"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The America’s Cup: Bo-ring

When I was a teenager growing up in Connecticut, some older friends invited me to watch the submarine races on the Thames River.  I thought of the famous Harvard-Yale rowing regattas on the river, and since the New London submarine shipyard was nearby, the idea of a competition seemed logical. We found our way to a deserted beach near Old Lyme, unpacked the beer and blankets, and joined the girls who had come down from Haddam.  What was I thinking? That it would be cool to watch the wake of the conning towers as the subs powered on below? Or to check tide and current tables while watching for tell-tale swirls on the river? It wasn’t about submarines at all, but about pussy, the only thing that mattered in those days.

The Yale-Harvard rowing regattas on the Thames, the inspiration for submarine races, were just about as boring. What could possibly exciting about watching rowboats race? As a camper at Camp Wanaweta I had always struggled with the oars, banging them out of the oarlocks and falling far behind the Cherokees. I even trailed Billy Barnstable who was so fat that he could hardly row a stroke without panting, but because his arms stuck out so far from his big tits and enormous stomach, his little punchy pulls never jacked the oars out of the oarlocks.

I fared no better at canoeing.  I never mastered the J-stroke and always went in circles.  Once I got caught in a wind that had kicked up on Lake Mashpee and got pushed to the far shore despite my thrashing at the chop with my paddle.  I had given up the J-stroke at the first puff from Falmouth, and had to be rescued by the camp motorboat.

So watching Yale and Harvard row up and down the Thames was boring.  I think the event must have been an excuse for a party, because most of the Yalies watching from the shore got drunk and groped their girlfriends.  It was, I was to find out later, the picnic version of Yale-Harvard tailgate parties. My father and uncle took me to a Yale football game when I was 15, and the girl behind me barfed on my new birthday sweater.  My uncle (Yale ‘32) refused to leave The Game. “It’s OK, Ronnie”, he said. “Here”, handing me his handkerchief, “Wipe it off. It’ll be fine once it dries”.  He was right that it was less wet and sticky after two hours, but the hot September sun intensified and, strangely, disaggregated the smell. It was no longer just a puke smell, but a pizza-with-pepperoni, beer, and vanilla smell.

I have always wondered why soccer is so popular in Europe.  Aficionados have tried to explain the game’s finesse, elegance, and grace; but to me it is ninety minutes of errant passes, missed shots, endless running back and forth, and sheer boredom. I was lucky that my kids were in school before the soccer craze, and I could enjoy watching them play football and baseball.

Now the most boring sport of all is sailing.  Boats tacking back and forth on the open water usually far apart, no goal in sight, no wrecks or collisions, is a painful sight. Four hours of nothing until someone is declared the winner.  Some Washingtonians are going nuts about the America’s Cup.  They are not wild about the boring race itself, but about the fact that the US has come back from an almost insurmountable deficit to challenge New Zealand for the lead.

I once watched hydroplane  races in Puget Sound.  Now that was something exciting.  I saw some spectacular crashes – not collisions, but amazing aerial disasters.  Boats going over 100 mph, catching a wake, flipping 30 feet in the air, crashing down in a shower of splinters, oil, and shards.

What links all sports is competition, and in an aggressive, competitive, take-no-prisoners society like ours, any sport can get the juices flowing. The World Cup is a good example. Few Americans actually care about the scoreless marathons themselves, but the rivalry between countries.  France has been pissy to America lately, so fuck ‘em, and root for the bloody Germans. Upstart Angola matched against powerhouse Portugal is the game to watch because it pits liberal hopes for the Dark Continent against a former colonial power.

In football, however, it is the game itself that matters.  Who cares whether Kansas City beats Jacksonville?  Only the bettors and the diehard fans from those cities.  The rest of us love the violence, the mayhem, the crushing blocks, savage tackles, and knockouts.  We love to watch acrobatic wide receivers broken in half in mid-air, quarterbacks thrown to the ground and mauled by defensive linemen.  We love to watch tackles so brutal that helmets go flying, running backs wobble off the field, and tight ends throw crushing blocks to defensive backs.  Concussion angst is for wusses.

Football is a great American game because it allows violence and brutality within a tightly organized structure.  It is not so much the meaningless marathon of soccer that Americans don’t like.  It is the the lack of discipline.  The game is too free-flowing, unpredictable, and fluid.  Football, on the other hand, is disciplined, tightly organized, and played within a understandable structure.  A 75-yard run, a 35-yard pass, first-and-ten, first-and-goal.  There are slant passes, wide-outs, posts, and hooks.  There are end-arounds, screen passes, subtle fakes, and complex defensive alignments.  All X’s and O’s, charted, practiced, and executed.  The whole game is centered around offensive complexity and defensive violence.  No wonder it has become America’s game.

Ice hockey has all the violence of football, but none of the discipline.  It is soccer on ice; and if it weren’t for the bone-shattering checks and the fights, no one would go.

Olympic hockey is not hockey at all.  It is a pansy European version of the real American game.  Aficionados say that it is the way the game should be played – like Stanford basketball – finesse, pick-and-roll, and classic shooting; but it is a pale version of the blood sport that American fans love.

There is good reason why the NBA plays above the rim – it is a brutal, violent sport where a flagrant foul is worth a suspension if it helps win the game.

The pushing, shoving, and intimidation that goes on under the basket is Thai boxing, wrestling, and football combined.

Some critics have observed that America is a hopelessly violent country; and if there weren’t carnage in the arena, there would be far more random shootings, going Post Office, and Auroras.  The Romans knew all about blood-lust and and civic order.  Better to let plebeians watch gladiators chop each other up, Emperors said, than to go after the Emperor.

So, after being puked on at the Yale Bowl when I was 15, I have never gone to another football game.  I have been tempted to go to a Big Ten game and sit in the stands with 100,000 raving, rabid Ohio State fans – there can be nothing more gladiatorial and Roman than that – but haven’t gotten up the gumption.  As for the America’s Cup Regatta? Fuggedaboutit.

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