Word broke late Friday night (or, just past midnight Saturday on the US East Coast) that three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali had died at 74 in Phoenix, Arizona.
When I was six years old, I had chicken pox in early 1978. I begged my family not to go back to school on the morning of February 16, 1978 so I could watch a Muhammad Ali fight on CBS against Leon Spinks. (I got my return pushed back a day.) Even then, I knew of Ali’s greatness, but on that evening on national TV, he stunningly lost to the novice Spinks in a 15-round decision. He’d regain the title the following September to became the first man to win the heavyweight crown on three separate occasions.
He was much more than a boxer, he was an icon. He refused to go to serve in the war in Vietnam, for which he was stripped of his first heavyweight crown and exiled from the sport for over three years, never losing his title in the ring.
Rest in peace, champ. If you were suffering, I am grateful you suffer no more. I have a feeling once St. Peter clears you through, Howard Cosell is waiting somewhere for that first interview in heaven.