A few years ago — OK, quite a few years ago — back when professional sports teams flew commercial, I was getting off an airplane behind Utah Jazz players.

A newspaper was lying on one of the empty seats near the front of the plane, obviously left there by someone who had read what he wanted and had no more use for it. A not uncommon thing back in the day. Especially in airports, discarded newspapers were always lying around.

One of the players reached over to grab the newspaper. Another player, seeing this, warned him off.

“Don’t bother,” he said, “somebody already got the sports section.”

Being a sports writer, I found this amusing, for the simple fact that I knew something the players obviously didn’t: The Wall Street Journal didn’t have a sports section. (Later on, the Journal started a quasi sports section one day a week — in 1998 — and expanded to a daily section in 2009, although it’s never been a traditional sports section with scores and game stories).

I bring this up now because the scene described above is as likely to happen today as the Jazz going back to flying commercial.

Not only are printed daily newspapers in short supply (the Deseret News joined a long line of newspapers throwing in the daily print towel nearly three years ago in favor of two print editions a week), but also sports sections.

Last month, The New York Times disbanded its sports section entirely, while the Los Angeles Times announced it would stop including box scores, standings and traditional game stories in its coverage, both in print and online.

If Sports Illustrated — yet another print dinosaur — was still running its “Signs That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us” column, this would qualify.

Who’d have thought? Two of the most prominent papers-of-record in America turning away from traditional sports reporting.

If only we could have Red Smith and Jim Murray back to comment on it.

The sports section is what steered me to journalism in the first place — back before the internet was invented, when you had one shot every day to find out what was going on in the world of sports: the daily newspaper sports section.

I looked forward to it landing on the driveway as a kid growing up. It was amazing how much time could be consumed just reading box scores — they were the PlayStation of their time. There’s a story in every box score. And the only way to find out who actually won a game — if you hadn’t been there, it wasn’t televised (which was usually the case) and didn’t want to wait for the evening TV news — was reading about it in the paper.

Being a part of that reporting process appealed to me. There were so many reasons. Seeing games in person, writing about them, delivering the news, dealing with just one deadline a day, forming a tight camaraderie with the other sports writers on the staff (to this day, some of my best friends are from those days) — it beat working.

Like with a lot of things, I thought it would always be like that. I’d have bet a lot of money the Soviet Union would never break up, BYU and Utah would play each other every year in football without fail and printed newspapers would never die, especially sports sections.

But the world shifted. Now, sports reporting is more about analysis, commentary and long-form feature writing. As the Los Angeles Times said in announcing its changes: Its sports section “will take on the look and feel of a daily sports magazine.

“You no longer will see box scores, standings and traditional game stories, but those will be replaced by more innovative reporting, in-depth profiles, unique examinations of the way teams operate, investigations, our distinct columnists’ voices, elite photography and more.”

This, as you might guess, did not sit well with the more vintage portion of the Times’ subscribers. As one said in a letter to the editor, quoting the newspaper’s explanation: “‘You will no longer see box scores, standings and traditional game stories.’ Soon you will no longer see a check from me for my subscription.”

From another: “To quote John McEnroe: ‘You cannot be serious!’”

(It was telling that these two letters mentioned these relics: 1) checks and 2) a tennis player from the 1980s.)

As for the New York Times, subscribers yearning for sports coverage were encouraged to subscribe to The Athletic, the sports-only online website that is owned by the Times. Meanwhile, all 35 sports writers on the sports staff were reassigned to other sections.

Here at the Deseret News, many of the kinds of changes going on in New York and L.A. have already been implemented. Box scores and standings were eliminated when the daily print edition ended in January 2021 and online game stories have been more analysis than play-by-play reporting for the past few years. There’s a lot more how and why than what and where.

There are benefits. The DN online sports product lends itself to much more detailed and expanded exposure and analysis, particularly in areas such as high school sports. Today’s prep coverage is a hundred times more expansive than the old print-only days.

So that’s a plus. But still, I can’t help but lament the demise of traditional sports pages. I miss the days when reading a box score was a learned art, when a game story mattered — and people were fighting over the sports section.