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 its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It all becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness comes into 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:
This is the second time in as many weeks that the very first item being mentioned in this column is something that the supporters of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers have done. Last week, it was the team hosting 8-year-old cancer survivor Atticus Lane-Dupre and the rest of his Green Machine soccer team for a scrimmage at Jeld-Wen Field, for which more than 3,000 people showed up. This week, it’s their large scale show of support for the gay community with an enormous banner and crowd-made rainbow in the stands, independently planned by the club’s fans.
What’s so wonderful about this is that it reaffirms the notion that sports are not about who you are as much as what you can do. It includes rather than excludes. This outpouring of acceptance on Sunday afternoon came less than a month after Timbers player Will Johnson was verbally abused with a gay slur by a member of the San Jose Earthquakes during a match in Portland.
The Earthquakes moved quickly into damage control mode, aligning themselves with the You Can Play Project, an organization whose mission it is to eradicate homophobia in sports. As is too often the case, San Jose’s involvement with You Can Play only came as a response to an incident of discrimination. What the Timbers fans did on Sunday was more organic, and therefore a far more powerful statement that attempted to correct the poor behavior of others, and express that they won’t stand for social inequality.
2. Promotion And Reaction
With promotion and relegation between a nation’s top flight league and their lesser division, soccer is wonderfully well-distributed in terms of excitement levels leading up to the end of a season. In England, the nPower Championship is the division below the Barclays Premier League, and at the end of each season, the top two teams receive automatic advancement to the next level while the next four clubs in the table compete in a mini-tournament to decide the third team to replace the bottom three teams in the BPL.
After 90 minutes of the playoff semi final second leg between Watford and Leicester, the two teams remained even with a 2-2 tie on aggregate. Then, late into stoppage time, Leicester was awarded a penalty that if scored, would knock Watford out of the playoff and end their chances of making the Premiership.
That’s when this happened:
Anthony Knockaert’s attempt from the spot was stopped by Watford keeper Manuel Almunia, and even more phenomenally, so too was his rebounded opportunity. Then, on the Hornets’ immediate counter attack, Troy Deeney hit the target to put his team up 3-2 on aggregate. With a little bit of time still to be played, the home crowd stormed the pitch and everything went absolutely joyously crazy.
However, this wasn’t the only fantastic bit of reaction. Sky Sports News in England doesn’t show actual matches, but they will assign reporters around the country on any given matchday, and go to them live to update scores and stories. Sky Sports commentator Johnny Phillips was in Watford when all of this happened. His reaction was almost as exciting as the actual play.
With the win, Watford advances to play Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 27th for the third and final spot in the Premier League, joining Cardiff and Hull next season.
3. Every Single Thing That Stephen Curry Does
The Golden State Warriors are a likeable team. They’re young. They shoot a lot. They hustle. To neutral observing basketball fans, they’re a very fun squad to watch. And this was the way it seemed even before Golden State was matched up with the San Antonio Spurs in their Western Conference semi final playoff series. In terms of deliciousness, the Warriors are crème brûlée to the Spurs’ vegetable medley.
Cheering for the San Antonio Spurs is a bit like cheering for taxes. They’re a very good basketball team, but in the cruelest way imaginable. There is little joy in watching San Antonio break down another team through aggressive defense and the most workmanlike offense in the league. They’re very much the opposite of what Golden State offers.
And a large part of what Golden State offers is Stephen Curry. Everything he does seems to work out, whether it’s going on a third quarter tear despite injured ankles, or having fun with his daughter and posting it through Vine.
Stephen Curry. A real human being who plays basketball. And has a family. And all of it is sort of, kind of, adorable.
4. Matt Kemp The Best
Last weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers visited AT&T Park for a weekend series against the San Francisco Giants. The two teams have a long standing rivalry which over the years has occasionally erupted into fan violence, most notably in the case of Bryan Stow, a Giants fan who was critically beaten following a game in Los Angeles two years ago.
Following the final game of the series, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp provided the perfect counterbalance to such agressive nonsense on the part of the more mouth-breathing elements of the respective fan bases. After a disabled fan’s father caught the attention of third base coach Tim Wallach, Kemp was told about his young admirer, seated near the field.
The outfielder went over to sign his baseball, and ended up giving him his cleats and quite literally, the shirt off his back. Even the cynical Giants fans nearby couldn’t help but applaud Kemp’s contribution, which was done rather earnestly, out of the goodness of his heart rather than for any ulterior purposes relating to publicity.
5. The Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013
On Thursday, Senator John McCain introduced The Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013. The bill mainly relates to incentivizing the business practices of the television industry – which McCain refers to as an “injustice being inflicted on the American people” – to offer more consumer friendly options. However, the bill also calls for the repeal of television blackouts for sporting events held at publicly financed stadiums that don’t sell tickets to capacity.
Blackouts have long been an accepted bit of punishment for the local fan base who doesn’t support its club in person – mainly in the NFL. McCain’s statement, which referred to the practice as being “unconscionable to deny those taxpayers who paid for it the ability to watch the games on television when they would otherwise be available,” acts as a reminder of how unreasonable it is to block accessibility to a product for which payment - at least in part – has already been made.
While the bill may not extend to online access, this principle does. If this bill is passed, it will be interesting to see if and how it affects the online television packages offered by all the major pro sports leagues which blackout regional games as a means of pushing users toward watching local teams via television, and therefore cable packages.
6. Mike Keenan’s Undeniable Charm Meets Swirling Cameras And Russian Montage
It was announced on Monday that Mike Keenan, who has coached eight different NHL teams over a 25 year career, will be travelling to Russia next to take control of the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk. This awkward video was how the team chose to announce their hiring:
I’m confident that I felt more comfortable after my girlfriend’s parents walked in on my while I was getting undressed than Keenan seemed in the video.
However, I do love how Iron Mike says “YouTube” as though it’s a Russian television network. Maybe this is all charming to the Metallurg supporters. Perhap’s Keenan’s accent will play as well in Russia as Teitur Thordarson’s played in Canada.
7. Role Players
The Chicago Bulls are unlikely to last much longer against the Miami Heat in their Eastern Conference semi final playoff series. However, Joakim Noah was able to contribute at least one indelible image during the third quarter of their Game Three match-up.
As Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers began arguing during a stoppage in play, Noah slid into the frame, clapped his hands and cheered on the teammate-versus-teammate bickering. Most commentators would insist that Noah is the type of player who is dearly beloved by his own team’s fans, but despised by every other fan base. Personally, I love players who have the ability to mentally affect others by lodging themselves under the opposing team’s skin. It’s even better when a player completely embraces such a useful role while still contributing elsewhere, just as Noah does.
Bonus awesomeness: Watch LeBron James give Noah the briefest of sideways glances.
8. Recreational Satisfaction
Someone tried to tell me that the greatest feeling in pick up sports is blocking a shot in basketball. I was hesitant to agree, mainly because striking out an opposing batter in baseball feels pretty good, too.
However, it got me thinking about the recreational sports we play and the one element from each that makes us feel really good. I think it has to be something that we’re not able to do easily. For instance, I’m a terrible pitcher, so striking out a batter is a special moment of unexpected joy for me. Whereas, a couple summers ago, I played beach volley ball, and as someone of above average height participating with those of average height, I almost felt a sense of guilt spiking and blocking opponents.
These feelings are obviously different when you step outside of casual pick up games or recreational sports into something more competitive, but I think those special moments of joy that participating in sports bring are actually really personal and dependent on one’s own individual abilities, with the most unlikely outcome being the most satisfactory. Or maybe, that’s just my own personal preference.
9. Epic Comebacks
I’m sorry, Toronto Maple Leafs fans. The sympathy a great many of us feel for you today is testament to what an astounding comeback the Boston Bruins orchestrated to win Game Seven of their first round match-up in overtime on Monday night.
The Bruins were down 4-1 with less than eleven minutes remaining in the game, 4-2 with less than two minutes remaining in the game and 4-3 with less than a minute remaining in the game before Patrice Bergeron tied it up in regulation, and then scored the winner in overtime. This happened after the Maple Leafs came back in the series from being down 3-1 to the massive favorites to force Game Seven in Boston.
A week ago, I wrote about how the intensity of the NHL Playoffs marks the most definitive difference between regular season schedule and playoff games, which is greater in hockey than in any other of the major North American team sports. What I failed to mention was that this intensity is exponentially increased by sudden death overtime, which, when it occurs in the deciding game of the series, is quite likely the most exciting and nerve-wracking thing in all of sports. We witnessed that on Monday night, and it was fantastic.
Well, fantastic for some of us.
10. The Tweets Of Mark Fitzpatrick, Super Fan