Posts Tagged ‘sports’

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50 Years Since a Week That Still Shapes Our Lives

September 27, 2010

According to this morning’s USA Today, yesterday marked 50 years since the first Kennedy-Nixon televised debate. While it would be 26 years until Ford and Carter renewed the tradition, televised debates now occur in every presidential and vice-presidential election, and in many congressional and gubernatorial races too. Along with letting voters size up candidates in the same room at the same time, these debates have given us Nixon’s five o’clock shadow, Ford’s claim that Poland in 1976 was not under Soviet domination, Reagan’s “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” ¬†and “There you go again” in 1980, Lloyd Bentsen’s “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you sir, are no Jack Kennedy” in 1988 (to fellow VP candidate Dan Quayle), Ross Perot’s “I’m all ears” in 1992, and both “Joe the Plumber” and Sarah Palin’s winking “You betcha” in 2008. That’s a lot of history in a handful of televised hours.

One reason there wasn’t another debate until 1976 is that most pundits believe the first Kennedy-Nixon debate swung the election to JFK. He won the popular vote by 0.1%, and his electoral win was the closest in half a century, so small distinctions between the candidates could make a huge difference. Voters who listened to that first debate on the radio thought it was a draw, but those watching on TV gave JFK a significant win. The reasons are now famous: JFK relaxed in Florida for a few days before, and showed up tan and rested; Nixon was recovering from illness, had continued to campaign until just before the debate, wore no makeup (hence the visible five o’clock shadow), and wore a suit nearly the same color as the backdrop behind him–all of which made him look weaker than his rival. And thus was birthed Camelot, the frequent televised presidential press conference (Obama, please, a little more JFK here and a little less Ike), and the modern presidential debate.

According to Saturday’s NY Times, tomorrow will mark 50 years since the event that led to arguably the greatest sports essay ever written, John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” Updike was one of barely 10,000 fans at Ted Williams’ last game for the Boston Red Sox, the game where Williams used his last at bat famously hit a home run (his 521st; the only reason he didn’t hit 700 was because he gave six years of his prime to serve his country) and even more famously would not tip his cap to the crowd afterward. Updike, who never wrote again about sports, could not have known that he had launched a form of essay, transcending game recaps to place sports in deeper literary and cultural contexts.

That’s one helluva week.

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Why Football?

September 16, 2010

When I was a kid I loved watching football. Why not? Everyone did. I watched my high school and college teams play, and it never occurred to me that I would not watch. I’ve been in a fantasy league since 1985, when we had to fax each other our picks–there was no Web. But sometime around parenthood football stopped being fun to watch. I got bored. For the last several years the only game I’ve watched start-to-finish is the Super Bowl, and usually I do not watch any regular season football.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to more sports talk than usual, and you can’t do that without hearing a lot about football. I did my usual last-minute fantasy draft preparations. And by last weekend I found myself checking in on the UNC/LSU game and the Boise St/Va Tech game. Each had an exciting finish. So I started asking myself, what is football’s appeal? Why is it fun to watch?

I’ve been a soccer fanatic for about four years now, and I think it’s funny to hear fans of American sports say soccer is boring, because it’s low scoring. But soccer has continuous action, and a team can score a goal ten seconds after barely avoiding conceding one. By contrast, baseball has a lot of waiting for action. And the ball doesn’t move a lot in football either–lots of time runs down as teams regroup after a play, huddle up for the next one, then wait at the line to start again. It’s boring for me. So why did I watch?

Two reasons come to mind right away. First is the NASCAR reason–I watch to see if someone’s going to get hurt. Once you step out of the football cone and wonder why it’s so popular, it’s stunning to see that violence is at the game’s core. I love hockey, and I love the hits in hockey (if not the fights), but hockey’s core is speed. Football’s is violence. Hitting is required on every single play, and most of the time a hit is required to end a play. We are drawn to that.

The second reason, at least for me last weekend, was that there is the possibility of a long score.The possibility that a team can score from any point on the field gives each play some drama. We love the image of the running back breaking into the secondary, or the receiver racing down the sideline. We may not admit to our love of violence, but all Americans love to speak about freedom, and football gives us all the chance to imagine ourselves free of the obstacles of our daily lives, sprinting into open space.

Why do you like football?

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Fantasy Fatigue

March 30, 2007

I play fantasy sports. I've been in a football league with some college friends since college–over 20 years now. I don't like football anymore, I don't watch football anymore (although I usually watch the Super Bowl), but it's a tradition, so I keep playing. I've also won a few times, which keeps the interest.

As I note on the right sidebar here, I write a fantasy hockey column for ESPN.com. I give advice on which Carolina Hurricane players a fantasy owner might want to pick up. I've done it for five years now, and while I've gone from posting after each game to posting every week or two, I still enjoy getting to share my views and receiving emails from around the world (including requests for advice from Taiwan, Sweden, Russia, and the UK). I'm in a fantasy hockey league, and after running away with the regular season title, I got beat in the semifinals of the playoffs. But it doesn't matter too much, because by the end of the season I'm usually a bit tired of monitoring my team. This "fantasy fatigue" leaves me ready to watch real playoff hockey so I can stop looking at players as only potential pickups for my team.

The fatigue is carrying over to fantasy baseball this spring. I'm in a three-year league, and last year I was one of the four playoff teams, I got to the finals, and I lost. Most of my roster is set now, so I'm not too excited about getting started. I don't have the baseball package on my satellite dish, so I won't be watching too many games this season, so I'm not as immersed in it as I've been in the past. But I've got a couple of close friends in the league, so I like playing for that reason. Maybe the start of the season next week will get me more excited.

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A Test of Alliances

February 22, 2007

My work with Vervago has made me a fan of two European soccer teams–Liverpool, which is my colleague Lee's team, and Barcelona, because I visited their stadium in August and because of their populist orientation in Spanish soccer (compared to the royalist Real Madrid).

Well today my two favorites played each other in the first knock-out round of the UEFA Champions League. I had to decide–for whom was I rooting? The choice would be instinctual–the first reaction would tell it all.

This happened one other time in my history of athletic allegiance. In 1999 the Carolina Hurricanes, two year transplants from Hartford, won their division and met the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. The Bruins were the team of my youth–winners of the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, when I was seven and nine. I'd lost track of them while I lived in California (there was no Sharks team in San Jose then, and I didn't have access to SportsChannel America, the NHL's hidden TV home at the time). I went to Game 1 in Greensboro, and watched both teams come out on the ice to start the game. Which team would feel like "mine–" the team of my youth, or the team of my present, the state where I'd settled with my wife and where our two children were born? It only took a second to see–I was a Canes fan now. Alas, they lost in six games.

Today it was just as sudden–I wanted Liverpool to win. And they did, stealing a 2-1 decision in Spain. They play again in two weeks in England.

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