Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Big Reason Sports is so Popular

When I was a wee lad, I made an effort to watch every athletic event that was broadcast on my television (or at least those that were aired before my bedtime--there were some football seasons when I would tune into ABC every Monday night but never see the end of the game). Though this might have been a tad obsessive, it wasn't actually as bad as it sounds. My family didn't have cable, so my sports viewing was pretty much restricted to weekend days and the occasional weeknight (even local broadcasts were limited in those days).

Sometime around fourth or fifth grade I was introduced to the concept of scoring baseball games. But lacking a true scorebook, I devised my own system for use in a wide-ruled spiral bound notebook. And shortly thereafter, I created my own system for keeping score of football games and basketball games. It wasn't long before I was dedicating certain notebooks to the sole purpose of scoring games. This evolved into keeping a table of contents in the front, numbering my pages, and eventually assigning volume numbers to the notebooks. I also decided that this series of notebooks should have a title, and given my somewhat literal mindset at the time, I settled on The Sports Notebook.

In the early days of The Sports Notebook, I fantasized that one day as an adult, I would be sitting in a den (which looked a lot like Ward Cleaver's den), surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of spiral-bound notebooks. And as I was unable to predict the emergence of, I actually thought that my notebooks would be of interest to historians and scholars. (To that end, I made sure to update an "About the Author" section in the back of every few volumes). Even as my illusions to the import of my work were divested, I continued to maintain the notebooks until about the midway point of my senior year of high school, eventually ending up with over 30 volumes, which I still possess to this day.

Early on, I decided that The Sports Notebook needed an introduction, in order to inform the (very hypothetical) reader of the series' raison d'etre (though I wouldn't have used that term at the time). I don't have the exact date I wrote this introduction, but it appears in The Sports Notebook Volume 2, between a Bucks/Nets game from December 2, 1988 (The Bucks won 103-92 behind 32 points from Terry Cummings) and a Broncos/Raiders game from December 3, 1988 (won by the Raiders 21-20, a game in which I record John Elway making two punts, which I suppose is possible). So it is about 21 years to the day since I wrote the following:

The reason I keep this notebook is because on the interest [sic]. Sports is one of the most interesting things around. The big reason sports is so popular is its just plain exciting. It's exciting to see Joe Montana at the 3 yd. line with 2 seconds left and down by four. He throws a 97 yard bomb to Jerry Rice! It's exciting to see Rob Deer, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire shell the baseball 500 feet. It's exciting to see Michael Jordon [sic] sail through the air and jam the basketball in the hoop. It exciting to see the great Gretzkie [sic] score the game winning goal with :05 left. Since the beginning of time fans enjoyed wrestling. In England rugby was invented and turned into football. This one boy who loved to make up games put down 9 bases and used a stick and a stone with some of his neberhood buddies. He lived in Cooperstown, NY the site of the baseball hall of fame. The game he invented was baseball. The one man who invented basketball originally had normal baskets. Then there where the ones who turned it around: Curley Lambeau, George Halas, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Lou Ghereg (sic), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt the Stilt, the Great One, and Bobby Orr. And the memorible moments here is just a few miracles of sports:

-Dwight Clark and "The Catch" which gave the 49ers a Super Bowl victory [sic].
-"The Drive" Where in the 1986 AFC championship the Broncos where on the 2, down by 7 and less than 5 min. left. Elway and company ledd to a TD and a victory in OT.
-And who could forget the ice bowl. In the NFC Championship in 1968 [sic] the Packers and the Cowboys. Simaler to the drive Bart Starr marched the team 95 yeards [sic] and ran it in on an outstanding block.

In basketball Wilt the stilt scored 100 points. It was an awesome show of power and a record that may always stand. And then lets get to baseball perhaps the most memorible sport. Di Majio's 56 game hitting streak. Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all time home run mark off Al Downing.

Something happened in the 1988 world series. Can you guess what it was? I'll give you a hint. Remember the '88 film "The Natural" [sic] It was a baseball movie. Robert Redford starred. The Knights where in the series when Redford was spending most of the game in the locker room with an injury. In the bottom of the 9th he came in to pinch-hit and blasted it out of here [sic].

Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers limped up to the plate in obvious pain. 3-2 out of here. He limped 360 feet and the Dodgers won.

As I read through this, I'm obviously amused by much of it (not the least of which is my name checking poor Al Downing. Why didn't I feel the need to also mention that Gibson hit his home run off Dennis Eckersley?). But I'm also intrigued by the fact that pretty much everything I mention is second-hand knowledge. One would think that someone who poses the question "Who can forget the Ice Bowl?" remembers the Ice Bowl himself. But not only was the Ice Bowl played before I was born, I misidentified the year that it was played, and embellished the yard total on the Packers game-winning drive.

Here is a list of other people or events that I laud about which I failed to witness myself, even on TV: The Montana 97-yard bomb to Rice (which never actually happened to the best of my knowledge), 500 foot home runs, a Gretzky game-winning goal (or even Gretzky playing at all--I had never seen an NHL hockey game on TV at the time), Lambeau, Halas, Ruth, Cy Young, Gehrig, Wilt the Stilt (and his 100 point game), Bobby Orr, "The Catch," DiMaggio's streak, Aaron's record, and "The Natural" (I never actually saw the movie as of this writing, hence my misstatement of key plot points).

And the people or events that I did witness: Jordan slam dunking, Abdul-Jabbar (though he was old and past his prime by the time I saw him play), and "The Drive" (though I didn't really understand what I was watching). As for the Gibson home run, I actually watched the start of that game, but was in bed by the 9th inning.

And I also show a curious interest in the genesis of sports. What made me feel the need to mention the historical significance of wrestling, and to mention the evolution of other sports (even to the point of repeating the false myths of Abner Doubleday's invention of baseball, even though I apparently couldn't remember Doubleday's name)?

Taking into consideration the three elements of my manifesto: heroes, (exaggerated) feats, and origins, I realize that this is the same formula that comprises the narratives of mythology. In hindsight, I was interpolated into not only internalizing this mythology, but wanting to inscribe it for others. And while I'd admit that my prose lacked polish, I would also have to assert that much of the discourse of sports produced by adults is not inherently smarter than that produced by a fifth grader.


Blogger Mark said...

I really like how you spelled Gretzky. I know when I was younger I could not have spelled it correct either.

6:17 PM  

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