Spring is obviously the worst season, although most people might think the opposite. You might hear such nonsense as, “Look at the flowers!” “Can you smell the fresh air?” “Isn’t spring wonderful?” Those people are morons. Continue reading
I didn’t cry until I heard Merrill Reese, the longtime radio voice of the Eagles, on YouTube the day after the Super Bowl. His call of the Tom Brady fumble with two minutes left in the fourth quarter pushed the release button. The emotions, the memories, the Sundays, the halftime catches in the backyard, the Monday mornings discussing the game, the plastic cups and t-shirts emblazoned with a mean green eagle, the cheesesteaks, the fireplace and TV on cold winter afternoons, the time with my family. Three generations watching our beloved birds struggle toward the excellence other teams seemed to stumble into. Continue reading
A grandfather, father and son; three generations of William Sabia’s; three generations of Philly sports fans used to go watch 18 baseball games every summer. We watched them together from our right field seats all through my younger and more vulnerable years. We watched the best years with the mullet brigade of 1993 that lost the World Series to a bunch of Canadian hosers. We also watched the worst years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. The years when future Hall of Shamers Von Hayes or Steve Jeltz were the best players, the years when the stadium was a non-descript, circular, multi-purpose green hole called Veterans Stadium. Continue reading
Floyd “Money for My Lawyers” Mayweather and Manny “No Birth Control” Pacquiao recently fought to a unanimously boring decision in Mayweather’s favor. A total of 229 punches were landed in the fight, which averages to six per minute or 19 per round (a small number compared to the real “fight of the century” Ward v. Gatti in 2002 when those punch-happy crowd-pleasers combined for a staggering average of 17 punches landed per minute and 51 per round). Continue reading
I’ve been to 10 countries this year but spent the bulk in either Italy or Korea. I think somehow I’m fully American diluted with Italian and Korean blood now. My roots spread far. Both countries have their pros and cons, but which is the better place to live? Continue reading
It’s my third Super Bowl in Korea. My third big game watched after work on Monday night like some kind of schnook eating spaghetti with ketchup and imitation Doritos, washing it down with a Ramen Cup. Continue reading
In the late spring, as cherry blossoms fall, piling into fragrant fluffs of street detritus, and the Celsius rises, thoughts wander into the casual, carefree realm of summer loving, beach time and sticky nights with sweating mugs of cold beer. Some of us are preparing holidays among tranquil, azure blue waters and overpriced fusion food. College kids are looking for pointless summer jobs, teachers are counting the days until finals, and baby ducks follow mama in that amazingly cute waddle toward the pond. That pond, only 6 months ago, was frozen in a sheet of glass from previous nights of sub zero temperatures. And in those brief moments, those fleeting moments of winter daylight, those short-lived days before the snow covers the ice, young children of the north live out hockey fantasies.
I remember my pond. It was actually a canal. It was dug over a century ago by horses, mules and plows to aid river traffic along the Schuylkill River. It’s only four feet deep and 20 feet wide, but miles long. I remember the crunch as I stepped onto the ice and made first tracks. I remember pickup games at dusk with bruised shinbones. I remember skating in a seemingly endless straight line with my Dad, passing the puck back and forth. I remember the bitter wind cutting through my scarf. I remember the smoke rising from tiny nearby chimneys and the smell of frost mixed with dinner. I remember seeing little, cold fish swimming below the clear ice. I remember practicing slap shots on a brick wall. Free ice time is a beautiful thing.
I also remember my high school days playing in front of my alcohol-lubricated friends on Friday nights. We would come out to a Guns N’ Roses song and circle the ice anticipating a win. It was a great feeling. I was just a skinny kid who wanted to smash people, but usually ended up on the losing end. We were a great team and used to enact the charity rule of stopping the game when winning by more than ten goals quite often. We made it to the final game played in the Philadelphia Flyers home arena. It was essentially empty, but the expansiveness was palpable. I knew I was skating on the same ice as those heroes of Philly—the Broad Street Bullies, the Legion of Doom and Ronnie Hextall. I didn’t play too much, but I did have one open shot but it sailed wide of the net, much like Emilio Estevez’ in The Mighty Ducks. We lost by one goal. It doesn’t haunt me as much as, say, Uncle Rico’s 1982 state championship game, but alas, sports provide heartbreak as well as joy.
Ice hockey is the basketball of the frozen north. Granted, there’s more equipment. You need a stick, skates, gloves, puck and ice, but it’s the favored game of winter for anyone without the finesse required for B-ball. I hate to compare basketball to hockey, but they are the two major winter sports. One difference, as referenced above, is that hockey isn’t only an indoor sport in the winter months. Basketball has the high scoring, fancy dribbling and slam-dunks. Hockey has 100mph slap shots, delicate stickhandling and one-timers.
I understand people who enjoy round ball and other athletic endeavors, but it’s not a debate for me. Hockey is the best sport. And, don’t get me wrong; I love all sports, but none more than playing with the puck. We’re talking about the fastest human propelled sport. It’s got sticks and blades, slashing and roughing, tripping and hooking. It’s a sport that has the tiniest “ball” that must get into the tiniest net guarded by the goaltender with the biggest pads. Fighting is allowed and sometimes encouraged. It takes shit talking out of the equation. Drop the gloves if you got a problem. Sure, Ray Lewis is a scary man and talks a big, nasty game, but wouldn’t you like to see that giant offensive tackle grip him up and just put a fist through his face once? Or maybe if someone hits Tom Brady too late and the small, street-tough running back just jacks up that free safety. And wouldn’t you enjoy seeing LeBron give Kobe a beat down; or vice versa? Men can handle things like gentlemen instead of running their big mouths with juvenile pushing. You don’t insult someone in a bar and hide behind the helmet or the referee of life. It’s real. It’s too real sometimes. Do you know any sport where people have cut their carotid artery during a game? Well, it happened twice in hockey. The videos are scary. Do you know any sport where every team member grows a beard during the playoffs? It happens in hockey, and by June, it’s a rink full of grizzled, sometimes toothless, battered men playing for pride and that all too beautiful trophy—the Stanley Cup. It’s the oldest trophy of the four major sports, having been commissioned in 1892 by Lord Stanley, a viceroy of the Queen of England.
In soccer, a good goalie can change a game; in hockey, a good goalie can dominate a game. Some may complain this is a check against the sport that one person can take over a game, but if you have watched some of the clinics put on by previous Cup winners, you might be able to appreciate their cheetah hand speed and eagle eye awareness.
This playoff season was really exciting to me. It was a championship of two of the Original 6 hockey teams. Both teams played with guts, passion and tenacity. Patrice Bergeron played the last game with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a separated shoulder. Andrew Shaw took a puck to the face and bled through his scabs the entirety of the game. It’s hard to debate about hockey players’ toughness. They are well known for facial lesions, missing teeth and great hair. Although hockey has changed from the gentleman’s game of straight bladed sticks and helmet-less goalies into the deliriously fast paced game of 200-pound agile behemoths, it still possesses the grit and glory of the old days. “Old-time hockey.”
Before each game of the Finals, I got goose bumps as they sang the national anthem. But, I wondered, since only a handful of players are American, do they even enjoy that spectacle of song, or do they just hum AC/DC in their head until it’s over? That’s another thing. Hockey is a worldwide sport. The finals between Boston and Chicago had seven different countries represented. And nobody can deny the beauty of a good hockey name: Johnny Boychuk, Niklas Kjalmarsson, Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara, or the great old names of: Jeff Beukeboom, Zarley Zalapski, Darius Kasparitus or Miroslav Satan. Whether it be the honeyed tone of a good Quebecois surname like: Lafleur or Lemieux, or the repeated consonants of the Czech Republic like: Roman Hamrlik, or the loveliness of sounding Russian just by saying the names: Alexander Ovechkin or Vladimir Konstantinov, hockey fans enjoy the linguistic allure of these possible line combinations.
Hockey has raised me. Hockey was my opportunity to spend time with friends, exercise, hit people without getting in trouble, learn dedication through practice and feel the thrill of putting the puck in the back of the net. Hockey also gave me cherished memories with my father. Early mornings at a freezing rink; greasy meals after a game; locker rooms laughs; watching the Flyers on winter evenings with a glowing fire; or just talking about playing as we’d drive in “the truck” are things I remember well. Men need sports.
It’s old news now that Lance Armstrong, the promoter of the LiveStrong campaign, the man who won a grueling 2,000 mile bicycle race 7 times in a row, lost a testicle to cancer, and still had the balls to leave the mother of his children who supported him after the cancer treatments to get together with Sheryl “Horse-face” Crow, is a lying, doping, remorseless man. He repeated ad nauseum about how he was racing clean and didn’t need any performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Then, he told Oprah, who told us, that he did in fact use them. It reminds me of Bill Clinton with his infamous “that woman” speech. Both should have just been honest, but we know perjuring yourself usually seems the better option until you’ve been caught. I was let down because I really believed he was the special kind of human with supreme natural abilities. It led me to wonder, as a professional, are the natural abilities the most important part of the game?
Recently, I’ve been thinking about PED’s and I don’t think they are of that much assistance to athletes in all sports. Also, I think their negative effects are more self-inflicted than upon society. The arguments I’ve heard during the baseball steroid trials are about setting a good example for the young athletes, and the sanctity of sports. What a bunch of crap! Hardly any athlete is a good example for kids. They always go to the team who offers the most money, they rarely graduate college, and they are sometimes arrested for murder, manslaughter, DWI, assault, possession, drug dealing and sometimes rape. No, not all athletes fit this bill, but not all athletes use PED’s. Athletes are modern gladiators, not role models. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t seen as role models. No matter how bad their behavior may be, as long as they win, they will inspire youngsters’ sporting fantasies. Remember in the Kirk Douglas movie, when all the men stood up and exclaimed, “I’m Spartacus!” I bet at the Staples Center, on a random Friday night, if the lights went out, all the guys would rise and scream, “I’m Kobe Bryant!” Steroids won’t help Kobe put the perfect touch on a game winning 3-pointer. Steroids won’t help Tom Brady put the delicate arch on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Steroids couldn’t have helped Barry Bonds see the spin on an 80mph curveball or even to put the bat in the right place to hit a homerun. Steroids won’t help soccer or hockey goalies’ agility in stopping a sudden shot. From what I understand about steroids, they help in the building of muscles and also in the turnaround or the rebuilding phase. So, yes, it helps muscles, which athletes use. But it doesn’t help passion, agility, reaction time, or game knowledge.
Alex Rodriguez said that his huge contract with the Texas Rangers back in 2001 made him feel very pressured to play at a high level, so he starting juicing. He should feel pressure; a big salary obliges effort and results. If we are paying top dollar to watch sports, we want our athletes to be the best they can be. So combining the muscle magnification of steroids with their own innate abilities, we can be treated to quite a spectacle of sport. But, NFL is cutting back on big hits, NHL is trying to stop concussive hits, MLB is testing for steroids, and the NBA made a one year in college before drafting to stop high school hopefuls. It’s a nanny state for sports. It’s good to prevent career ending injuries, and perhaps with bigger, stronger, juiced up dudes playing, there might be more devastating hits. Why are we always worried about the children? There will still be delusional hopefuls, dreaming of glory, injecting themselves and ruining their own lives despite our best efforts to prevent that behavior. As the amount of legal PED’s grows, so will the players and concurrently will the concussions and homeruns grow. I know that athletes are people too, but we, as paying spectators, deserve to see their best, which is sometimes augmented by PED’s.
Now, back to Lance Armstrong. Riding a bicycle is something everyone can do, not like throwing a 50-yard spiral accurately or dribbling a sick crossover or hitting fastballs. In competitive riding, your performance is decided by both your conditioning and determination. Maybe, with a winning attitude and the right cocktail of enhancers, sport riding will get more competitive, instead of the guy who knows how to best dilute his urine winning 7 years in a row. Armstrong was certainly given an edge by his use of drugs. BUT, what if all the others were on the same drugs? If the field were level, then we could be sure it was just his strong will and perhaps his knowledge of wind currents in the Loire Valley that gave him the victory. My idea is let all drugs be legal in all non-contact sports. So, football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse etc.—sorry, stay clean. But finesse/normal sports, like basketball, baseball, soccer, car racing, riding, etc., let the ‘roids fly. Steve Nash will not be better because he puts on 100 pounds of muscle. It’s science, we made something that helps us and are scared to use it. Oh, Viagra, no, I want to be aroused naturally. Xanax, no, I want to keep my panic attacks refreshingly uncontrollable and unpredictable. I think one day, we will see leagues full of human gorillas competing. Then, sporting events will be like going to the zoo, except all the animals will be active, instead of sitting on logs, licking each other and picking at orifices.
To be truly dominant in your sport must be an incredible feeling. The Jordan’s, Gretzky’s, Jeter’s and Montana’s of the sporting world must feel great looking back at their legacy of accomplishments and excellence. Although they were only one (arguably the largest one) member of a team sport, they are known as some of the best in their game. They were respectful, talented leaders and won several championships to solidify their winning reputation. No matter what happens off the field to them, they will always have their playing record to shut down any personality vs. success arguments.
America loves the underdogs, but relishes the dynasties. We have never had kings or queens and therefore celebrities have become our royalty. Some may be the actors or politicians that appear larger than life with their gifts of speech or propriety, but athletes seem to be the most heralded due to their tangible and obvious skills inducing our collective envy. Few boys grow up dreaming of success in the political arena. Those that do most certainly live out Thoreau’s adage of life in quiet desperation. For what can be more desperate than the ingratiating compliance of politics. Many more envision hitting the 9th inning home run or throwing the 2-minute drill bomb pass. Sports create a world where fantasy becomes reality. Those same dreams may not become fully realized unless you consider the reason why we watch those sports—to imagine we are the ones in the athlete’s shoes.
We watch and cheer for our home team. We watch and cheer for our favorite players, smiling with them as the confetti falls over the field while they thank God and pick up their tiny offspring in a climactic crescendo of completion.
Recently, we saw two of the most dominant athletes of the modern era in individual sports compete. Roger Federer and Anderson Silva had titles on the line this weekend. Roger reclaimed the number 1 seed and his 7th Wimbledon championship in four sets after losing the first to a charged up Andy Murray. Silva defended his belt for the 10th consecutive time by shoving his fists and knees into the bile-spewing mouth of Chael Sonnen before a referee stoppage in the 2nd round. Both matches, I felt, were overhyped and anti-climactic, seeing as how they were viewed as a chance for a changing of the guard for a new champion. The fact is, they are the best and they showed it. There will come a time when they will lose or simply retire on top, cascading away into the unimaginable, shadowy realm of distinction that us mortals only imagine. There will come a new batch of silver armed, fuzzy green ball whackers or pugnacious pugilists, and they will inevitably be compared to those who came before them. But until then, we have our champions. Federer and Silva are never to be underestimated and never to be equaled. All things are debatable, but can you argue with the results? The Swiss master has 17 Grand Slam wins and a myriad of other records. The Brazilian spider has never lost in the octagon. They are the pure essence of domination and we were all privy to their reign.
I have enjoyed watching the perfectly placed forehands of Federer right down the line, as well as the perfectly placed fists of Silva to his opponents’ foreheads. It’s a great pleasure to see such talent on display. It’s a testament to their hard work and a lifetime of refining ones talent. We can all aspire to their greatness in our own professions. I like to think of myself as giving backhands of knowledge and flying knees of wisdom to the younglings’ domepieces. But in all probability, they’re more like misplaced lobs and sloppy jabs of education. Nevertheless, we beat on, boats against the current.
I was raised in churches hearing sermons about how forgiveness is divine and God will always let you off the hook if you’re sorry. Yet, God punished those who were pious and sacriligious in the Bible (ask Job or the Sodomites). This issue has less to do with God and more with human error; however, I bring up the grand deity to invoke the idea of forgiving those who have wronged others. I forgive Mike Vick. Continue reading