Friday, November 27, 2009


Last night, feeling very well fed, I watched--drowsily--the Texas, Texas A&M annual thanksgiving day contest. Texas was favored by 21 points, but A&M did not get the memo. It was a very exciting contest that I stayed up to view despite periodically feeling as if--with all that turkey in me--I would not be able to watch in its entirety.

The final was Texas 49-A&M 39. The announcers reminded me during the contest that a tradition at A&M was for sweethearts to kiss after each A&M score. Thirty nine points can provide a good deal of smooching. At one point after an A&M touchdown a fellow went to kiss his date and she turned away. She apparently was waiting for the extra point. The camera returned to the couple after the extra point and she went to kiss him. Miffed, perhaps, at the earlier snub, the young man turned his cheek to the lips of his, perhaps erstwhile, sweetheart. Eventually they got down to business, but the scenes have remained in my head. Kissing to celebrate and the empty feeling of having a desire to engage and not being able to do so.

After a big meal my father would often say to my mother, the cook of the household, "Helen--if everyone had a meal like this, there would be no more wars." Dad was always wise, but I'll add something to the comment about the nourishment. Intimacy is important too. We'll all be gone soon enough. I figure that you want to make sure to find a way to hold the ones you love, and not turn your cheek away.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The college basketball season has started, the college football season has a month to go, professional basketball and hockey are now in their second months of the season, and professional football is in its stretch run.

Tomorrow on Thanksgiving day many consumers of turkey will also be consuming televised sports. Three professional football games will be played sequentially beginning at noon eastern. Last night during my regular Thursday doubles match moved to Tuesday because of the holiday, a sub for one of our regular quartet commented that she does not enjoy Thanksgiving because of the incessant background of football noise that permeates her cousin's home. Another fellow in the locker room remarked that he wasn't going to his sister's this year because he can not stand fifty million kids running around his ankles and also does not like to witness the mesmerizing effects of the football games.

This notion is difficult for many who enjoy sports to get. Watching games while being with family seems like apple pie and ice cream to us/them, but it is probably a wise idea this Thanksgiving to consider the possibility that when you scream, "Will you check out that catch!" your cousin Louie might think you are a monomaniac.

Wise man, cousin Louie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

tough call

There were some sad faces at my university yesterday when the school announced that it would be discontinuing its football program that had begun in the 1930s. The decision had not been made without thought. The athletic director, Peter Roby, explained in a very well articulated statement the rationale for the decision. Simply, the school could not afford to spend the money that would be necessary to compete with schools in its conference, the Colonial.

In my twenty eight years at the school, the football team has not been able to finish over 500 more than a few times. The reason was that our stadium was akin to a high school field. Recruiting athletes was difficult because competing schools had better facilities. James Madison University in relatively rural Harrisonburg is regularly among the leaders in the Colonial conference. Juxtapose JMU's facility with Northeastern's, imagine being a sought after recruit, and you know where you might choose to attend, all other factors being equal.

Nevertheless it is a depressing day for the many athletes who played here. Peter Roby could not have liked to make this decision, but it seems to me--given all--to be a courageous one. Students of communication might look at his statement on the web as an example of how to sensitively relay news that will not be joyfully received.

Monday, November 23, 2009

fourth and two

It would be difficult to live in these parts, and follow sport, to not know what the title of this entry refers to. Last Monday hundreds if not thousands of New Englanders were sleep deprived because the Patriots managed to squander a 17 point lead and lose 35-34 to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that is reviled in these parts for various reasons the greatest of which is that they have beaten the Patriots on a number of occasions. The sleep deprivation was based on a bewildering decision made by the coach, Bill Belichick, to go for a first down on 4th and 2 from their own 28 with a little more than two minutes to play. This decision was very much out of the box and was met by cacophonous disapproval. When asked about the decision Belichick was unrepentant, "We were trying to win the game" he said.

What is most significant about this event for those who are interested in fan subculture is that in fifteen years, there will be many people who will still remember what 4th and two means. Any time a coach makes a questionable decision like that, announcers will summon up the historical event and refer to it, like legal scholars talk about Brown vs. Board of Ed. In 2025 an announcer may analyze a comparable call by saying, "Yes, Charlie. That decision by coach Whoever has precedent in Belichick's famous 4th and 2 decision in 09." "Right Rex, It certainly, does. Who could forget that."

Interestingly, in a college game this weekend that is referred to as "The Game" in these parts, Harvard defeated Yale when Yale almost inexplicably made a similar decision on a 4th and 22. When asked about the decision, the Yale coach muttered a remarkably similarly sounding explanation, "We were trying to win the game."

Monday, November 16, 2009

the ticket

I spent two hours yesterday in a local sports tavern which I have attended on a few football Sundays this Fall. There is a long bar in one room of the establishment and a restaurant in an adjacent space. Typically I sit at the bar and watch several games displayed concurrently on the high tech screens above the bottles of spirits. Yesterday, I first sat at the bar, but then moved into the restaurant.

I found a table and saw that in this room there were some very serious fans. Many taverns like this one buy what is called "the Sunday ticket" which is a package from the NFL that allows the televising of all games on a given football Sunday. Therefore, serious fans will go to these bars in order to watch a game that otherwise would not be available to them at home. In front of me in the restaurant sat a woman with a Tampa Bay jersey that read "Barber" on the back. Barber is a defensive back for the Tampa Bay buccaneers. To her right was a table of Steeler fans facing the other way so that they could see the Pittsburgh,Cincinnati game on a screen on a wall opposite from where Tampa Bay was playing Miami. Almost comically, next to the Steeler fans were two very very serious Cincinnati fans facing in the same direction as the Tampa Bay fan rooting for the Bengals but watching it on another screen on the opposite wall. To the left of the Tampa Bay fan were two diehard Buffalo rooters periodically slapping the table in disgust as the Bills succumbed to Tennessee.

So there I am perched behind all of these people. The Bills fans in a corner to my left banging on a table, the Tampa Bay fan in front of me banging on a table, The Steeler fans facing in one direction sighing in exasperation, and then the Bengal fans adorned in striped jerseys cheering in the other direction. Finally, there was a quartet of inebriates all the way to the right who did not seem to care who was playing but cheered periodically for nobody in particular.

I asked the Bucs fan how tough it was to root for the Bucs since they are 1-7. I then heard her very educated analysis of this game. I was not dealing with an amateur. When a fellow came in to root for the Dolphins he quickly went over to the Bucs fan and apologized for rooting against her team. He then confided to me, "She's here every week" which seemed to be disparaging a bit, except that he must have been there every week himself in order to be able to make the report.

When the Bucs lost on a last second field goal, Barber left sadly and could not even respond when I told her I was sorry. The Bills fans had already given up. The only people in the place that seemed happy were the Bengals fans because their team won and the inebriates who were oblivious to it all.

Just before I left I noticed that the tavern was beginning to be populated by people wearing Patriots garb. The Patriots would be playing four hours later. This game was on local television, but the bar provided a bit of a stadium atmosphere for the rooters. I thought of the place at midnight when the Patriots managed to blow a lead in the last seconds.