Royal Brougham (Sept. 17, 1894 to Oct. 30, 1978) was born and died during "football season." He rose to local fame during an era when sports seasons were carefully restricted and delineated on calendars, which is to note that there wasn’t the overlap of pro or amateur schedules that has been prevalent for decades.
I was thinking about "Your Old Neighbor" the other day driving as I frequently do south of the Ship Canal along Nickerson Street, past the Seattle Pacific University sports pavilion that bears the name of the gentle veteran observer of decades of sporting lore. I got to"know" Brougham, the long-time Seattle Post-Intelligencer editor, reporter, and columnist, during my own 1970s tenure filling (though for a slight fraction of the time) the same job descriptions.
One qualifies "know" because it doesn’t mean close association by any means. For me it merely meant being able to climb a flight of stairs to the third floor of the P-I building at Sixth Avenue and Wall Street to peruse (for free and for as long as one wanted to stay) the ever-growing Brougham sports museum, rife with 20th century memorabilia, much of it from the personal experiences of the "old neighbor," the nom de plume Brougham provided for the hoi polloi who enjoy reading about sports. If we visitors were lucky (and I often was), Brougham himself was there to clarify or embellish a point about that time with Dempsey or Ruth or (later) Lenny Wilkins or some other world-class titan of 20th century sports.
Sports editors of a given era knew, as Brougham did, what to expect about the passing athletic parade. When the year started, basketball was under way; then came baseball, then football, then basketball again: "sports without end, amen," in the secular liturgy of athletics.
That simplistic, predictable calendar, of course, long since has come to an end. The variety of athletics attractions is such that at any hour of the year one can summon sports coverage and commentary via a variety of electronic devices.
Sports seasons not only are blended together now in a calendar-clogging slam of league schedules and levels of competition. The pro sports for years have overlapped one another so that, if it were merely "action" you were looking for, there would never — Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 — be a day without something "sports-important" to see either live or via electronic media. Or, if there were a free date, sports impresarios would find five things to fill it, from the violence of hybrid prize-fighting to tavern pastimes such as gambling and pool.
Yet there is something of a respite around now, especially for Seattle sports fans. It didn’t happen last year at this time because, as soon as football ended, the British Columbia Winter Olympics spectacle began.
Since the departure of the Sonics, though, if only for a few weeks, this time of year usually can be comfortably quiet and the relative silence is scarcely unwelcome. It’s the time when the Seahawks season has ended, the Mariners and Sounders haven’t played, and basketball is confined to college and high-school games of varying consequences. The world-champ Seattle Storm team is still months away from playing; regional pro hockey is minor league, with relatively little fan interest anyway.
It is, then, a nice time to be idle. It means being able to afford the luxury of catching just the last half of a televised Huskies basketball game or having just a peripheral look at the career stats of some relief pitcher the M's have asked to training camp. It's an occasion to consider passively whether state golf prodigies Ryan Moore and Alex Prugh are going to be big deals on the nascent PGA tour this season. It affords the time to think about the nearly unimaginable prospect of a UW softball team without Danielle Lawrie.
Within days and weeks fan madness will beat a steady racket regarding the National Football League draft in April and the prospects for the big-league baseball and soccer teams. For now perhaps it suffices to have relative quiet time: "time out," as they say in sports (and in certain day-care-officiating instances).
The break in the action would make an excellent time to spend back on the third floor of the old P-I building reminiscing with Royal Brougham. Lacking that possibility, there’s the reality that Brougham and others (Dave Niehaus, alas) live on in the annals of local sports. The treasures of Brougham’s collection can’t be seen in one place any more since the items were removed from their Kingdome home before the stadium was imploded.
But at least we can think about and appreciate his legacy as we pass South Royal Brougham Way near Safeco and Qwest fields, knowing that the local sports parade will pick up again soon and that, possibly, as the irrepressible Old Neighbor gamely believed, the region’s best days for athletics are, like the next sports season, always ahead of us.