Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guilty Pleasures, Sports Edition

One of the fascinating things about sports is how uppity they can make people.  It's always, "LeBron James this, Cameron Newton that, F--- those guys!"  I'm guilty of it, too (as in, f--- the Giants).  Nevertheless, I always loved the Onion's classic t-shirt that said, "The sports team from my metropolitan area is superior to the sports team from your metropolitan area."  That just about sums it up, really, as far as fans are concerned.  Add in a dash of George Bernard Shaw's classic line about patriotism,* and you've got it covered.

* "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it."

With that in mind, I want to talk about three little things that secretly please me in modern sports.  These three things, I think, you will probably hate.  Odds are, if you listen to any sports radio, watch any ESPN, or talk to anyone at the local bar about sports, you're going to be shocked at what I'm about to say.  So here it goes.

1) I'm glad Derek Jeter won the Gold Glove.

Seriously, I am.  I love it.  A healthy part of that love is irony, of course, but I still think it's awesome.  I mean, I'm an advanced statistics nut, and I know in my heart that either Alexei Ramirez or Cliff Pennington actually deserve the award.  But I don't really care.  Going into an off-season where the single biggest mythological figure in modern baseball - the guy fifty years from now everyone will talk about in the way they talk about Joe DiMaggio now - has to sign a new contract with the single biggest mythological team in all of sports, there's something fitting about redeeming a sub-par season with a Gold Glove.

Really, the Gold Glove has been a meaningless award for a long time.  Rafael Palmeiro won one in a year where he played DH some 120 games.  Who cares who wins the Gold Glove?  Derek didn't win it for fielding, he won it for being Derek Jeter, and I respect that.  No, I love that.

2) I'm rooting for the Miami Heat this year.

That's right, the Miami Heat, starring the most hated trio in basketball: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade.  You know what, though?  I've watched a couple Heat games so far this year - more than I've watched Nuggets games - and just love watching these guys.  Oh, they'll have (already have had) their problems, but it's so much fun to see so much talent on the floor all at once.  The NBA is such a silly league already, so I'm not particularly worried about the Heat "ruining" the game.  On the contrary, I find this experiment - putting three superstars together and seeing what happens - fascinating and engaging.  I want to see it work.  I want to see the Heat win 70 games, and romp all over the Lakers in the NBA Finals.  I don't think that will happen, but wouldn't it be cool if it did?

Now most people will say no to that.  They want the Heat to lose, and lose hard.  They want LeBron to pay for his treachery and his admittedly absurd TV special.  But why?  Why do we have to hate athletes who make bad PR decisions?  Does it really matter?  Are they really role models for our kids (if so, are we really that bad as parents)?  I don't think so.  I, for one, don't watch sports for moral lessons.  Rather, I watch so I can see LeBron throw a perfect pass to Dwayne Wade for an oop from mid-court.  I watch to see a team rise up and win (and win big) even though everyone is booing them.  What better drama is there than that?  And how disappointed would even the most fervent Heat hater be if they failed to make the Finals?  Just like the Yankees World Series win in 2009, sometimes the bad guys have to succeed, because otherwise it's just bland old Lakers versus Celtics every year.

3) I like the BCS.

This is the worst one of all, but it's true.  If Auburn and Oregon meet in the Championship Game this year, I'll watch, and I won't shed a tear for Boise State or Texas Christian.  Don't get me wrong, I think those teams would be deserving foes, and could easily be the best teams in the country.  But the BCS isn't about figuring out who's best, it's about crowning a champion.  The exact same is true of a playoff.  If playoffs were looking for the best team, they'd be run very differently.  Rather, they're looking for a winner, the luckiest team, the team that does the right thing at the right time.

What I like about the BCS is how much more interesting it has made the last few weeks, and how interesting it will make the next few.  In a playoff system, no one would care whether Boise or TCU was 3 or 4.  Sure, there would be intrigue at the cut-off point, but isn't intrigue better at the top anyway?  In a playoff system, too, we often see inferior teams knock off better ones.  Isn't it a truism that the NFC and AFC Championship Games are usually better than the Super Bowl.  Isn't the World Cup Third Place game usually better than the Final?  So why make Oregon play Pittsburgh or Auburn play Virginia Tech?  Why not just cut to the chase?  Why not put everything on the table to start it out?

Moreover, I love the current Bowl system because it makes for fascinating matchups that last a whole month.  Hawaii vs. SMU, for example, would be so cool.  And, with a playoff, so irrelevant.  For all I care, we could get rid of the Championship Game and just do the old-fashioned matchups and end up with shared titles.  To me the point of college football is not who's Champion, but the process of getting there.  To me, the presence of 120 or so teams means that finding a single Champion is an exercise in futility anyway.  To me, the point is what happens on one play, in one game, and as a fan I don't ultimately care if that matchup is Oregon vs. Auburn, TCU vs. Alabama, or Boise vs. LSU.

I know I'm in an extremely small minority, and I readily acknowledge and agree with all of the complaints people have about the BCS.  They're a bunch of money-grubbing bastards, it's true.  But you still watch.  I still watch.  The whole country still watches, and, what's more, you love to complain about it, to speculate, to criticize.

Ultimately, I think all three of these guilty pleasures come down to the same thing.  We love to hate Derek Jeter (except Yankees fans, who love to love him), we love to hate the Heat, and we love to hate the BCS.  It seems to me, though, that the trip from "love to hate" to "love" is a short one.  It's just a matter of perspective, a matter of culture and counter-culture, a matter of seeing the bigger picture.  And hey, once you take a step back, take a deep breath, and think about it a little, you might find that your guilty pleasures are the same as mine.

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