To all those readers who suggest that I don't know what I'm
talking about, I say this: Touche. Damn straight. You got that
right. I know exceedingly little about sports. What I don't know
about sports could fill General Motors Place--which is more than
can be said of the Vancouver Grizzlies, who play their home games
in that arena, a major NBA and NHL facility whose name I had
never heard until today. You think I know nothing? You don't know
the half of it.
I have never seen a Grizzlies game or an Atlanta Thrashers game
or a Baltimore Ravens game, not even on TV. (That these teams
exist I accept largely on faith.) For the first time in my memory
I have never heard of the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Jim
Tracy), have never lain eyes on the No. 1 contender for the
heavyweight crown (David Tua) and--until looking it up just
now--couldn't have told you who plays what in the Skyreach Centre.
(The Edmonton Oilers play hockey there.)
It's not that I don't follow sports. (I follow sports as if it
were my job.) Rather, sports have become harder to follow than
Roger Clemens's train of thought. Every time I switch off my TV,
the players, arena names, uniforms and logos are randomly
scrambled. (A day later, I'll watch in suspense as faces pop up
like fruit in a slot machine: Shawn Kemp is a...Blazer? Glen
Rice is a...Knick? Isaiah Rider is a...Laker?)
Each day is now more dizzying than the last, so that even the
most vigilant fan is made to feel like a contestant in a minor
league baseball promotion, trying to run the third base line
after spinning madly around a bat. Our ignorance is doomed to
endlessly increase, expanding at all hours of the day and night,
like the universe or the NHL. Time was, even a non-sports fan
might deduce where Mile High or Three Rivers stadiums were. But
where, pray tell, is FedEx Field? Or the Xcel Energy Center?
Of course, our dislocation runs far deeper than this. More than
the leaves now change colors each autumn: The Canucks, Mavericks
and Titans do too. Even all that might be surmountable--the team
colors that change annually, along with the players in them, and
the names of the arenas in which they're displayed--if a team's
logo remained a touchstone. But with a few timeless exceptions
(the be-spoked B in Boston, a befeathered Blackhawk in Chicago)
every NHL logo is now a fanged, furry animal preparing to pounce.
Speaking of the NHL, sometime in the night, and without a
referendum, they changed a fundamental rule of hockey: Overtimes
are now played four-on-four. Thought you should know.
The truth is, I can't name four players on the Carolina
Hurricanes. (Is that even their name?) Hockey's Nashville
Predators and baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays are
indistinguishable to me. Indeed, I suspect they are really the
same "team"--a troupe of actors switching uniforms (and backdrops)
each night in a SportsCenter studio in Bristol, Conn., performing
"highlights" for the benefit of Larry Biel.
We must now consider the possibility that much of modern sports
is a deception the caliber of Capricorn One, a movie in which a
NASA "Mars landing" was really a ruse staged for television in
the Nevada desert. Honestly: Can enough people possibly attend
Atlanta Hawks games in--hold on while I look it up--the Philips
Arena to make that whole costly enterprise worthwhile?
Then again, what do I know? Hardly anything, as I'm reminded
every day. Even the simplest things in sports have become a
mystery. I don't fully comprehend how a college football champion
is determined. I frequently forget the name of the Boston
Celtics' home arena. Finally--this pains me beyond words to
admit--I'm insufficiently educated to understand the literary,
historical and geopolitical allusions of the third man in the
Monday Night Football booth, a position that was held not long
ago by Frank Freakin' Gifford.
Only two things in life seem certain anymore: that Grant will
forever remain in Grant's Tomb. And that the Orange Bowl will be
played, come January, in Pro Player Stadium.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAVID COWLES