Christmas as always been a good time for the sports nut who doesn’t mind ruining dinner to watch the last three minutes of some football, basketball, or hockey game. NASCAR, being red-state to its roots, does not race during the Christmas season though it has traditionally been crosswise with the Fourth Commandment and run on Sundays.
This year, the National Hockey League has gone dark. If you haven’t heard, the players are out on strike over the usual issues and one of them has, no doubt, insisted in an interview somewhere that “it isn’t about the money.”
Of course it’s not. We all knew that.
Football meanwhile seems to be spreading like something that got started in a petri dish. There will be a Christmas Eve professional game of some interest–Minnesota vs. Green Bay–as well as a contest from the undercard of obscure bowl games: the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl game between powerhouses Hawaii (7-5) and Alabama-Birmingham (7-4).
Christmas Day, however, there will be a paucity of football. In seasons past, the fan whose sports addiction was in the terminal stages–the kind who chewed rugs when there wasn’t a game to watch–could appease his craving with something called the “Blue/Gray Game.” This contest was played in Montgomery, Alabama, between all-star teams made up of seniors from non-bowl schools. One team from northern schools and the other from Dixie. Not even the most last-ditch Confederate cared who won. But the Blue/Gray did keep a certain kind of man amused and out of the kitchen for a couple of hours on Christmas Day. Though even he must have felt slightly remorseful after spending three hours watching.
Since the Blue/Gray will not be played this Christmas, the junkie will have to be content with a professional contest between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, two losing teams that are going nowhere. Still, for the addict, bad football is better than no football at all. And the NFL will be playing a full schedule on Sunday, the day after Christmas. And then, there will be a full week–and more–of college-bowl games. Twenty-two of them. The best of these will be played on or around New Year’s Day, a secular holiday and thus perfect for football–which, for all the pre-game prayers and the players who say they owe everything to the Lord, is pretty much a pagan kind of game. Not a lot of turning of the other cheek on the football field where the meek definitely do not inherit the earth but often eat dirt.
For the fan who simply must have some sport to watch on television this Christmas, there is an NBA doubleheader. One of these games will match up the Detroit Pistons and the Indianapolis Pacers. Even the non-fan will remember that these are the two teams that brawled like the Crips and the Bloods the last time they played. Players went into the seats to whip up on fans who were throwing things. This, no doubt, fulfilled the fantasies of professional athletes going all the way back to Rome when it had to have been the sincerest longing of every gladiator who ever stepped into the ring to give a little back to the fat slugs who insouciantly turned thumbs up or down on the men fighting and bleeding down in the pits. (The gladiators, of course, did not have long-term no-cut contracts.)
The Dukes of sport have been wringing their hands ever since the melee in Detroit, but curiously the game remains on the broadcast schedule. Millions who are marginally interested at best in basketball will be tuning in hoping for another brawl. This is good for the ratings–the idol the Dukes worship to the exclusion of all others.
One wonders whether, had the Dukes ruled that neither team could appear on television for the remainder of the season, the players might have been inspired to play nice and not fight. After all, TV is where their bread gets buttered and without it millions would never get to witness that awesome dunk.
The other half of the Christmas doubleheader is a contest between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. This game is being billed as a mano a mano between Kobe and Shaq (no last names necessary)–a mud-wrestling, grudge-settling, smack down between former teammates who have fallen out and are now the Hatfields and McCoys of sport.
Spare us all, please.
This Shaq/Kobe feud is a nice ratings booster but a bore to anyone who can remember when basketball was a sport where you had five–count ‘em five–players on each team.
If Kobe strolls out for the opening tip carrying an axe, the longings inside these fans will be temporarily appeased. But there is no need for the rest of us to spoil Christmas by watching. Any violence–real or threatened–will be run and rerun for days. Meanwhile, one can take this day off from the carnival and, after church, go for a long walk in the woods (mysteriously quiet and still this time of year), make a few calls to distant friends and family, enjoy a jar of eggnog nicely fortified, and, if the television must be on, watch, once again, The Muppets Christmas Carol.
It is, even for secular souls, a day of peace. Who needs the wars–faux or otherwise–of the NBA?
–Geoffrey Norman writes on sports for NRO and other publications.