Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Times Change

Every four years a sports event thrusts itself onto the world stage... an event that can only be described with words like "epic", "unbelievable", and "extraordinary". The Olympics? The World Figure Skating Championships? The World Cup? No, though it is connected with the latter. It's the quadrennial exhibition of American xenophobia embodied in some sportscaster stating the "soccer is boring", usually because "there isn't enough scoring."

Epic ignorance. Unbelievable stupidity. Extraordinary lack of contact with reality.

This thread came to mind early this morning as I contemplated yesterday's words from Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia regarding the scheduling of baseball playoff games. He doesn't like it that the schedule is dragged out so long. I'm sorry, Mike. To me, everything about baseball is dragged out pretty far. The only thing in sports that last longer than the baseball season is the last two minutes of an NBA playoff game in June.

Action and excitement are apparently in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder. Baseball fans find it terribly exciting when the pitcher and batter engage in cat and mouse games, the pitcher staring in to receive the catcher's signs, the batter standing stolidly until the last second before backing out of the batter's box, a dribble of tobacco juice quivering on the chin of the third base coach.... Will it cling or drip? I really don't understand how this "Fall Classic" is exciting, while 22 soccer players running up and down a field nearly nonstop, and without commercial breaks, is boring.

Clearly the gap between "exciting" and "boring" cannot be simply gauged. A no-hit game in baseball really is exciting, and an early season NBA basketball game, absent any evidence of defense, is not, despite the scoreboard turning over like an old fashioned gas pump.

From the perspective of an Indiana high school basketball fan, the measuring scale for sports excitement was established in 1954, when tiny Milan (pronounced MY-lan) High School defeated consolidated giant Muncie Central 32-30 in the state championship game. Though this game was the inspiration for the movie, Hoosiers, the movie was heavy with fiction. For example, though Milan High School was small, having just 161 students, their basketball team had actually been to the state finals the previous year. Muncie Central's kids were the ones who were wowed by the size of the fieldhouse at Butler.

Anyway, though it doesn't translate well to the big screen or television, the defining moment of the 1954 championship game came when Milan star Bobby Plump held the ball for 4 minutes and 14 seconds before launching a shot from the corner to win the game. Four minutes and 14 seconds totally devoid of action as the crowd went wild!

Twenty-five years later, Indianapolis sportswriter Bob Collins described the end of the game this way: It was a preview of the world's first mass LSD freak-out. For four minutes and 14 seconds, absolutely nothing happened on the floor while some 15,000 citizens were helping themselves to every bit as much excitement as they could stand.

These 15,000 fans were apparently not aware that the game was boring.

Times change. In fact, the US is even in the process of embracing football (soccer). ESPN now televises games from the English Premier and UEFA Champions Leagues. The newly formed Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer have taken the city by storm, regularly selling-out Quest field. Fans in Los Angeles were actually upset that aging superstar David Beckham spent part of their team's early season playing for AC Milan (pronounced me-LAHN), instead of the L.A. Galaxy.

Times change. What more needs to be said? What seemed thrilling at one point in time is deemed boring, and that formerly judged as boring is filmed in slow-motion to sell sports drinks. The only thing that doesn't seem to change is the sensation of sitting in a recliner, beer at ready, absorbing all the inaction. Now that's exciting!

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