Monday, December 28, 2009

sports talk radio

In the epilogue to the Madness of March I refer to people who speak of sport zealots pejoratively as "get a lifers." The characterization is intended to suggest that extreme fans need to "get a life" and not dwell on the relatively insignificant world of professional or collegiate sports. I defended these folks in the epilogue arguing that to have a passion for something is important whether it is stamps, politics, square dancing, or any avocational pursuit.

This morning my defense for zealots was put to the test. I had a long drive ahead of me so when I woke up at 3:50 instead of wrestling with attempts to find zs, I just got into the car and started the drive. To pass the time and also to see who all is listening to sports talk, I turned on WFAN in New York. There from 430 to 5 I heard a host speaking passionately about what would have sounded like a major world decision had it not become apparent that the decision had to do with a football team called the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had had a perfect record until yesterday and decided to eschew an opportunity to finish the season undefeated and protect its stars from injury during a game. The result was a loss. The Colt fans and many pundits were upset. I had seen the game myself and wondered about the wisdom of the coaching staff. Still, the focus on this decision was a bit much. In addition to examining the pros and cons of this decision, the host disparaged the New York Giants, a team that had laid an egg on Sunday in its final home game and thereby had blown its chances of playing in the postseason.

Just about when I was crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge a caller phoned in and claimed he was fired up. It was a little after 5 a.m. The caller said he was very "fired up" (the caller's term used frequently during his two -three minute rant) because he did not like how the host had berated his Giants. He knew, said the caller, that the host was a Redskins fan, and the audacity of a Redskins fan knocking the Giants--on a New York station no less--had fueled the caller's ire. He was barely able to contain himself at 5 or so in the morning. A few minutes later another caller called and thanked the host for taking his call. The caller said he had been on hold for an hour, but it was worth it because he liked the show. This caller defended the host as being dispassionate agreeing that the Giants had played lamely in the contest.

I got to thinking that if this second caller had waited for an hour, then maybe the first furious caller had also been waiting for some time. I wondered how it could be appropriately important at 4 30 a.m. to wait on hold until 5 a.m. to spew steam at a Washington fan for knocking the Giants. The host had not mentioned he was a Redskin fan while I was listening, so this irate caller must be a regular listener and aware of the carpetbagger's allegiance.

I am still reluctant to criticize people who love anything so much that they get upset about it. However, as I waited for the sun to come up and dodged trucks on I-287 and 95--and when I stopped at a rest stop that had a surprising number of customers--I did not have to wonder how the phrase "get a life" had evolved.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

a regular--following hearts

On several Sundays this Fall, I have gone to a local restaurant that has the Sunday ticket. The ticket allows taverns to broadcast all NFL games. At the Shopper's Cafe, the restaurant I've regularly frequented, there are some twenty television sets--and all games are on displayed somewhere in the restaurant.

I've described this spot before in the blog, but that was before I became a regular. I know the folks now. The couple that comes in with their Cincinnati jerseys. The diehard Detroit fan who wears a #20 Barry Sanders jersey. He comes with his wife who brings her laptop and enjoys the wifi that the restaurant offers while her husband reacts to all games, especially the 2-12 Lions. Typically there is a table of Cleveland fans. Today only one from the crew is present, but he is focussed on one game and one game only, Cleveland at 2-11 against KC 3-10. A true fan. Usually there is a woman who comes in with her Tampa Bay jersey, but I did not see her there today. But she may have had an excuse.

I wondered if anyone would be at the joint today. Over a foot of snow fell in the area last night. It took me over an hour to dig the car out and then there were the predictable two more times I had to go out after the plow had come by.

Nevertheless I made it. And I had company. The Patriots fans were out in force and the Jet haters similarly (typically the same group). When the Patriots won and the Jets lost within a few minutes of each other, there were high fives around the place and all considered it was worth the plowing to make it to the joint. After Miami went down it was just gravy for the faithful.

I would not be surprised to find out that there were some bettors in the restaurant, but the people who traipse to the restaurant that I've met are fans, who know that the owners will make sure that their beloved Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be on the tube. Last week when the Bengals lost to the Vikings, the Cincinnati couple barely could talk. Today the Bengals went behind as I passed their table on the way to the men's room. The spouse was muttering to her husband and clearly distressed as if she had just found out that the landlord had raised the rent 500 dollars.

In the madness of March I comment that it is important for people to have a passion about something. I like the people in the Shopper's Cafe. It may be strange, but there is something that they care enough about that has them shovelling snow on what otherwise could be a lazy Sunday morning.

Later today I read in the paper about an author who hails from near my neck of the woods and is my age. The fellow is from Bensonhurst and the article is about a deadline he has for the book he is working on. The deadline is his looming death. He has what is commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, but needs to finish his book. We all have to finish our books, do those things we feel naturally we must do. People can disparage sports fanatics for wasting precious time rooting for their teams. But they're not wasting time. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, they're filling "the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run." They're following their hearts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday wishes

At this time for relaying good cheer
I engage you to read what is here,
For in lieu of us meeting
I issue this greeting
To wish you the best for the year

Whatever your theological bent
I hope that these days are well spent
Be it candles or trees
Nazareth /Maccabees
Or something that’s quite differ—ent

No matter the route that you choose
Whether you revel in rock or like blues
May the joy of these days
All the laughter soirees
Leave a spirit we try hard not to lose.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

twisted sinews of thy heart

To this day I have trouble understanding poems. I think I read novels well, often getting what I believe are the authors' beneath-the-plot messages. Not with poems. It might take me an hour to read a short Emily Dickinson poem to get it, and even after an hour I still may not really have it.

I'll guess that most of us in high school or college had to read the William Blake poem Tyger, Tyger. The recent news about the world's most famous golfer has brought that poem up to my consciousness.

Last night while sweating off suet on an elliptical machine in a gym, I attempted to find a channel on the personal television set that was NOT discussing Tiger Woods. It took a while to find a Seinfeld rerun. Before I found it I paused for a moment and listened to some self proclaimed wizard say that what "Tiger did today" was the first step in his personal recovery. The pundit went on to talk about how "Tiger" has a series of problems. "We know he has a problem with sex" said the wizard. He went on to rant about the other problems this--on a first name basis with Tiger-- analyst had detected.

Before I switched to listening to the relatively cogent wisdom of George Costanza, I wondered what "Tiger" had done to indicate that he was on the path to recovery. I later found out that Tiger had given up golf for a while.

So, what do I think.

I think that it bothers me that so many people are putting in their two cents about this. Of course, this blog entry might make it seem as if I am a contributor, but my take is somewhat different. If Tiger Woods was a bachelor, would he have a sex problem? I really don't think so. It seems to me from watching advertisements, seeing what sells in film, and listening to conversations at parties and even in sports bars, that most people like sex. And seek it out. Doesn't seem as if Woods has a sex problem. Seems as if he has several solutions in fact. What he apparently has done is violated a pledge to be monogamous. What he has is a marital problem. To my understanding, such problems are not unique to Tiger/Elin. Since I am not a buddy, or shrink, or family member of Tiger Woods, this marital problem is none of my business--or anyone else's business except for his and his wife's. The outrage, the sanctimonious analysis, the paternal commentary from pontificating meretricious experts borders on voyeurism and is just inappropriate.

"And what shoulder, & what art,Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" is a line from Blake's Tyger, Tyger. That line I understand. And I know that the sinews of the heart are often twisted, not only by sexual infidelities. Personally I find misrepresentation, irresponsibility, personal manipulation, and inconsideration more reprehensible and in relationships of any sort, more likely to account for twisted sinews of the heart.

Tyger Tyger will burn bright again. No thanks to the hypocritical and venal wizards currently passing judgment. My two cents: Don't give up golf. You need it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

cousin Alan

On Saturday I received an e-mail telling me that my cousin Alan had only a short time to live. Alan had come to Boston a few years ago for special treatment available here. For a while thereafter he was cancer free. Then we heard he would be going to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant. There were two unsuccessful transplants and now he is home.

Alan is six years my senior and the oldest among my 11 first cousins. One of my earlier recollections is of attending his bar mitzvah and being taken by the event. There he was standing on some sort of stage speaking a language that was very alien to me. He, as always, smiled through it. I liked the hors d'oeuvres I remember, but was sobered by the stunning message that a relative relayed telling me that soon I would be doing the same thing. This dulled the taste of the appetizer as I could not imagine speaking this foreign language in front of all these people. Alan did not seem fazed by it all. Smiling throughout.

That was, in fact, how he went through life--apparently unfazed and smiling. Even when he was taking high doses of radiation in Boston, and I asked him how he was doing, he would always say, "I'm fine. I'll be fine." Always with that smile.

Alan may have only been six years older, but he seemed a dozen years ahead in terms of maturity. He went to med school three years into college, became a physician, and soon established a successful orthopedic practice in South Florida. He became, without complaints, the family member to whom family went when they needed medical help. It did not matter how long it had been between social visits, pick up a phone and give him a call and he'd give you all the time you needed. If he didn't know the answer he had a friend who would.

Alan literally saved my life. I called him once when I could not walk. I was in Florida and something just had gone wrong. His office was filled. but he called me back within the hour and told me to stop by his office after 5. I did and he checked me out. Then he called in a friend. Then I was in the hospital. A friend did the surgery and Alan checked in on me every day. One day he noticed something and told me not to do the exercises that had been prescribed. He called another physician in, and an examination revealed that I had thrown a clot during surgery. Had I exercised as prescribed a tragedy could have occurred. Instead he saved my life, by being vigilant and loving, when he was working 14 hour days in the hospital.

You could never pick up a check when you were out with my cousin unless somehow you got to the waiter and slipped a credit card out before the bill hit the table. If you were in town, he invited you to dinner, to his home, to the Miami Heat game. I have never met anyone more generous.

And now, I read an e-mail that indicates that he has only days to live.

In sport, there is always another day, another down, another game, a redo. My cousin Alan is out of downs. It is tough to find something positive from this, but all of us who have experienced death to loved ones, can only take away from such things that the time we have is precious and using that time for joy and to make a meaningful impact is our gift to ourselves and our world.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Little things, seemingly inconsequential things, can change the course of our lives--dramatically. In life and in sport. Sport is a valuable metaphor for revealing this.

Yesterday was the best day for college football fans. As opposed to the spurious bowl championship series which is a meaningless alternative to a meaningful playoff system, yesterday several conferences held championship games. In college basketball these conference championships are the vestibule to the big dance. In college football these championships beget a series of bowl games and only one of these is meaningful.Nevertheless, the championship games are exciting because they can determine which teams are invited to the lone bowl game that is meaningful.

A goat is a term used in sports to refer to someone who, as opposed to a hero, blundered in a way to cost the team the game. In an early game yesterday, Pittsburgh went ahead 44-38 on a fourth quarter touchdown. However, the holder on the extra point attempt dropped the ball and there was no extra point. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh's opponent, then scored a last minute touchdown, executed the extra point and won 45-44. The holder, in that game, is said to wear the goat horns.

However, there never ever would have been a bigger goat than the quarterback for Texas in the late game. Miraculously, he was saved from going down in Texas lore as the goat of all time. Losing 12-10, he led his team into position to make a field goal that would win the game for Texas 13-12. With seven seconds left and a timeout, the quarterback rolled out and threw a pass out of bounds to kill the clock and allow the kicker to come in. Inexplicably, though, the quarterback, took the better part of forever to throw the ball out of bounds, and when he did it seemed as if the time in the game had expired. Nebraska players were out on the field happy to have won. A replay showed that there was one second remaining despite the knucklehead play of the quarterback. With one second left, the kicker came in and won the game.

Afterwards, the quarterback was saluted for his leadership. Had the referee ruled that time had expired, today would be a sad day indeed for the young man. Instead he likely has a bounce to his step, that the holder for Pittsburgh does not. A tiny thing is making this Sunday special or miserable. Same as tiny things are making this Sunday special or miserable for all of us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sport, redemption, and chaos

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I watched my university, Northeastern, lose an overtime game to our cross town rival, Boston University. In the game one of our better players, a man who seems to work tirelessly and selflessly in each game, missed two consecutive free throws during regulation. He seemed to be able to put it behind him, but when the game ended in a tie after 40 minutes and then we lost in overtime, the missed foul shots had to linger and sting.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving Northeastern was again in a tight game against Wright State University. Again the same player was at the foul line, this time with only 38 seconds left and Northeastern down by one. He had two shots and missed the first one. He made the second and tied the game, but this time as well he must have known that with another foul shot his team would have been in the lead.

The Wright State Coach put up five fingers signalling to his players that he wanted the push for the final shot to occur with five seconds remaining. This way, a missed shot would leave Northeastern no time to score and a made shot would result in victory. His player however did not do as instructed. With ten seconds left, not five, he moved to the hoop and shot. He missed. The tireless worker who had failed at the foul line got the rebound. There were only two seconds left. He took two dribbles and lofted a shot from the mid court line. When it went in he was mobbed by the bench as well as the mascot.

One of the great things about sports is that you often get a second chance, another shot to make things right.

And you have multiple chances as well to do things wrong. Little things, seemingly inconsequential things, can have significant effects. This is essentially the basis of chaos theory which I've written about in earlier blogs.

What is the big deal about going to shoot with ten seconds as opposed to five? The difference between revelling and walking away feeling like a stunned depressed loser.

What we do, even the little things, have consequences. In sport these consequences are relatively easy to detect. I'm not sure they are elsewhere. The difference between revelling and feeling depressed can be a function of apparently inconsequential behavior that is, in ways I can not figure out, somehow consequential.