Sunday, August 17, 2008

"The Unexceptional Athlete"

Last week while finishing off a pint down at a local bar the Beijing Olympic games came on the TV. An inebriated chap next to me slammed down his beer abruptly, while simultaneously throwing a few kernels of popcorn in the direction of the screen to signify his excitement. He looked like a baboon at the zoo who was seeing a naked female baboon for the first time.

“What amazing athletes they are yeah,” the lush exclaimed, motioning in my direction.

I glanced back up at the TV just in time to see a pimply-faced, one-hundred pound, gangly Kyrgyzstanian archer pull back a crossbow, getting ready to send his arrow spiraling into the Beijing sky.

“Yeah,” was all I could muster to shoot back at the intoxicated primate, as I noticed one of his tossed popcorn kernels had made my pint of Sierra Nevada its final resting place.

The archer had released his arrow and at no point during the entire process did this out-of-shape archer (yes this is a word, I looked it up) break a sweat or seem to put duress on a single muscle in his body. I truly believe the guy could have been high on LSD and obtained the same score.

Amazing athlete or just one step removed from a game of darts at a local dive bar? No offense to the archer community out there, but I’m pretty sure I can steal a few bar darts, find a sturdy rubber band and shoot to my heart’s content with just about as much success. And what is the off-season training regiment that these archers are participating in? I’m pretty sure they aren’t doing two-a-days and running up flights of stairs to gain that competitive edge. And are there famous archers that these “athletes” aspire to live up to?

And is it me or is every event in the Olympics always resulting in a new world record? Michael Phelps is on pace to break eight world records this Olympics. You’re actually telling me that throughout the entire history of the Olympics there hasn’t been a single guy better than Michael Phelps in every single event, or is the official guy in charge of the stopwatch just losing a step each Olympiad?

Lets take archery for example, since were on the subject…

“Next we have Svetlana Kohsivich from Russia…She pulls back the bow, wow, look at that amazing muscular structure – Svetlana has been training 19 hour days for competition…and she shoots – Bulls eye – new world record, amazing!”

“Now Chips Magee stands up, a 7-11 store clerk from North Dakota. Lets see… reading his profile, Chip’s training regiment consisted of twelve PBR’s a day and a heavy dose of illegal narcotics… lets see how he does - Chips reaches back, grabs a Mickey’s 40, pounds it, shoots the arrow-bulls eye! New world record…! What an exceptional athlete he is...”

Chips relaxing after an exhilarating archery match

Of course…

So the question is, what really determines a sport? I feel that any sport I can do while intoxicated and achieve the exact same success rate if I was sober should not be a sport. This eliminates about half of the summer and winter sports.

We’ve already covered Archery, but there are additional sports that really don’t have a place. Badminton? Canoeing? Kayaking? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved a game of badminton and often have enjoyed a day of leisure drinking and paddling a kayak, but I just can’t support them as Olympic sports. Maybe if there was just one kayaking event, I would be ok with that, but is it necessary to have both flat-water kayaking and slalom kayaking as events? Are these really spectator sports anyway? I apologize if I’m upsetting any slalom kayaking enthusiasts, but really? Other than a few lost hikers and a couple of moose having a leisurely drink at the river’s edge, who is watching these events? Can’t we just send a few archers in kayaks out on the open water with a few tall cans and see who can stay upright on their kayak the longest without accidentally submerging themselves in the water or taking an arrow in the jugular? That would take care of three unnecessary sports right there.

Badminton is a sport that I thought previously only existed during my middle school P.E. classes. Before these Olympic games, I thought finding people that play badminton on a competitive level would be about as hard as convincing my Mom to crowd surf at an Alice in Chains concert, but I guess you live and learn. Are these badminton players training year round at underground badminton communities, surfacing only to compete for Olympic glory? I can’t recall a single time I met someone and asked him or her what they do and they respond with, “I play badminton for a living.” Some may find badminton exciting, whereas I on the other hand find it rather uninspiring. However, I do find it comical watching grown men dressed up in full pajama looking outfits like the ones four-year old kids wear with the attached slippers stabbing each other with swords. Since fencing rules make absolute no sense, we could eliminate both badminton and fencing in one fell swoop and introduce Fencemitton to the world. This game of skill would combine the riveting excitement of badminton with the ferocious stabbing of fencing. Rules would be simple: a player hits the shuttlecock over the fence and the partner on his team will run to the other side and can maim, stab, bite, or eye gauge the opponent on the other end until the shuttlecock is returned to the other side. The team with the most points, or the most flesh wounds would be deemed the winner. You could also combine this with Taekwando. (You haven’t really watched a sport until you’ve seen someone jump kicked while trying to return a shuttlecock).

Now were getting somewhere!

I finally had the pleasure of watching a real water polo game for the first time and to my surprise, I’ve actually been playing water polo for years! The rules are fairly simple; you throw a ball around the pool while attacking, strangling, groin kicking, or drowning your opponent. Ultimately you’ll have to throw the ball into the net, but that is not exactly an arduous task; the goalie covers about 10% of the actual goal and since he or she is treading water, they have the same vertical jump as a cow on rollerblades. (The team with the most goals or players remaining that still have full use of their family jewels are deemed the winners). How does this differ from you and your buddies drinking a few cold ones, jumping in the pool and attacking each other for an hour and a half while attempting to get the ball between your Mom’s petunia’s and your dog Scrap’s water bowl?

I think if we all band together to support the change in Olympic sports we can bring the Olympics back to the way they were when the Olympic forefathers started them in Greece. Of course, back then they did compete naked and while that may not work for the new archery games, since I’ve heard taking an arrow in the groin can be slightly painful, I think we’ll be on the right track…

Some future sports to consider?

Ro sham bo
Pillow fighting
Pin the Tail on The Donkey
Chutes & Ladders
Duck Duck Goose

Monday, August 11, 2008

"My Fantasy Football Addiction"

“Its not even real life, it’s a fantasy,” my girlfriend used to argue.

“Not to me it’s not,” I would shoot back, ignoring warning signs triggered by my insatiable urge to check statistics each waking moment. I would even sleep walk to check a box score if necessary in case I accidentally induced myself into a football watching, wings and seven-layer-dip-coma on the couch.

This past fantasy football off-season as I was mounting (or sticking rather), my 2007 award in the place of my now ex-girlfriend’s picture I took a moment to reflect and look back. “Was it all worth it?” I thought as I admired my 9th place ribbon barely affixed to the mantle, secured by just a lone piece of scotch tape. Like a rock climber suspended in mid air with a carabineer attached to his crotch, my ribbon was holding on for dear life. My sacred prize looked like a creation done by a kindergartner who ate too much glue, but that didn’t stop an amiable smile from appearing on my face. I had developed a strong connection with my fantasy players during the past season – a strong connection with their statistics that is. Just as I started to think that maybe my fantasy statistical crushes had started going a bit too far, a gust of wind dislodged my ribbon sending it spiraling out the window and into the awaiting grasps of a strategically positioned ribbon-stealing pigeon perched in a nearby tree. While I can’t lay direct blame to the pigeon for rapaciously burglarizing me of my prized ribbon, he didn’t exactly move out of the way and let it fall peacefully to its demise in the trash heap awaiting below either.

My ribbon is now probably the finishing piece on a nest somewhere to be admired only by roaming gangs of jealous pigeon thieves.

In a league comprised of just ten teams, a ninth place finish is nothing to get excited about anyway so I suppose that blasted pigeon did me a favor. I probably should have thrown in the towel at that very moment, but my addiction had been building for years…

Two seasons ago after trying to reason with my family that Saturday was a much better day for a ceremony, I found myself at my Great Uncle’s funeral on a Sunday in early December. Locked in a tight race for the fourth and final playoff spot in my fantasy league I tried to sit calmly in my church pew as the ceremony commenced.

Shortly after kickoff, or as the Priest liked to call it – “Friends, today we gather to celebrate the life of…” the anxiety started to kick in. I felt a drop of sweat trickle down my forehead, travel past my nose, and then free fall onto the pew making a sound loud enough for a menacing glance from my Mother to shoot in my direction. Unfortunately that drop was just the beginning and soon I felt like San Francisco quarterbackAlex Smith trying to elude an ominous pass rush with the third string center as his only line of defense. To my chagrin, I didn’t have the luxury of even an eighth string center, but I did have my eight-year-old cousin Milo. Unfortunately, he was more interested in picking his nose and depositing it in the church hymn book than to be concerned with my desperate perspiration.

Would Roethlisberger go to the air against Cincinnati or stick to the running game? Was Brian Westbrook, a game-time decision, even in the game? I was miles from a computer or active Internet connection and even if I were to locate one, a brigade of defensive lineman in the form of my immediate family members would certainly stand my path of any possible first down; or escape rather.

I was screwed.

Just then the amazing happened. I started breaking out in a rash and the sweating became uncontrollable. My Mom’s menacing gaze became enraged and she motioned to the door for me to excuse myself. Seizing what I thought was my only chance, I climbed backwards over the pew crashing down on the floor behind me with one leg still caught on the back of the pew above. During the post game interviews, or reception rather, some said the ceremony stopped for a whole minute as people exchanged perplexed glances, but I wasn’t around to check it out. I was already half way to the reception hall in a Reggie Bush-like sprint searching desperately for any portable device I could find. Ten yards from the door of the hall, a cook held a Palm Treo in his hands. He never saw me coming from the weak side and didn’t have time to defend himself as I latched onto his arm and begged him to see the Philadelphia-New York box score. He nervously agreed and brought up the game. My rash began to recede and my sweating slowed as I felt the warm feeling of my addiction taking over once again. With the box score up and Philadelphia inside the ten I waited anxiously for Westbrook, (represented on the game cast as a blinking green football) to get the call. I watched the blinking football with the focus and determination of a cat stalking a mouse that was doused with catnip.

‘Hand off to Westbrook,’ was the last text I remember seeing before I blacked out.

‘Touchdown New York,’ apparently came next, without any explanation of what had happened. There was no warm touch from a friend telling me to sit down and warn me before the news broke. There was no one assuring me everything would be ok. There was no announcer warning me of gruesome graphics and to look away if I had any Eagle players on my fantasy team. There was just ‘Touchdown New York.’ That was it. Was it a fumble returned for a touchdown? Did a trick play go awry? Did Westbrook get confused and run the wrong way? Did a raging, drunken David Hasselhoff stumble into the press box causing statisticians to make an error? What in God’s name happened? Damn these online game casts…don’t they know people’s each awaiting gasp of life is hinging on these text updates?

When I came to, the cook mentioned something about me trying to strangle him to get more information from the Treo, and me telling him to call someone named Berman and he’d know what had happened, but everything is still kind of hazy…

“So let me get this straight, you’re not actually watching the game, you’re watching stats calculate?” my ex would inquire, mystified. “How often do you need to check that thing?” In my head I was thinking every minute, every second, and every moment of my existence! “A few times a day,” I would answer sheepishly, assuring her that it was just to make sure my stats were calculating correctly. In actuality the stat programs are probably created by MIT software geniuses and rarely miss anything. (This also didn’t explain why I was checking the stats at 11am on a Wednesday during a tour of the wine country when most games are played only on Sundays).

Luckily I had heard that there was help out there so I went online to research a good therapist. Instead I ended up re-ordering my projected 2009 running backs for my upcoming draft and ultimately concluded that there is no cure. I am tied for life to my addiction and I now have set my sights on at least a sixth-place ribbon this upcoming season and wonder if it’s worth risking any more relationships. Ultimately I figure girlfriends come and go, but Fantasy Football ribbons last a lifetime. Well, they last at least until the cheap clothe wears out, a pigeon steals it, or your dog chews it up which happens more often than you would think...

For the record no Great Uncles, catnip covered mice, or cooks holding Treo’s were hurt during the writing of this blog, nor were any girlfriends lost. If you actually believed this story was true I appreciate your credulous attitude…