Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I have had 399 blog posts leading up to this.

The first was on December 12, 2004...It has been three years and four months since I started this blog. Sometime this year, I expect that I will write my 500th post.

Some posts were merely photos, others were practically treatises. Almost all dealt with sports.

Over the years, sometimes as a paid journalist and sportswriter, sometimes in other arms of the Fourth Estate, and even while I worked as an educator I dealt a lot in pre- and misconceptions. Sometimes it had to do with a thick manila file that followed the student around like a shadow from year to year. Sometimes it had to do with sorting out truth from rumor in regards to an athlete, coach, or organization.

Sometimes the portrayal of a person was as much an exaggeration by the media as it was anything else.

As a reporter I covered the untimely death of an 17-year old athlete who had been shot to death, the memorial basketball game that commemorated a different athlete, and everything from gymnastics and women's football to the X-Games and Red Sox. It's easy to walk into something with preconceptions and, in the end, deal with misconception...or at least distortions of reality.

When death is involved, no one wants to remember the bad about a person. That doesn't mean that the good stuff that is talked about isn't completely true, but people have a tendency to appear saints when memorialized.

When I covered the Red Sox for the Boston Chronicle back in 1996, the Sox had come off a first-place finish in a strike shortened 144 game 1995 season. After finishing with 86 wins in 1995, I went to work on a season preview for 1996. Based on the Sox strong 1995 finish, I predicted the Sox would repeat as AL champs. They finished in third, one game short of their 1995 total.

During the course of last season, after a particularly embarrassing weekend of losses for the denizens of the NFC East, I said that it was a division of frauds and pretenders. I was, admittedly, wrong.

I bring all this up because of something that caught my attention today. Dan Patrick said on his radio show that the media is lazy. They love the easy story.

I will admit this is true.

When I wrote for community newspapers in Bucks County, PA, there were certain coaches that I loved to interview because I knew that their answers would practically allow the stories to write themselves. There were other coaches I dreaded having to deal with. To get a usable quote was like pulling the teeth of a pit bull.

We are given to hyperbole and have short memories.

The media regularly anoints the most recent hot thing the best player ever. Michael Jordan had to be the greatest because he won all those championships, forgetting that no player in any sport in the United States has led his team to more championships than Bill Russell. We successively name quarterbacks as the greatest ever, only marginally acknowledging that the way the position is played is significantly different than it was in other eras, but the guy slinging the ball over the last decade is freshest in our head.

We hear a lot of talk about how Roger Clemens might be the greatest pitcher of all time, but statistics don't even come close to bearing that out. Steroids not withstanding, he fails to have better numbers than a number of pitchers have either better, or at least comparable numbers while pitching almost their entire careers on four days rest rather than the five that Clemens typically enjoyed - Walter "Big Train" Johnson, Steve Carlton, Cy Young, Bob Gibson. But writers have been watching Clemens for the last 20 years. They haven't even seen any of those others for well over 20. That doesn't diminish the skills of the others, it skews our view of the most recent.

This was all really inspired by some questions that Patrick posed in a piece he was doing on Tyler Hansbrough and how he is perceived.

One thing that caught my attention that he mentioned was the term blue collar. A lot of players are called blue collar, lunch pail types. It was pointed out that the term is commonly used for white players, but not black. I tried to think about black players that have been described that way and I came up with Kevin Faulk, and I think I remember Troy Brown getting the label on occasion.

In football it seems to be reserved for linemen. In other sports, the scrappy, hard-working player. But in both, there is a tendency to reserve the label for the white guys.

I don't know that this is completely accurate, but I have to admit to a difficulty in thinking of cases where this isn't true...The blue collar guys on the 2004 Red Sox? Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and Trot Nixon. Orlando Cabrera played the game the same way, but didn't really get the same label. Why?

I can't really answer that, except to say that it goes back to preconceptions of what people are supposed to be on the major league level.

Maybe my observations on all of this are right...maybe it's all just one of my misconceptions.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Downtime and the Silver Screen revisited

Anyone that reads my stuff knows two basic facts about me -

  1. I'm not too big on sports outside of football and baseball so this downtime between seasons is ...well...downtime.
  2. I'm a movie buff. I love movies. Enough of one that I minored in film while in college and was stunt coordinator for a video shot in Rhode Island for the Kelly Deal 6000 back in 1996. I will enjoy films that I recognize as bad films.
That said, this is what I wanted to address...

I wanted to do the ten best sports films to hit the silver screen. I've done top ten lists of sports films before, waxing poetic about films like The Natural, Breaking Away, and Chariots of Fire. But I haven't done the list like this. This is going to be a list of the ones not traditionally thought of as sports films.

The most important rule of this list is that it involve some sort of competitive sport, or the link to sports that is integral to the plot of the movie.

And here's the list, along with the relevant sport and a little something about the film...

10. Better Off Dead (Skiing) - 1980's comedy cult-classic featuring a young John Cusak as Lane Meyer. Meyer loses his girlfriend to the captain of the high school ski-team and spends the movie exploring a variety of suicide options. The movie climaxes with a ski race between Meyer and Stalin, the captain of the ski team. For those of you who have not seen the film, there's a great Howard Cosell reference/running joke through the course of the film.

9. Bananas (Howard Cosell, announcing) - This might seem an odd choice, but the early Woody Allen comedy has two absolutely genius scenes with Cosell. The scenes bookend the film with Cosell announcing two wildly inappropriate activities that have virtually nothing to do with sports.

8. The Quiet Man (Boxing, horse racing) - I'm not a John Wayne guy. I just never really got the fascination. I am, however, a fan of John Huston and I have always had a soft spot for this film. Wayne plays a retired boxer returning to his familial roots in Ireland. While the fight choreography is not to today's standards, the brawl at the end is good fun.

7. The Blood of Heroes (Random made-up future sport) - Ah. The sport of juggers. I love this film. It's part of the low-budget post-apocalyptic society movies of the 1980's in the vein of The Road Warrior. The movie focuses on a brutal sport that pretty much entails two teams of five vying to put a dog skull on a stake.

6. Ong-bak: the Thai Warrior (Competitive muay-thai) - Realistically, the plot of this movie is almost a martial arts cliche. The bad guys offend a temple and its greatest student tracks them down to restore the honor of the temple. The martial arts, however, are phenomenal. Some of the best scenes take place in a bar with people betting on matches. Worth a look for any martial arts fan. And if you are a MA fan and have yet to catch Tony Jaa, then you're missing out.

5. Jet Li's Fearless (Wushu, athletic association) - One of the last of Jet Li's martial arts epics, this one is based in the foundation of the Chin Woo or Wushu Athletic Association. The film is shot beautifully, on par with other martial arts epics like House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film ranges from street fights to tournaments, thus the inclusion on the list.

4. Gladiator (Gladiatorial games) - Let's face it. They were referred to in ancient Rome as "The Games." The blood-sport in which these athletes engaged is at the roots of a number of modern sports from football to boxing.

3. Unleashed (Underground fighting) - Known by the title Danny the Dog in Europe, this little movie is about a man conditioned from boyhood to be a thug's guard/attack dog. This makes this list for two sequences in which Danny is forced into unsanctioned underground fights in order for his "owner" to make a few extra bucks.

2. Marathon Man (Running) - This classic about Nazis in hiding, diamonds, and a guy in the wrong dentist chair at the wrong time could easily have been number one. Featuring Dustin Hoffman as a runner training for the marathon in the Olympics, his studies and training end up horribly interrupted when he accidentally stumbles into his brother's (Roy Scheider) second life. Not for the faint of heart, nor those who already have a fear of dentists.

1. Fight Club (Bare-knuckle brawling) - Clever, this film is largely built around split personalities and illegal blood-sport. Well...that, and soap. If you've seen the film, you understand.

Well...those are my ten. I'm sure I missed a few, and would love to know which ones you think I might have missed. I have to admit, I considered both The Odd Couple, and Mighty Aphrodite as they both feature sports writers.