Friday, December 28, 2007
Why do people watch sports?
It's a loaded question. People watch for different reasons. But I know why I watch and I think I can figure out why a bunch of people watch.
The New England Patriots, owners of a 15-0 record, have the largest audience in
cable television history and the most viewers ever for a Sunday night NFL game. The Pats also also generated the biggest TV audience for a Sunday afternoon game in at least two decades and this week will be on two major TV networks for a simulcast game; the first time this blog can remember that ever happening.
The reason for this is obvious: People want to see perfection, and, so far, the Patriots have been perfect.
Most of us will never be perfect...in anything we do. We're human; more Homer Simpson than Peyton Manning. So in watching sports, we get to, in a frustratingly imperfect world, see perfection.
Did you ever see Grant Hill play when he was young? Before injury and age robbed him. Robbed him of what God created...the perfect basketball player. If you missed him, here are some stats, though they don't do him justice. After the first six seasons of his career, before his ankle injury, Hill had a total of 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds and 2,720 assists. Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird are the only two players in league history to eclipse these numbers after their first six seasons. And, as a point forward, he led the Pistons in rebounds, points and assists. For 4 straight years.
But the beauty of watching Hill, was watching someone do what they were meant to do. He was created to play this game, and watching him do it, was watching pure joy. Like watching the Kirov ballet, Hill was something transcendent. Don't believe me, here's a few clips of him. (Sorry about the music and the MTV editing.)
Did you ever see Greg Maddux in his prime, when he had seven years in a row below a 3.00 ERA, two below a 2.00 ERA? When it seemed he had the ball on remote control, telling it where to go? Again, watching Maddux those years was watching art being created; watching Caravaggio or Renoir.
Did you ever watch Bjorn Borg? How about Barry Sanders? Nadia Comăneci? Lance Armstrong? Stockton to Malone? A young Mike Tyson before he got "confused?"
And that's why people watch sports. Perfection is engrossing, because it's usually so unattainable. So people want to be a part of it. How many people claim to be at the Polo Grounds in 1951 when Bobby Thompson hit the most famous home run in baseball lore and created the most perfect moment in baseball?
Nike had a commercial a few years back, showing people stopping whatever they were doing (the sink overflows with water, the bicycle outside was dropped at the curb) to watch Michael Jordan dunk a basketball. The point: the things we will do to watch a little bit of perfection.
I am no exception. I can't paint the corners like Greg Maddux, just like I couldn't paint "Starry Night" like Van Gogh. I feel a swell of pride if I toast my Lender's with just the tips crunchy and the inside golden brown. And while I am proud of this blog, it is far from perfect.
But for me, there's more to watching sports than just wanting to watch something perfect. More than watching someone dominate, like Michael Jordan, year after year. More than watching superhuman-type people do almost unimaginable things.
Don Larsen had a career record of 30-39 when he took the mound, October 8th, 1956, game five of that year's World Series, against the Brooklyn Dodgers. A journeyman pitcher who would end up with a 81-91 career record, Larsen had just been shelled in game 2, lasting less than 2 innings giving up 6 runs. Even he admitted, he never thought manager Casey Stengel would put him out there to pitch again in the Series.
On October 8th, 1956, however, he was perfect. He is the only person to ever pitch a perfect game in the World Series. Despite his career-long mediocrity, despite the lack of dominating God-Given talent, despite all his human-ness and flaws, he did something no one has ever done before or since. Not Roger Clemens, Sandy Koufax or Cy Young. For one day of his flawed life, he was perfect.
And that is why I watch sports. Because I'm imperfect. Because I'm average. And because I hope that one day, even a very flawed person like me, could be perfect at something, just for a little while. I hope, someday, me too.