Once a year, the perfect storm arrives. This perfect storm, awaited patiently by those men who are trapped in a conversationally suffocating relationship, the guys whose sole form of disposable income are from web sites based in former Soviet republics that accept credit card payments for moneyline bets, and the otherwise exacerbated women who, for better or worse, would rather have their husbands and boyfriends concentrate on something completely worthless to the accumulated culture of Western civilization instead of the fact that they just spent $240 on a purse shaped like the head of a horse.
Around the first of October, three of the four major sports—football, hockey, and baseball—converge into a unifying mass of citizen hysteria. Well, except for baseball, whose fans tend to be 1) unenthusiastically bored, 2) apparently have nothing more interesting to do, such as filing taxes or attending a Joe Biden rally, and 3) old as dirt. Or basketball fans, who tend to be incredibly interested in the sport until their city becomes large enough to support a more interesting franchise in a completely different sport. (I’m looking at you, Portland.) Or football fans, who are more than willing to pay $200 for a pair of mediocre seats and $6 dollars a beer but still complain about the terms of Chad Pennington’s contract. Or hockey fans, who are intently interested as long as they are able to buy tickets at the student rate of 90% off the regular ticket price, or are Canadian.
Men may be hit with a sense of information overload, and women may be disgusted with the amount of time, energy, and dereliction of lawn-mowing and house-maintenance duties involved, but the fact is that professional sports are a huge business. With teams expanding into new markets and marketing strategies increasing the total media and product loads, few areas of modern culture are left without some sort of association with a logo featuring a badly drawn Indian wearing pastels and exhibiting his prowess with a synthetic rubber ball.
Football’s regular season is about a quarter done, now, with the winners and losers already chosen by the elite sportscasters who made a career choice to talk about all the people on the field they used to cry themselves at night wishing and praying they would grow up to be. Football is by far America’s most popular sport, and it treats every game as an event—with only 16 games, every matchup is a do or die situation, unlike, say, baseball’s season, which seems last somewhere around 1,000 games and no one really puts in much effort until about the last ten games or so. This year, the surprises aren’t the perpetual winners, such as the Indianapolis Colts and the kitten molesting New England Patriots, but the few promising surprises, such as the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions, but more importantly those franchises that have collapsed like cheap tents—the San Diego Chargers, the Chicago Bears, and the New Orleans Saints. Though to be fair “folding like cheap tents” is probably not the best way to describe what’s happening to New Orleans.
The regular hockey season also starts this week, as well. The defending Stanley Cup champions last year were the improbable Ducks of Anaheim, a product of a sinful midnight copulation between the Disney corporation and the Sheen estate. Almost a decade after their birth, they managed to pull off their first victory. The NHL is still slowly gaining in popularity after a player’s strike in the mid-90’s shook up the industry, and the league has since been transformed from a hyper-violent slow-scoring stickball on ice to a hyper-violent slow-scoring stickball on ice with a salary cap.
And, of course, the baseball season wrapped up and the playoffs begin this week as well. The playoff teams have an unusually different look this year—hopefully, one of the two dozen people who still actually watch baseball can tell me how it ends without me having to check up on it on the Wikipedia. There’s a lot of new faces, such as the long-suffering Cubs, the geographically inaccurate Angels, the hated, hated Yankees, the drunken Rockies, the bewilderingly misnamed Diamondbacks, the Indians, the Phillies, the Red Sox, and the Mets—oh, no, wait, never mind about that last one.
Of course, I’m from Pittsburgh, so the fact that the last holdout in the Fall Professional Sports Orgy, basketball, doesn’t start for another month or so doesn’t really bother me. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a basketball team since the war, leaving only two professional sports teams in Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh hasn’t had a professional baseball team in about, oh, I don’t know, fifteen years or so.) The promise of the young starting lineup of the Penguins, along with the severe hope that Vladimir Putin does not recall all the expats in a military draft to conquer The Entire World, have the city rather excited about our chances of winning the Stanley Cup this year. And the Steelers seem to be off to a good start this season, despite the fact that the entire coaching staff has elected to rename the team the “Arizona Cardinals.” Despite all the hope, one has to temper this with a feeling of reality—not every season is a winning season. Regardless of the eventual outcome, one that can be certain: at least we’re not living in Cleveland.