As with most analyses, this one began while watching a 1983 episode of Battle of the Network Stars on ESPN Classic.
For those of you under 35, Battle of the Network Stars featured network TV stars battling for cash and bragging rights during a series of athletic competitions. Hence, its title. The episodes I watched showcased such stars as Mark Harmon, Heather Locklear and Tom Wopat.
At the time the show originally aired, Wopat, as teammates and competitors referred to him, played Luke Duke on Dukes of Hazzard.
And, at the time, I was a devotee of Dukes.
On Friday afternoons, I sat restlessly in class and counted down the hours until I would have a bowl of popcorn in my hands and Dukes on the TV. The cliffhangers that led into the commercials contributed to emotional distress that haunts me to this day. As the General Lee sailed over a creek, I would ask myself, “Will they land safely on the other side of the road or will this be the time the mountain finally gets them?”
Thankfully, they survived their mid-air freeze frame predicaments, which allowed me to bask in the sunny glow of Bo Duke or as he was known in real life, John Schneider.
Maybe it was Bo’s boyish good looks or his youthful enthusiasm, but I fell hard for him. I’ll admit, his impulsive behavior got the boys into a tight spot or two, but at least he enjoyed life. By comparison, his more serious cousin Luke seemed old and boring.
For reasons I will never understand, the network eventually canned Dukes. Over the years, I’d see John Schneider on TV singing or guest starring in some show that was vastly inferior to Dukes and I’d say to myself, “He’s gotten even prettier.”
I never thought much of Wopat, even when he costarred on Cybill with none other than Cybill Shepherd.
That is, until Battle of the Network Stars. There, I watched him, in that pervert Howard Cossell’s words, “run like the wind” during the relay and lead CBS to two tug-of-war victories.
If I wasn’t convinced of his physical perfection before he participated sans shirt in the dunking booth, there was no question afterward.
I know I was just a kid, but how could I have overlooked that luxurious mane of curly black hair on Wopat’s – and Luke’s – head? How could I have overlooked that smile? How could I have overlooked those muscles desperately trying to break free from the confinement of his blue shirts?
Alas, if I could live my life over, I would have spent the last 30 years pining for Tom Wopat. And I would have mastered the art of entering and exiting a car through the windows.