Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The greatest sports weekend ever

Last weekend was one of those oft-talked about but seldom-experienced "Great Sports Weekends." A lot times you might here someone say, "Man, this is going to be a great sports weekend," but usually they're referring to a big game involving one of their favorite teams with maybe some playoff implications on the line. And if you're especially lucky, you might time things in such a way to have the NFL playoffs, college basketball and maybe a big NBA game fall on the same weekend, but that still doesn't approach what transpired these past few days.

Heading into last weekend, I was convinced that the "Perfect Storm of Great Sports Weekends" was upon me -- at least it started out that way. The Red Sox were in the Bronx playing a three-game series against the Yankees; the Ryder Cup was gearing up as a dominant U.S. team (at least on paper, right?) looked to win back the Cup; and the Steelers looked to open the season 2-0 as they traveled to Baltimore to play their arch-enemy Lex Luthor the Ravens.

Well by all accounts, at least from my perspective, this turned out to be one of the worst sports weekends of the year. It all started innocently enough when the Red Sox, after several rain delays, beat Mariano Rivera and the Yankees Friday night. I mean, when Johnny Damon hits an upper deck homer, that should be a sign of good things to come, right? Guess again, because the caveman longball was the highlight of my three days of sports-watching.

On Saturday I watched what seemed like 40 hours of golf (remembering that there are only 24 hours in a day I must confess that I only watched eight hours of golf) and got perhaps 45 minutes of enjoyment out of the whole thing. The U.S. started out strong in the morning matches only to get donkey-punched in the afternoon. The funny thing about the Ryder Cup (at least for me) is that it feels much more patriotic than watching the Olympics (of course I can count on one hand the number of minutes I spent watching the Summer Olympics so maybe that has something to do with it). Anyway, most of those feelings of patriotism turned to anger and disgust as I watched a solid European team make big shots and bigger putts as the Americans continued their tradition of folding when the chips are down.

Oh yeah, the first time I switched channels from golf to the Sox-Yankees game I was greeted with a 7-0 New York lead with about 30 minutes elapsed in the game. I quickly opted for the less painful of the two alternatives and watched golf. By the end of the afternoon I felt like I'd just taken the SATs, and this was primarily because I'd been racking my brain trying to figure out how many points the U.S. team needed on Saturday to give themselves anything resembling a chance on Sunday. I also was hoping against hope that at the next commercial break I wouldn't switch over to the Sox game to see the Yankees up 22-0 and Leiber throwing a no-hitter. Say what you want, but the Yankees can bounce back from games like that -- I'm not sure the Red Sox can. So imagine my relief when the final score was 14-4 Yankees (hey, it's a moral victory).

As the U.S. ended play on Saturday, a couple of thoughts crossed my mind. First, I was convinced that Hal Sutton's football coach mentality didn't work as well as perhaps it should have. Don't get me wrong, I was all for his take-no-prisoners approach to team captaining, but Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson don't strike me as the type of guys who respond very well to being yelled at. My second thought was that this team had more ground to make up than the 1999 team captained by Ben Crenshaw. Still, his wacky speech about "I have a good feeling about this," gave me some hope going into Sunday.

Well Sunday's when the wheels fell off. Not only did the U.S. team wet the bed (as well as the box spring and left a stain on the carpet) but the Steelers bid to win two games in a row for the first time since 2002 fell woefully short (and I don't mean Tom Cruise short; I don't even mean Gary Coleman short -- I'm talking about Emmanuel Lewis short here). In addition to being outplayed for most of the game, the Steelers lost their best special-teamer in Chidi Iwuoma as well as starting QB Tommy Maddox.

And adding even more fuel to the fire, Joey Porter was called a dirty player by virtually every one in the Ravens locker room for a perceived cheap shot Porter laid on Todd Heap (can anybody say James Trapp?).

It was at this point that I officially announced this as the "Worst Sports Weekend Ever" and cursed my misfortune. Then CBS did one (of what felt like 1,000) of their game-breaks to show highlights from the New England - Arizona game in Tempe.

During this specific game-break, the Cardinals were retiring Pat Tillman's #40 and this image kind of put things in perspective for me. Look, was I bummed that the Red Sox, the U.S. and the Steelers all got the crap kicked out of them? Yep. But you know what, I'm already over it and I'm looking forward to their next games/competition. I'm guessing that the Tillman family isn't so lucky. For some people, sports are a great diversion from the tediousness of everyday life. It provides an escape from a crappy job, a crappy marriage or just a crappy existence. But it's not everything -- and this was reinforced to me as I watched Pat Tillman's family speak about what type of person he was.

So my point is this, in the scheme of things, the fact that Joey Porter pushed Todd Heap down is not a big deal; it's certainly not grounds for threats, or retribution. The fact that Mickelson played one of the worst rounds of professional golf Friday is not the end of the world. It's just a bad round of golf by a really rich, chubby guy. The fact that the Red Sox got outscored 25-5 last weekend will be forgotten before I finish writing this post -- and won't change the fact that the Red Sox will in all probability still be the AL wild card team. But what is a big deal is that Tillman gave up a lot to fight for something he believed in, and I'm not talking about a Super Bowl, the World Series or a Ryder Cup. Sports are a great diversion from the real world, I just think it's important to remember why. Maybe this weekend wasn't so bad after all.