Spending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.
Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance that its ugliness will be realized. This is why our focus often becomes embittered by all of the negative aspects present in sports. We forget why sports are so great to begin with. And so, that’s where The Sports Culture Happiness Index comes to play.
Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be a particular article, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.
Without further ado, sports the good:
1. Winning Streaks
As a neutral observer, I naturally root for the underdog. Without a stake in a competition, whichever competitor seems weaker than the other is almost always the one for which I cheer. There are a few exceptions: Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, and as it turns out, the Miami Heat.
The Heat have won 27 games in a row, which is six shy of the record set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Obviously, that’s kind of incredible. However, what makes the team’s run so pleasurable is that there’s a sense of almost tangible dominance behind their string of victories. Watching Miami play, it becomes obvious that you’re witnessing something you will feel nostalgic about in the future. This is the stuff of grandpas telling stories to children about the way the game was played when they were younger.
There’s another sense, as well. One that suggests the Heat are merely toying with opponents early in the game with little on the line. Over the course of the current streak, Miami has often found itself down by double digits to lesser opponents, but then, in late and close scenarios, a different type of approach is mustered.
The proof: In the 44 minutes of game time in which the Heat have played with the score within five points and five minutes remaining, Miami has outscored opponents 134-71.
Offering something of a companion piece to the Heat’s streak are the Pittsburgh Penguins winning 12 in a row, the Baylor Bears women’s basketball team winning 31 straight and the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team going undefeated through 49 matches.
2. The King Of The Accidental Phone Call
On Sunday night, the Wall Street Journal published Brian Costa’s remarkable story on the director of media relations for the New York Mets. Jay Horwitz, a living and breathing human being, is the completely non-fictional version of George Kostanza.
Several times per week, and sometimes several times per day, Horwitz accidentally calls a current or former member of the organization. He has mistakenly awakened team executives at 4 a.m., roused coaches late at night and left former Mets around the league puzzled by missed calls from him.
The story goes on to list several anecdotes involving Horwitz accidentally phoning current and former members of the Mets. The subject matter is silly, but what makes the story so endearing is its presentation as a serious special interest news story.
3. Golfers Climbing Trees
Sergio Garcia had a horrible third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando this weekend, but it was nothing compared to his tee shot on the 10th hole on Sunday, which landed in a tree. Not to be outdone by an awful lie, the Spaniard climbed the obstacle, rearranged his body and then hit a one-handed backwards shot to get back on the fairway.
Garcia went on to double-bogey the tenth, and then immediately withdraw from the tournament, content with the satisfaction that comes from not having allowed nature to get the best of him.
There’s something comical about a golfer unraveling. At their peak, they’re mental dynamos able to transfer their will onto a tiny white ball through a stick that’s propelled by their body. When that connection is broken, the absurdity of the sport, and by extension all sports, comes to mind.
4. Bracket Bragging
Prior to the beginning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, I watched a grand total of six hours of college basketball all season. Don’t tell Malcolm Gladwell, but a lack of practice doesn’t get in the way of proclaiming oneself to be an expert in the field of college hoops come tournament time.
Nothing enrages friends who actually do follow the sport throughout its regular season and conference tournaments more than guessing outcomes correctly and pretending as though this was accomplished through some sort of skill when it might as well have been a roll of the dice or a coin flip.
I called Wichita State beating Gonzaga, and everyone in my sphere of friends is aware of the fact. What they’re not aware of is that I also picked Kansas State to make the Final Four.
5. Garrett’s Fight
Garrett Holeve is a 23-year-old mixed martial artist who suffers from Down Syndrome. To be more accurate, he has Down Syndrome. Garrett doesn’t suffer very much of anything at all.
From a fascinating story by Chris Sweeny of the Miami New Times, readers are presented with a dilemma in the form of a disabled person whose lack of awareness of his own limitations is simultaneously inspiring, dangerous and concerning.
On one hand, there’s little doubt that training in MMA and focusing on an impossible goal has helped Holeve evolve as a person. On the other, the ultimate outcome and purpose of his training is to inflict physical punishment. Does Holeve possess the understanding and awareness necessary to keep that for which he trains in check for the purpose of his own safety and the safety of others?
There are no easy answers presented in Sweeny’s piece, just the story of an individual who has overcome obstacles to improve himself, and the negative possibilities attached to that improvement. This is the perfect example of a moment directly related to sports that can help expand one’s perspective and sharpen critical thinking skills.
6. Yankees Schadenfreude
Every year we say that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong. And every year we mention that every year we say that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong. And every year we mention that every year we mention that every year we mention that age will catch up to the New York Yankees, and every year we’re wrong.
But this year. This year, it’s really going to happen.
As it currently stands, the Yankees Opening Day lineup will look something like this:
- Francisco Cervelli, C
- Juan Rivera, 1B
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Kevin Youkilis, 3B
- Eduardo Nunez, SS
- Brennan Boesch, LF
- Brett Gardner, CF
- Ichiro Suzuki, RF
- Travis Hafner, DH
Now, add Vernon Wells to the mix.
There’s a special kind of joy to be had when a team that has been so utterly dominant – in a sport for which dominance is especially difficult – begins its decline back into the realm of “the rest of us.” Yankees fans, it’s out of respect for your favorite team that we mock the franchise’s impending downfall so harshly and take so much pleasure from a roster that doesn’t look to compete for the top prize in the American League East this year … for once.
7. The Eredivisie
The most naturally dramatic aspect of sports is a race. While the exhilaration and speed of a 100 meter dash has little competition when it comes to concentrated sports drama, something that’s currently playing out in Holland is the equivalent of a sprint finish to the end of a marathon.
With seven games remaining for each team in the Eredivisie, Dutch football’s top flight league, the current table has four teams all within a win of each other. After 27 matches, Ajax is first in the standings with perennial rivals PSV and Feyenoord each a single point behind, and upstart Vitesse three points behind the leaders.
European football is often criticized by North American fans for its lack of a typical playoff structure, and therefore a lack of meaningful games as the season winds down. However, the intense competition in the Eredivisie this season offers evidence of the potential drama to be had by giving a league’s title to the team that proves itself to be the best over the entire course of schedule, and not some sort of run-off competition.
While most neutral soccer observers on this continent are likely to align their interests with the Premiership due to accessibility – in the form of language and coverage – and admittedly a larger pool of talent, the Dutch brand of football offers an exciting alternative, not just in the form of proximity in the standings, but also tactics in a form of the game that champions the use of central attacking midfielders and wingers rather than holding midfielders and tall guys who can put their heads to the ball.
Mark April 14th in your calendar right now for when Ajax visits Eindhoven to take on PSV in a match that could very well decide the championship. Hup Siem De Jong!
8. Opening Day Plans
I normally hate arguments that boil down to this sport does this better than other sports, because each sport is unique in its capabilities to entertain, and that entertainment is so specific to the individual. However, the spectacle and feelings attached to Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, which is probably more accurately described as Opening Days given this year’s schedule, is an event unlike many others in sports.
Two factors stand out to me when it comes to Opening Day. First of all, the timing. The first game of the baseball schedule is a positive indication that the winter months are over and sunshine is ready to reign supreme on the weather forecast. Secondly, the more regional aspect of the beginning of the season. I’m fortunate enough to live in a city that hosts a Major League Baseball team, and the return of the “boys of summer,” perhaps due to the primary factor already mentioned, is always a point of happy civic bonding. People are generally in a good mood when it comes to their local team when the season begins.
Of course, ask again in mid-July, and feelings aren’t usually the same as they were at the beginning of April.
9. Auto Racing Feuds
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that those involved are in control of machines that can reach incredibly dangerous speeds or that most of us can relate to the frustrations inspired by other drivers, but auto racing feuds are more appealing than most other confrontations in sports.
On Sunday, Kyle Busch won a NASCAR race at Fontana after Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap.
It’s notable because during the previous weekend’s race at Bristol, Hamlin spun Logano out in the closing laps. The pair exchanged words in the garage and their dispute almost came to blows before the drivers were separated by their respective crews.
Forming a hate triangle is veteran driver Tony Stewart who confronted Logano after the Fontana race, shoving the younger driver for blocking him out of a late restart.
Meanwhile, in Europe, things aren’t that much more civilized.
10. The NHL 94ification Of Hockey Highlights
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