Politics & Policy

Into The Stretch

No rest for the weary sports fan.

These are tough times for the sports fan who also aspires to a well-rounded life. Last Thursday, the ABC series known as Monday Night Football premiered. (It’s television, so they can do whatever they want. Ask Dan Rather.) It was a must-see game–the New England Patriots, defending Super Bowl champions, against the Indianapolis Colts, one of those teams on the verge of either a breakthrough or a collapse.

Turned out, it was a good game. Good enough that you had to stay up late to see the finish. The Patriots won. Peyton Manning was frustrated again. And the fan missed a couple of hours of sleep.

Friday night, he had to suck it up for the University of Miami vs. Florida State. College games are supposed to be played on Saturday afternoon, with the leaves turning and a little bite to the air. This one, however, was scheduled for Monday night (it was Labor Day) but moved to Friday on account of a hurricane. These days, college teams are playing games before the school year begins and, basically, whenever television wants them to.

Truth is, most fans would have watched this game any day of the week–would have stayed up late, gotten up early, sandbagged work to watch it. Miami/FSU is among the best rivalries in all of sports. Since 1983, these two schools have won seven national championships between them. They are routinely considered contenders for the title and this year was no exception. Miami had won the previous five meetings; two of them last season. (They played in the regular season and then, again, in a bowl game.) FSU played well on defense, horribly on offense, and let Miami tie the game in the last seconds. Miami applied the coup d’ grace in overtime…very late in the evening.

Saturday, the fan could gorge himself on college football. The game with the most resonance was probably Michigan at Notre Dame. During the previous week, the talk shows and chat rooms had pondered deeply the fate of Notre Dame’s coach, Tyrone Willingham. Some thought he was going down, perhaps taking the legendary program with him. He had followed a losing season with a bad first-game loss, and if Notre Dame was blown out by Michigan–which looked probable–then the Irish would almost certainly finish this season with another losing record. To Notre Dame fans, the argument went, this would be insupportable.

Complicating matters was the fact that Willingham was in the third year of a six-year contract and Notre Dame prided itself on honoring coaches’ contracts. Also, Willingham is African American, which added to the delicacy of the situation.

Michigan went ahead early but the Notre Dame defense kept the Irish in it. And in the fourth quarter Notre Dame rallied and won the game.

The fan, in need of some relief from football, could switch, now, to the perennial stretch race between the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Red Sox had played mediocre baseball for most of the year. But once the team traded disgruntled star Nomar Garciaparra, things began to click. The team learned, again, how to handle routine fly balls and to field commonplace grounders. The bats came alive. The pitching firmed up. And by the weekend, Boston was two or three behind the Yankees and playing them six straight at the end of the month.

The Red Sox/Mariners game was on the West Coast, so it was another long night for the fan.

Still–he had to be up early to get ready for the National Football League’s first Sunday. The pre-game shows started about the time other people were getting home from church. The early games kicked off at one o’clock. Late game at about four. And, then, the Sunday-night game at 8:30 (Masterpiece Theatre for football fanatics).

During the weekend, there were other diversions for the fan. Finals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. A NASCAR race of more than ordinary importance–because of a rule change that would require a Philadelphia lawyer to explain it. The Canadian Open golf tournament. The fan could wear out a remote and groove a path between the couch and the microwave trying to stay on top of it all.

When he fell, spent, into the sheets on Sunday night (or early Monday, if he stayed up to watch SportsCenter and get caught up), the fan could console himself with this thought: In less than 21 hours, Green Bay and Carolina–last season’s Super Bowl runner-up–would be kicking off in Charlotte.

Over the next few weeks–until after the World Series–it will be time for the fan to buckle his chin strap. Next weekend, for example, there will be the usual super-size portions of football–college and pro–that crucial Yankees/Red Sox series, and golf’s Ryder Cup (among other diversions).

The ancients preached moderation in all things. The modern sports fan isn’t having any of it. In his universe, too much of a good thing is barely enough. Seems like a bad time of year to be holding an election, what with so much else going on.

Geoffrey Norman writes on sports for NRO and other publications.


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