The T-Shirt That Redeemed an Olympics

Too much traffic and heat, I thought. The air will be filled with pollution and frustration. It was the eve of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and my outlook - and that of much of the press - was negative.

I was a sometime sportswriter, but was writing screenplays that summer. Like a lot of screenwriters, I was between assignments and had hoped to be busier during the Olympics. I wished the Soviets hadn't boycotted these Games. I wished I'd tried earlier (like a couple years earlier) to get a sportswriting assignment for the Games. I wished I'd at least bought tickets, as several of my friends had. And I wished I wasn't on crutches, the result of a sports-related injury.

So I sat down to watch the Opening Ceremony on TV that July with a large bowl of sour grapes.

Then suddenly, something happened.

When 100,000 spectators and athletes held hands and sang, "Reach out and touch somebody's hand, make the world a better place, if you can," my thinking changed, almost instantly.

"I'm here where the Olympics are," I thought. "I'm a huge sports fan, and I've got time off from work. Why not go for it?"

First thing next morning, I hurried out to a T-shirt shop and had "Need one Ticket, Please" printed on the front and back of a T-shirt in (of course) red, white, and blue.

I put on the shirt, got in my 1968 Peugeot with my crutches and drove left-footed (thank goodness the Peugeot was an automatic) to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where I bought a program and circled all the events I wanted to attend.

I had no tickets. But when people saw me on crutches outside the athletic venues in my custom T-shirt, the tickets appeared. People sold me their extra tickets at face value; some even gave me tickets that had been given to them, or sold them for below face value.

Once, an elderly gentleman offered me a prime track-and-field ticket for a greatly discounted price. "What did you pay for the ticket?" I asked. "Well, I paid face value," the gentleman said. "Then let me pay you face value," I said. "No, $10 is enough," he replied. We stopped and traded smiles, realizing we were haggling against ourselves.

That was the spirit I found at those Games. Everywhere I found kindness, generosity, joy, and, well, love. People gathered in the shady park outside the L.A. Coliseum to chat and trade tickets, pins, and stories. It seemed like a big two-week-long block party.

I saw Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player ever; Carl Lewis, arguably the greatest track-and-field athlete of all time; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, arguably the greatest female athlete in history; and Karch Kiraly, the greatest volleyball player (I'm tired of arguing) ever to play the game. Twelve years later, it's remarkable that everyone except Jordan will appear at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, starting this Friday.

Not only did I get into every sporting event I wanted, but a newfound friend even gave me a ticket to the Closing Ceremony, where I was able to sit with my friends. When I wanted to take a picture from lower in the stadium, I held my crutches in one hand and hurried down the steps with the quickness and (after two weeks of practice) precision of an Olympic athlete.

An entire section actually applauded my descent.

The dire predictions about traffic, smog, terrorism, and the Soviet boycott diluting enthusiasm never materialized.

I discarded my crutches soon after the Games ended. But my outlook toward the Los Angeles Olympics had been unhobbled long before - shortly after 1960 decathlon winner Rafer Johnson ran up the 99 steps of the Coliseum to light the flame of the XXIII Olympic Games.

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