This is a valentine to sports, a love letter to keeping score. I don't mean payrolls and stadium deals and steroid investigations, the kinds of things that dominate sports page real estate. I'm talking about that impossible reverse layup, the one-hop throw to the plate, the leaping catch on fourth down.
Love relationships aren't easy. You have to do the hard work. You have to stop every once in a while, forget about the day-to-day stuff that occupies too much of your mind and think about the things that keep you coming back.
It's amazing that any of us keeps coming back. After all the strikes and lockouts, all the pregame shows and Brewery Hot Seats, all the whining about money by the athletes, the owners, the politicians and even by us, the fans, we keep coming back. It's a hell of a thing, that upset in March, that Game 7 overtime goal, that kick down the stretch of the Olympic 1,500 meters.
These things must have incredible power to make us forget, just for a moment sometimes, that they cost so much. In money, in time, in emotional investment and endless irritation -- those crazy camera angles! And even, sometimes, in our own ethical well-being.
Big-time college sports are corrupt, immoral and anti-educational, but my gosh, do you remember when Hampton beat Iowa State in the Tournament a few years ago? This new stadium is a boondoggle that's taking money from schools and social programs that would have made my children's lives better and giving it to a billionaire but, dude, check out this view! Someday we'll tell our kids we sat here and watched Peyton Manning or Albert Pujols -- and we got to look up and see the skyline too.
Two weeks ago Cherie Blair, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made a joke about some of the cities bidding for the 2012 Olympics. "We are going to win the bid," she said. "Paris? What does Paris know about culture? New York? No contest. London is the cultural capital of the world. Of course we are going to win. How can we fail?"
A delegation from the International Olympic Committee making a scheduled visit to London Tuesday reportedly wants to know what she meant by that, as though it weren't obvious that someone saying, "What does Paris know about culture?" is just messing around, even if that someone is English.
The IOC also made it clear that when the delegation visits No. 10 Downing St., no food can be served. That's because of super-strict Olympic rules about the wining and dining of commissioners in this, the first bidding process since the Salt Lake City scandal, in which IOC members were found to have collected bribes to award the 2002 Winter Games to SLC.
The bidding city is allowed to provide only one "social" event for the commissioners, and the IOC defines a social event as one where food is served. Since the queen is hosting a dinner, there can't be any food when the commissioners drop in at No. 10 for a meeting with the Blairs and a couple of other officials.
"We can't give them anything, not even a bowl of crisps," a government source told the Guardian, which headlined its story "How a Sausage Roll at No 10 Could End Olympic Dream."
Think about how incredible the Olympics Games have to be to overcome these witless bureaucrats, so corrupt they've had to subject themselves to the inflexible, unblinking rules traditionally reserved for yanking gold medals from the necks of champion athletes who took the wrong cold medicine.
Somehow, in spite of these boobs, we still get a hell of a show. Cast your mind back six months. I don't know about you but I spent 70 hours a day in front of the TV watching the Athens Games. Sure, I was getting paid to do it, but I'd have spent 30 hours a day on my own dime.
Not for all the midlevel salary cap exceptions in the NBA would I have missed Greek hurdler Fania Halkia or Moroccan middle-distance great Hicham el-Guerrouj, the U.S. women's soccer, basketball and softball teams, the crazy controversies in men's gymnastics, the Iraqi soccer team, Michael Phelps, the Argentines winning men's basketball gold on the back of Manu! Ginobili!
Valentine's Day comes at a good time of year to stop and smell the sports roses. It's a fallow time, a period of somnambulant all-star games and schedule dog days. The NFL is done, college and pro basketball are slogging toward the end of their regular seasons before the real excitement begins, and the NHL would be doing the same thing if it hadn't decided that a slap fight over dividing up billions of dollars between a few hundred people was more important than the sport itself. Baseball hasn't quite awakened.
At this time of year the volume gets turned up even louder on all the things that aren't buzzer-beaters, leg triples and mad quarterback scrambles. Jose Canseco, you have the floor.
The tiresome, thoroughly uninteresting, endlessly flogged convergence between sports and entertainment gets a workout in February. By the end of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, what song will it be that you'll be so sick of hearing you could spit?
It gets better. Spring training is coming, with its sights and sounds of warm weather and same again but different memories. If you live in the Sun Belt you may already be hearing that patta-pop-pop sound of a team warming up by playing catch. The NCAA Tournaments are a month away. The NBA playoffs will give us the best players in the world playing games that actually mean something.
Loving sports is a lot like loving anything or anybody else. In the end it comes down to the everyday as much as the special events. A night on the town is great, and you have to have them, but anybody can have fun doing that. You have to really love somebody to have just as much fun on those nights in between, the ones when the two of you just sit around doing nothing special.
Everybody gets a kick out of the Super Bowl and the World Series and the Final Four. It's real love to settle in happily for a Wednesday night Conference USA Game on ESPN2. It's real love to tune out the political jockeying over a new stadium on Manhattan's West Side, the first rumblings of labor talks in the NFL and NBA, the latest list of the CDs in some dullard athlete's changer, and still be thrilled by the games and matches and races.
And real love should be celebrated. Have some candy.
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