCenter" and ESPN rode the satellite uplink for the first time. Since then, scores and scores of innovations, both big and small, have created a sports world that would have been unimaginable 26 years ago.

These 100 innovations are a potpourri. We've got food, fashion, finances, and fads. Music, marketing, and Madden. Strategies, sales, and salary dumps. The Web, the wild card, and the WNBA. All were not for the good. But all were important.

Nothing scientific here, though I did try to nail down a start date (or approximate "tipping point") for each item, and I'm aware that almost all had precursors. But bloomers aren't Baggy Shorts, Babe Ruth wasn't a "salary dump," and the Bears-Spartans 1932 championship game inside Chicago Stadium wasn't Arena Football.

Complete list: 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

ESPN25: 100 BIGGEST INNOVATIONS
75
The slide step
MLB pitchers started using the slide step in the early 1990s, and the shortened stride/quick delivery became commonplace by 1995. "The slide step has changed everything," said Craig Biggio in 2001. "It's the biggest change in the past five, six years." It's been a big factor in the decline of stolen base totals.
74
The National
Launched on Jan. 31, 1990, Frank Deford's daily national sports newspaper was, perhaps, just a bit ahead of its time. During its 16-month run, it lost $100 million, never solving problems with distribution.
73
The zone-trap defense in hockey
Popularized by the New Jersey Devils in the mid-1990s, the zone-trap was a major factor in the NHL's scoring decrease.
72
3-4 defense and rush-linebacker
The 3-4 existed before 1979, but bump-and-run restrictions led to more defensive innovations, including the speedy rush-linebacker. Lawrence Taylor led the Giants to the Super Bowl in 1987 by mastering this role, and Ray Lewis also demonstrated how a linebacker could rule the game.
71
PowerBars
Brian Maxwell's 1986 kitchen concoction, the PowerBar Performance bar, is the icon for all energy bars, gels, and portable sports foods that followed.
70
TiVo
It's more than Janet Jackson's breast -- it's no commercials, no huddles, compressed-and-time-shifted games with ease. Tivo and Replay TV, both offering digital video receivers and services, debuted in 1998
69
Personal trainer
First noted as a major trend in 1984, but by that time there were hundreds of trainers who were paid big bucks by both pro and amateur athletes (especially celebs) to exhort them to better workouts. Tipping point: when a CBS exec told the New York Times, in its Dec. 14, 1984 issue, that "trainers are the new therapists."
68
Snowboarding
Sherwin Popper invented a crude snowboard in the 1960s, but the sport's first official competition didn't take place until 1981. The sport grew quickly enough to become part of 1998 Winter Olympics.
67
Super Bowl commercials
Oh sure, there were commercials during the Super Bowl before the ESPN Era. But Mean Joe Greene's 1980 Coke commercial, which aired before the Super Bowl but gained reknown during the big game, won all kinds of awards and put the Super Bowl on Madison Avenue's radar. After Apple's groundbreaking "1984" commercial, the game wasn't the thing for lots of viewers.
66
Traveling teams for kids
Call it the professionalization of children's sports. With future incentives ranging from college scholarships to pro contracts, parents now pay big bucks for 10-year-old Johnny to play 100 baseball games a year against other highly-prepped travel teams. Though traveling kids all-star teams have been around at least since the first Little League World Series, the trend's tipping point came in the early to mid-1990s. Now it's a big business.
65
High-definition TV
If it was 1939, we'd have to put TV on the list, even though only about a dozen folks watched the first televised sports events. Although CBS first broadcast a live high-definition game almost six years ago (Nov. 8, 1998), HDTV availability remains limited (and set prices still too rich for most consumers). But it's the future. Biggest advantage isn't more detail, but a wider view. You see the whole game.
64
Posses
Boxers have had posses for a long time, but that's an individual sport. Players on team sports having posses (especially hoopsters and Barry Bonds) have changed team dynamics and the way players prepare and train. The phenomenon was first noticed big-time when rumors surfaced about a showdown between Posse Jerry Stackhouse and Posse Allen Iverson in 1997. Which got Charles Barkley's tongue wagging:

"Get rid of your entourage. You can't really mature with all your friends around. You can't have somebody baby-sit you all the time. You have to grow and mature on your own. Your team is your entourage, not your friends.

"We didn't have entourages. Or beepers or cell phones. But the game is different. Teams have to take better control, but teams are afraid they're going to lose (the rookies) in a couple of years, so they kiss their butts."
63
ESPY Awards
Debuted in 1993 with memorable Jimmy V speech. The ESPYs signaled the moment when big league sports and celebrity became forever intertwined.
62
World League of American Football
The NFL launched its international league in 1992. Teams, mostly based in large European cities, play spring ball. NFL teams use the league for player development and scouting, and now it's an important pipeline.
61
Women's professional beach volleyball
Organized beach volleyball has been around since the mid-1960s, but took off in 1981 when Miller Brewing Company started sponsoring events. In 1986, TV got on board and the Women's Professional Volleyball Association (WPVA) was founded. Anybody watch the Olympics this year? 'nuff said.
60
Polartec, Gore-Tex, and other high-tech fabrics
Fabrics that help athletes stay cool or warm or dry while being breathable and comfortable have long been the holy grail for both game-time and workouts. While some were around before 1979 -- Gore-Tex, for example -- it wasn't until the 1980s that the fabrics began making their way into hiking and climbing boots, running shoes, t-shirts, and raingear. Other high-tech fabrics have been, and continue to be, developed. Their main advantage is really behnd-the-scenes: They make training and competing in less-than-perfect weather much easier than in the jock-and-sweats days.
59
The Telestrator
Invented in the early 1970s, the now-ubiquitous tool for diagramming video replays was pioneered by the master: John Madden, who first used the tool, called the "Chalkboard," on CBS's broadcast of the 49ers-Giants playoff game on Jan. 3, 1982. By the next season, NBC had also started using the device.
58
The Super Bowl Halftime Megaspecial
Explosions and aging British rockers and boy-and-girl bands that don't know squat from football just don't belong at a football game. With Janet, have they jumped the shark? It's been a slippery slope, but things started going downhill in Super Bowl XXII (Jan. 31, 1988). Just two years after "Up With People" made its final appearance, Chubby Checker, the Radio City Rockettes, and 88 grand pianos changed halftime forever.
57
Butterfly style of goaltending
Terry Sawchuk invented the style. But Patrick Roy, under the guidance of Canadiens' goalie coach Francois Allaire, made it mainstream after he led Montreal to the 1986 Stanley Cup as a rookie. Scoring plummeted.
56
The Wave
The first MLB wave surfed through Oakland on October 15, 1981 (other teams make the claim, too). By the mid-1980s, it had become an American fan mainstay and was on the way to becoming a global phenomenon. For the geeks: Waves almost always go clockwise, and roll at 20 seats per second.
55
NBA All-Star weekend
What was once just an exhibition game has evolved into the biggest, most high-powered hip-hop party of the year. This is due, in part, to the addition of the slam-dunk contest in 1984 (Larry Nance was the victor), the shootout in 1986 (Larry Bird), and the rookie game in 1994.
54
Recruiting gurus
Joe Terranova was the first guru to make money rating high school players, in the early 1970s. But the trickle turned into a steady stream when Tom Lemming published his first report in 1980. By 1986, the gurus couldn't be ignored, as acknowledged by Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill in the Sept. 3, 1986, issue of SI: "These guys do a pretty good job, and I pay attention to all of them."
53
Free agency in the NFL
Adopted in 1992, NFL free agency has had less impact than in other sports. But, combined with the salary cap, it's had important ramifications for both players and teams.
52
Ballpark DJs/individual theme songs
No more quiet between batters and innings; few organists leading the "Charge!" chant. MLB has pulled out the entertainment stops. That can be a huge boost to a band when it hits the stadium and arena playlists.
51
Baggy shorts
Pioneered by Michael Jordan, who started to wear longer, baggier shorts in his rookie season with the Bulls. The trend was gradual until the University of Michigan's Fab Five all wore them in 1991-92. By the mid-1990s, huge baggies were near-universal.