Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 10, 2013

The Not So Quiet Time

A NOTE TO READERS: On Sports and Life has now entered its fourth year. Happy Anniversary to me, and thanks to everyone who has ever wandered by. But a very big and special thanks to those of you who read regularly! I am in your debt.

New England is buried under two feet of snow. Many thousands are still without electricity in the three southern New England states, where temperatures near freezing during the storm made the snow heavy and wet, dragging down power lines. But to the north the thermometer never made it out of the teens. Here the snow was fluffy and dry, and those without power never numbered more than a few hundred.

But while the lights stayed on, steady winds of thirty miles per hour and gusts approaching twice that made for whiteout conditions and pushed that fluffy snow into high drifts. Out the back of my second floor apartment runs a flat roof covering an extension of the first floor art gallery below. The fierce wind pushed the snow across that roof, piling it up against my rear wall and climbing halfway up two windows.  Now snow five feet deep extends ten or twelve feet out from those windows. Good thing the landlord had that roof redone last fall.

Winter storm Nemo has done what all major winter storms do; brought an entire region to a standstill. On Saturday a downtown usually busy on a weekend was quiet save for the occasional cross-country skier. Stores normally catering to both locals and the steady year-round flow of tourists to New Hampshire’s seacoast stood dark and shuttered. Busy lives were made to wait. The Port City, the Granite State, all of New England came to a stop.

That the blizzard should blow through the week after the Super Bowl is metaphorically perfect. In the wake of the monster storm a region is left isolated and still. In the wake of the NFL’s championship game, which ends in a blizzard of confetti and over the years has become a super storm of commercialism and pop culture excess, casual sports fans are left in a similar state. To them, suddenly the sporting calendar appears barren.

The dead of winter is admittedly not the busiest time for North American sports. The paucity of activity led the late Andre Laguerre, then the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, to invent the idea of an issue centered on photo shoots of models in swimsuits. That was nearly a half century ago, even before there was a football game that came to be called the Super Bowl. If this time of year seemed light on sporting activity back then, the vacuum is exponentially more complete these days, given the phenomenal media and cultural focus on the final game of the football season. Meanwhile over the decades since the first edition in 1964 SI’s Swimsuit Issue has carved out its own place in pop culture and given a magazine about sports an unlikely role in anointing the next great supermodel.

Casual fans focus on big events, so it’s understandable that they might think that the sports calendar is empty. There are no major championships about to be decided, and the media is capable of trivializing those events that are taking place. This weekend the PGA Tour made its annual stop on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was first played more than seven decades ago. It always attracts a strong field and is played in a visually spectacular setting, so the tournament should be perfect for television. But for more than a decade CBS has insisted on focusing almost all of Saturday’s coverage, and even a fair portion of Sunday’s, on the play of the celebrity amateurs in the field. I love to play golf, but am under no illusion that anyone would be interested in watching me do so on their flat screen. As a viewer I am similarly disinterested in watching the hooks and slices of the actors, business tycoons and athletes from other sports who dominate the network’s almost unwatchable broadcast. Yet like life, sports are about much more than the big events, and moments that others trivialize can still hold meaning. In the everyday grind of a season of play there are moments of greatness and glory, and of crushing defeat. These are the moments that the casual fans miss.

This weekend, if one had the patience to outlast CBS’s focus on celebrity amateurs, one got to watch the hottest golfer on the planet claim a tournament victory. In successive weeks 32-year old Brandt Snedeker finished second to Tiger Woods in San Diego and second to Phil Mickelson in Arizona before winning at Pebble Beach. His four round total of 267 set a new tournament record. Snedeker closed last year by winning the Tour Championship as well as the season-long FedEx Cup points race and its $10 million bonus. With a win, two seconds, and a third-place finish in five starts this year it’s clear that he isn’t slowing down.

While both the NHL and NBA are months away from their playoffs, that doesn’t mean the games being played right now aren’t meaningful. That’s especially true for hockey, where the lockout-shortened 48-game season puts a premium on winning every possible point. That’s why there is so much joy in Boston where the Bruins are off to a torrid start, and so much angst in Washington where the Capitals have dropped eight of their first twelve contests with poor goaltending, sloppy defense, and an anemic offense.

On Sunday the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings skated into Joe Louis Arena to face Western Conference rival Detroit. The Red Wings took an early 2-0 lead, only to see their margin cut in half in the final minute of the first period. Then for almost forty minutes the goaltenders took over. Detroit’s James Howard and L.A.’s Jonathan Quick turned aside shot after shot. As the game entered its final minute Quick skated to the bench to give the Kings an extra attacker. Moments later Kings’ defenseman Alec Martinez pounced on a rebound in front of the net and tied the score. But even as overtime seemed a certainty the Red Wings’ Jonathan Ericsson intercepted an attempted clearing pass in the Kings end, skated in on Quick and snapped off a shot on goal. At first it appeared Quick had stopped the shot; but then the puck appeared, slipping through his pads onto the ice and sliding ever so slowly but inevitably across the red line for the winning goal. With just 4.5 seconds remaining on the game clock, the capacity crowd in Detroit erupted.

While the weekend brought joy to Hockeytown, in the NBA the big news is that Gotham is relevant again. With the season now past its halfway point it’s clear that the New York Knicks are for real, as they remain second in the Eastern Conference behind only defending champion Miami. For good measure the Nets, newly relocated to Brooklyn from their long purgatory in New Jersey, also appear well-positioned for a return to the playoffs.

This basketball season may well be about the rise of new powers, but there is still something to be said for old rivalries. On Thursday night the Los Angeles Lakers paid their only visit of the season to the TD Garden in Boston. After a nightmarish first half of the season the Lakers are trying desperately to climb back into playoff contention, and came into the game winners of six of their last seven. But on Thursday it was no contest. With six Celtics scoring in double-figures, led by Paul Pierce’s 24 points, Boston ran off with a 116-95 “old fashioned beat down,” in Pierce’s words. Boston was left for dead when Rajon Rondo was lost for the season. But fans are taking another look now that the Celtics have gone 6-0 without their starting point guard.

If all this isn’t enough, equipment trucks from thirty cities across North America have made their way to destinations in Florida and Arizona. The countdown to the annual renewal and its certain promise that two feet of snow will melt and spring will come again is even now in its final hours. So pity the poor casual sports fans. No doubt attired in their fashionable pink Red Sox caps, they think that it’s a dead time for sports. They really have no idea how much they’re missing.

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Responses

  1. It is difficult to believe it’s been four years. At you were looking for subjects to write about. And now you seem to have too many.

    Congratulations!

    Don

    • Thanks! It’s all your fault of course.

      Michael

  2. Congratulations on keeping it going for this long. So many other blogs have fallen by the wayside since you started yours. Your writing has always been top-notch, which is why I always come back for more.
    As for hockey, I went to a minor league game here in Greenville last night and had a great time. But I’m still looking forward to the baseball season in a big way.
    Cheers, Bill

    • Thanks so much for your good words and consistent support. I assume that was the Greenville Road Warriors. No matter the sport, there is an element of simplicity and, dare I say it, purity, that makes attending minor league contests especially fun.

      Mike

      • It was the Greenville Road Warriors. Good times. And, in just a few weeks, we will have Single-A baseball again here in Greenville with our own Greenville Drive!


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