by Chris Foss
Aaron Rodgers’ prayer to beat the Lions. Auburn’s “kick-six” against Alabama. Teresa Witherspoon’s half-court miracle shot in the WNBA Finals. These are among the greatest moments in sports. From ownership on down to the players and the fans, the game-winning miracle unifies everyone affected by it like nothing else. For the losing side, agony enshrouds all, as though a loved one has just died. But for the winners, there’s almost no better feeling in the world. It is the deus ex machina. More than the “thrill of victory”, it’s the thrill of seemingly heaven-delivered victory.
The Greco-Roman deus ex machina was, to those ancient societies, a means of bringing sudden endings to theatrical performances. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person or thing […] that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” Rather than feeling artificial or contrived, however, the sports version of achieving the seemingly impossible brings all of us—fans, players, coaches, even owners—closer to pure, unfiltered joy than anything else in life. The sports deus ex machina is just as rare as the movie/TV ex machina, and is totally unscripted, both of which make it all the more joyous.
The past two years produced some pro sports relocations that have brought older tensions in American sports back to the surface. Namely, who really “owns” a sports team in a given league? Is it the named ownership, the same people who make the call to move a team from one city to another? Is it the fans who invest their time, money, and heart into following a team? Is it the broader community that houses the team and its facilities, usually granting tax incentives to the team in the process? For fans of the St. Louis (now L.A. Rams) and San Diego (now L.A. Chargers, for some reason), such questions continue to follow each franchise to their new locations. And for pro teams currently slated to move from their homes, such as the MLS’s Columbus Crew, those questions are poised to become relevant in Central Ohio very soon.
The broader model of American sports is one that relies on franchising, a model that I critiqued on this site in the past. My general argument was that franchises are forced to start big and to stay big, and instead of shrinking or folding altogether in tough times, owners have recourse to simply move the team elsewhere and ostensibly start anew. Although this means these teams can remain afloat in their new cities, they can only establish tenuous ties to their communities, and the more they move, the less ingrained in their cities they become. I don’t believe, for example, that the Rams are done moving. Their past of relocation portends more moving in the future.
For our not-so-spooky Halloween edition, I take a look at the calendar of so-called “big” sporting events for November. No major championships (unless the World Series goes to Game 7) will be at stake, but there’s a number of so-called “classic” games taking place this month. I’ll use history as a guide to tell you whether the 2017 edition of these games will be a “treat” (definitely worth watching), or whether it’s just a “trick”, a waste of your increasingly-valuable time as the holiday season draws nearer.
November 2: NBA: Western Conference Finals Rematch—Golden State at San Antonio
TRICK: On paper, this looks like it could be a fun preview of a Western Conference playoff showdown. In reality, however, these are two teams still very much trying to figure things out at this early stage in the season, especially the Warriors, who are sitting at just 4-3. Almost all of the recent matchups between these squads, furthermore, have been blowouts.
November 2: MLS Cascadia Rivalry Renewed—Vancouver at Seattle
TREAT: Instead of Warriors/Spurs, feast your viewing eyes on the second leg of this big MLS playoff matchup. The crowd will be rocking at Qwest Field like it’s a Seahawks game as the Sounders look to stay alive in their quest to repeat as MLS champs. On the other hand, the Whitecaps could make a move toward becoming the third different Pacific Northwest team in a row to hoist the Cup.
November 4: CFB: Pac-12 After Dark—#23 Arizona at #17 USC
TREAT: A month ago, this game looked like it’d be a cakewalk for the Trojans. USC has had a couple of stumbles since then, and are likely just now playing for an at-large bid to the Cotton, Fiesta, or Peach Bowl. Not a bad finish to the season, but suddenly, Arizona is in the running for one of those at-large bids. For those of you who haven’t seen Khalil Tate, he alone is a real treat, having shredded the Washington State Cougars’ final four hopes—and perhaps the final NFL hopes of Luke Falk in the process. Tate vs. Sam Darnold is a huge study in contrasts. Can Arizona’s D get enough stops against Darnold? Can Tate keep up his torrid streak in the Coliseum? You should definitely tune in and find out.
November 8: NBA: An Old Rivalry Renewed—LA Lakers at Boston
TRICK: Admittedly, this game looks about as interesting as it has since the Lakers took the 2010 NBA title over the Celtics. Lonzo Ball is struggling to find his shot, however, since he debuted for the Lakers, and while he might turn it around soon, don’t count on it on this night. If you take out Ball’s 29-point, 11-rebound, 9-assist effort against the awful Phoenix Suns, he hasn’t yet broken double figures in scoring, and he’s shooting an abysmal 32.4% from the field. Even his rebound and assist numbers are trending lower since a pretty decent start to the season. The Celtics, meanwhile, are still trying to find an identity since Gordon Haywood’s devastating broken leg suffered on opening night. This might be worth a quick look, at best.
November 10: Men’s College Basketball: The Season Opener—Georgia Tech vs. UCLA (in Shanghai)
TRICK: College basketball before the new year is always a tough proposition. So many top teams have tremendous roster turnover because of one-and-done, and UCLA sans Lonzo Ball will be no exception. The game may be in China, but that doesn’t make it a headliner—it’s at least the third time in the last few years that there’s been a season opener there.
November 11: CFB: For All The Marbles?—#5 Notre Dame at #9 Miami
TREAT: In 1988, these two teams squared off in a game that was dubbed “Catholics vs. Convicts.” I wouldn’t put that sort of banner on this year’s edition, thirty years hence, although Miami has struggled to shake its negative image. Reputations aside, this should be a good one. The winner could have an inside track on a top four slot in the College Football Playoff rankings. The loser is probably done. Who would have thought that these two—especially Miami—would have found themselves in this spot heading into the year?
November 12: NFL: Brady’s Last Mile High Stop?—New England at Denver
TRICK: When it was Brady vs. Manning, this game used to be must-see TV. The 2013 matchup went to overtime, and to the Patriots. Two 2015 matchups also went to the wire, with C.J. Anderson carrying the Broncos in overtime in November, and Brady falling just a 2-point conversion short of taking the AFC championship game to overtime. But now with Manning gone, NBC is just trying to recapture lightning in a bottle…except there’s no lightning to be had with the Broncos right now. Trevor Simian does not look to be the answer at QB, and Anderson might be on his way out as he’s on his way to a second subpar season in a row. Meh.
November 14: Men’s Basketball: The Early Season Final Four Preview Doubleheader—Duke vs. Michigan State, followed by Kentucky vs. Kansas (in Chicago)
TREAT: I know I just told you that early season college basketball is generally a trick because teams are still trying to shake out their rosters—but look at the star power assembled for this early-season Chicago tournament. These four teams are almost always good all year long, and it’s great to see them not exclusively schedule tune-up cupcakes, but to test their young squads against teams that figure to be the best come February and March. No, you might not want to tune in for the whole game, but it’s worth checking out a bit of these contests.
November 22: NBA: Who’s Better Now—Golden State at Oklahoma City
TREAT: The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is considered to be the second-most profitable day for pizza restaurants. Get your Papa Murphy’s, etc., and plop down for this fun start to your holiday weekend. These two teams should be somewhat settled in by this point in the season, and we should have an exciting and entertaining game, now that OKC is a bit more of a match for Dubs than they were last season. Now that Russell Westbrook has doubled down on his desire to stay in OKC for the long haul, expect fans to be even rowdier toward Kevin Durant than before.
November 23: Men’s Basketball: Basketball or Butterball—North Carolina at Portland (PK80 Tournament Kickoff Game)
TRICK…BUT: No offense to one of the schools I work for, but this game will probably be over before it tips off, just because of the talent disparity between the two programs. Nevertheless, this should be somewhat interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s right now our first scheduled national TV look at the defending NCAA champs. Second, it’s the tipoff of Phil Knight’s 80th birthday tournament in Portland, Oregon, featuring local schools going up against top national teams. Even if this game itself isn’t a treat, some of the other offerings over the holiday weekend could be, depending on how the matchups shake out.
As always, the table presents its share of studs and duds, but I hope that I’ve given you a useful guide to what you should and shouldn’t watch in the upcoming weeks. With MLS, the NFL, and CFB getting down to the nitty-gritty, and the NBA and men’s college basketball warming up, the national TV slate provides plenty of opportunities to see rivalry games, winner-take-all contests, and matchups that look like they have potential. Happy viewing!
by Keith Aksel
As a sports fan and historian, I sometimes wonder whether any of the trends in sports occurring now really have any historical significance. Sure, the media likes to act like nothing is more important than the right now- “Look! LOOK! The Dodgers are the greatest team ever. So are the Alabama Crimson Tide. And the Golden State Warriors.” Yet, anyone who pays close attention to sports knows that such superlatives get recycled every year to some extent. Outside of very specific instances, I’m usually not a supporter of employing that kind of hyperbole to our current sports environment, especially when it has to do with my favorite sport, college football.
But, are there ANY truly historic trends at work in sports today? Will we actually look back on the mid-2010s in college football wistfully, wishing our sons and daughters were alive to watch the teams and athletes we were privileged to witness on a regular basis?
10/17/2017 0 Comments
by Chris Foss
Almost exactly twenty years ago, on October 5, 1997, the struggling World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) aired a pay-per-view called Badd Blood. That night the company tried out a new match format: Hell in a Cell (HIC). The gimmick consists of lowering a cage around a wrestling ring and locking two opponents inside. Unlike the “cage match” that had long been standard in pro wrestling, the cell also had a roof, the idea being that a wrestler could not escape their opponent, and thus the match would have to have a decision. The match promised, and delivered, on what would become the WWF’s trademark for years to come—a new level of brutality with in-ring objects and copious amounts of ketchup (err…blood) spilled. But this anniversary provides the opportunity to show that HIC also inaugurated a new level of athleticism in pro wrestling. This athleticism helped propel the WWF, however scripted in its outcomes and melodramatic in its pageantry, toward the status it enjoys now where mainstream sports websites regularly report on its major events. Such status came at a cost, however.