Sporty Spice

I have an interesting relationship with sports and sports-centric activities. I love sports, but perhaps not as much as some other men who might happen to have more testosterone coursing through their person. I enjoy watching a game where my favorite team is playing, but I have a very difficult time focusing when there are two teams that I know and care nothing about. I would rather watch Nigella Lawson making bread pudding on the Food Network than subject myself to lame catch-phrases that come out of the sports anchors’ mouths. “He catches the ball and then catches a ride on the greasy ferret all the way to Albuquerque.” “Sweet lipo burgers, he’s good at that, Bob!”

I have a complicated affiliation with the teams that have come to be known as my favorites. On a collegiate level, I grew up as a BYU Cougar fan. It was, after all where my parents and my two sisters attended. It was also where I would eventually graduate, more out of a feeling of familial loyalty then from a love of the ultra-conservative mandate which forced professors to tie every subject, from Anatomy to Modern Film Noir, back to a gospel principle. Though I did enjoy the roughly cut films shown at the International Cinema, I could never stomach going to the football games. I had few (no) friends at college, at the thought of painting my face blue and white and screaming at a referee as if he could hear me while surrounded by strangers questioning my loyalty to the team, and hence to the church, did not sound like fun. I preferred to stay in my closet-sized dorm room playing Unreal Tournament and sobbing in my flannel sheets.

I always loved the Utah Jazz, but only because they are really the only claim on professional sports that we can make as a state. Sometime around fourth grade, I realized that in order to fit in with the other sports enthusiasts, I would have to quickly find some teams to call my own. I chose the Green Bay Packers for two perfectly logical reasons; they were they only NFL team to feature a single letter on their helmets and they came from a town, not a city, with the same population as mine. In baseball, I chose the Detroit Tigers because I had more cards from them in my Topps ’89 deck than any other team. I picked the Chicago Blackhawks in hockey, even though I knew nothing more about hockey than the fact that it was played on ice, apparently to complete the triumvirate of Northern Mid-West towns. I was very logical like that as a child.

I suffer from the same logic today, as a matter of fact, which is exactly what is preventing me from watching any sporting events at all. I still hold on to a few allegiances that I had growing up. I still claim to be a Packer fan, though I cannot for the life of me name more than three players on the entire team. This year, there was a lot of controversy surrounding my beloved Pack. Brett Favre, the hero of the town and the man once nominated for the most influential person of the last 100 years (placed just below Nelson Mandela and just above FDR) came out of retirement and cried and stomped his feet until he was traded to New York for a sack of Doritos. The new quarterback, whatever his name is, was primed to prove his mettle. I was so excited to watch as much football as humanly possible this year, that I cleared extra space on my DVR each week to watch it. For me, the logic of the DVR, once thought as a blessing for sports watching, has entirely killed sports for me. I recorded the first game and was able to fast forward the commercials. On week two, I found out that my 30 second commercial fast-forward worked perfectly if I pressed it just after one play so that the action would resume at the start of the next. By week three, I watched the opening drive and then fast-forwarded to the final minute or two. It then occurred to me that I could record Sports Center and just get the final score the next morning. The Sports Center was fueled with far two many spastic “He - Could – Go – All – The – Way!”’s (even though the announcer knew perfectly well that the player on the highlight reel would, in fact, go all the way) for me to handle. I eventually figured that I would see how the Packers did during the season by whether or not they made it into the Super Bowl.

The fun and fandom of sporting events does not hold the same weight as it once did in my youth. I remember watching basketball when the legends played. I remember Michael Jordan’s trailing tongue and Larry Bird’s sky hook. I remember when Magic Johnson used his magic on the court instead of to stay alive warding off AIDS. I remember when the latest basketball game for Nintendo featured two unnamed players on a total of four teams. In that age, you didn’t need any more than four teams. Those were the only ones that mattered. As I aged and my Wheaties box heroes retired, I lost interest in the string of players that would follow in their footsteps. They seemed far too flashy, what with their corn-rows and fancy shiny sneakers. When Shaquille O’Neal of the Orlando Magic broke a backboard while playing a game against the Phoenix Suns, I knew it was symbolic of the age of legends being destroyed and the ushering in of a new age of hype.

Having nothing else on television to watch, I happened to TiVo the NBA All-Star Game on TNT Sunday night. I knew that I would end up fast forwarding to the end of it all, but I thought it would be interesting to see how many of the players I could actually recognize after so many years of casual viewership. The line-ups were brought out and I recognized a few names. Then, they introduced the backboard-breaking man himself; Shaq. All of the other players managed to step into the spotlight, offer a half-hearted wave to the crowd, and then slap the hands of the players on their team, ever so gently so as not to sustain an injury. Shaq, on the other hand, emerged with a white mask on and began to perform… well, I am not sure just what it was exactly. It seemed like a disturbing re-enactment of a scene from Eyes Wide Shut. The… um, let’s just call it a “dance”, was performed in the midst of a group of masked individuals who call themselves the JabbaWockeeZ. You may recognize them from Gatorade commercials or from your recent dabbling with the occult. The “dance” continued, with lots of mime-esque hand gestures, until it got painfully uncomfortable, not just awkwardly disturbing. The cameras had to cut away and the starting lineups were introduced- all of whom had looks on their faces as if they had just seen an illegal act between a costumed man and a colony of lemurs.

The game continued and somebody won. My recording stopped about half an hour before the end of the game and I didn’t bother to look up the score elsewhere. I did find out that Shaquille O’Neal shared the MVP award with Kobe Bryant, mostly because people were nervous as to what he would do if he didn’t get it. Through it all, I realized what I have missed in my sojourn from professional sports. It’s not the thrill of competition or the frantic prayers that your favorite team would crush the opponent, or even the hours spent on a couch eating various parts of a pig It's the spice that sports bring; you never know what will happen. It took a Super Bowl for millions of adolescent teen boys to see a nipple on live, free TV. Aside from "perks" like these, I have missed the sensationalism that comes from watching outright celebrities perform athletic feats in front of a national audience. After all these years, I can still remember the shock of the announcers as Shaq landed on the court with shattered glass raining over his head. I can remember Michael Jordan performing maneuvers with the ball in mid-flight as if he were a floating astronaut performing anti-gravity experimentation. I can still see Brett Favre throwing touchdowns to win the Super Bowl after battling his addiction to pain killers. This was, and still is, entertainment in its purest form. But then again, so is Nigella Lawson licking the spoon while preparing crumpets. That could be a sport.


Marsha said...

Where do you get these pictures? I don't understand the relevance of the girl and ice cream and Mr. Squiggles is giving me the creeps. But, as always, the article is entertaining. Cameron, you need to be a writer. Wait, I guess you are. But you need to really get paid for it. Hopefully, you're saving all these little vingettes. (is that spelled correctly?) Keep the posts coming!

David Baker said...

I think your Shaq comment is spot-on. He may as well have shaken his crotch in Bill Russell's face. Which is actually exactly what he did at the All Star Game.

Rob & Michelle Eberly Family said...

Well Cameron--You know what they say; "If you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter."