Pre-Internet fandom: A short, wretched memoir

March 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 14, 2014

The other day, in a follow-up to a post about my limited experience with football practices, I shared three vignettes that were vaguely related to those visit to practice. Today, another vaguely related follow-up to the follow-up!

Let’s return to that Sept. 10, 1994, game pitting Stanford football at Northwestern.

I have one particular memory from that game, or rather from just before the game. My friend Mark and I sat in the Stanford fan section, and I noticed some guys handing out sheets of paper. I went over to pick one up and was handed what I believe was the debut edition of The Bootleg, a Stanford sports fan publication that is now part of the Scout network of sports websites.

Remember, this game was played a matter of months before the Internet — a.k.a. the World Wide Web — started to gain popularity. Netscape released version 1.1 of its first browser in early 1995; by mid-year, according to some estimates, the company’s software was used by four-fifths of all those browsing the web.

The quick-spreading popularity of the Internet forever changed how humans share information. Today, no matter how remote one’s location, if one’s home or office has a reliable broadband link, one can access breaking news, audio, video and oodles of abstruse data from nearly anywhere in the world within seconds of its being posted on the web.

Before that, however, a Stanford junkie living in New York had very little way to get his fix. In this period, before cable and satellite and broadband options fostered dozens of sports television channels, there was occasionally — very occasionally! — some tidbit to glean in the back sports pages of the local newspaper or The New York Times. Sometimes I gleaned relevant information whilst scouring copies of Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News at a library.

I remember listening to key Cardinal football games on the telephone. The play-by-play came courtesy of a service that, in exchange for valid credit card numbers, connected me to a radio broadcast. (Teamline, an offering of TRZ Sports of Kent, Ohio, still exists for some reason.)

That’s right, dear readers. I’m here to tell you that I lived through the times when most information was stored on paper; when most radio and television transmissions vanished into the ether an instant after they were sent; when a library’s card index (oh so analog!) was virtually the only guide to locating specific data.

They were Dark Ages indeed. (And yeah, I’m kinda old.)

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