Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Happy National Gorilla Suit Day

The long wait is over. My favorite holiday has arrived.

What? You've never heard of National Gorilla Suit Day? Well, I've written this post just in time.

National Gorilla Suit Day was the invention of the late Don Martin, the famous Mad Magazine cartoonist. If you grew up in the 1960's, chances are you read his imaginative work. A few of his cartoons centered on National Gorilla Suit Day. It took a while, but NGSD is showing signs of catching on. It's the day for getting the dusty gorillla suit out of the closet and putting it to use in public.

(For the complete history, click on http://www.povonline.com/National%20Gorilla%20Suit%20Day.htm . Great job by the author by the way. And make sure you check out the banners.)

That Web page only missed two great moments in gorilla suits. I would think every TV network that runs M*A*S*H should air the episode from one of the early years of the show's history. In it, Hawkeye and Trapper send away for gorilla suits. They have them on when Frank Burns comes to them with a personal medical problem, and one of the doctors gets to utter the line, "Why do people wait so long to go see their gorilla?"

The other came in the fall of 2005. Theo Epstein was about to (temporarily) leave as general manager of the Boston Red Sox. The action and resulting news conference was a circus, so Epstein put on a gorilla suit to sneak out of Fenway Park. The suit later was auctioned to charity. When told of National Gorilla Suit Day, Epstein quipped in an e-mail, "I guess I got my dates wrong."

NGSD seems to be gaining in popularity. As I recall, a Google search of it a year only produced a few hits. This time, there are many more. At this rate, we'll be giving the postman another day from work for it by 2010.

Sadly, I don't have my own gorilla suit. One on eBay costs $40, with a $50 shipping fee. With those fees, it's easy to buy into conspiracy theories that National Gorilla Suit Day is a cheap ploy by the nation's gorilla suit manufacturers to move product. (I confess - I stole that line from Martin's original cartoon, so consider it a tribute.) But I'll be thinking in solidarity with those who will be visiting their friends as the celebration goes on throughout the country.

(Say, an entire post about gorillas, and not one line about bananas. I'm slipping.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good skate

It's figure skating season once again, and it's time to review my favorite part of that particular activity.

No, not the skating. The writing.

There's nothing quite like the coverage of figure skating. It's almost a parallel universe to normal sportswriting. It's just not enough to tell about what happened. How a program is performed counts almost as much as what goes into it.

Let's take a story on the women's final at the U.S. championship in Spokane. I don't mean to pick on the AP writer, since all of the skating stories have these elements. But here are a few quotes taken from the story, and you can try to figure out where else this might appear:

"She has great speed and uses her edges better than most. But her presentation could still use a little work. She had some nice moments to 'Galicie Flameno,' clicking her hands like a Spanish dancer at one point. But she didn't have nearly the fire or sass flamenco numbers deserve."

" Skating to music from 'Sabrina,' she did Audrey Hepburn proud. She was classy and elegant, from her beautiful lines to her gorgeous black dress with white trim."

And from the other day: "Her footwork was nice, and matched her music from 'Snowstorm' as nicely as her lovely light-blue dress."

It's probably not fair to complain that Peyton Manning's outfits don't get reviewed like that. After all, he is assigned to wear a uniform.

Such matters of presentation are important in figure skating, which at least has gone from something resembling mere dancing on ice to a demonstration of athleticism in the past several years. However, that set of priorities for viewing the sport probably would disqualify me from ever writing about it. Me thinks it won't miss me, and I won't miss it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

After further review...

The New Yorker isn't exactly the traditional source for football writing, and Adam Gopnik is known more for writing about Paris than pigskins. Yet the two teamed up this past week for an article on football called "The Unbeautiful Game."

The article caused plenty of comment in the online world, mostly due to a lack of focus. One part of the story, though, deserves some fresh attention here. Gopnik takes a valid point about the game and draws, in my opinion, a wrong conclusion.

The starting point is that pro football players have become increasingly disconnected with their fans. That's valid. Part of the story is the money involved these days, as the average fan can't relate to some of the salaries paid out. Part of the problem is the mere size of the athletes; we just don't encounter people that big on a regular basis. And I would guess some members of the white audience have cultural problems with a player base that has become largely African-American. (You probably could make the same points about the NBA, but that's another essay.)

Gopnik says fans have gotten around this in two ways. For teens, video games like Madden '07 have become a way to identify with players. The author says the kids are fans of pixels instead of players. Fair enough. Gopnik then says adult fans have become obsessed with statistical analysis of the game. The author argues that several books have come out in recent years about football stats, and that all of them are rather complicated and not particularly predictive and therefore not overly useful.

That's not the correct conclusion. I think fantasy football is that link that some -- not all, but some -- use to escape that disconnect from the current NFL. Don't want to listen to Terrell Owens yap about something? He's reduced to mere numbers and production in fantasy sports. Contracts and trade requests and free agents bore you? That's not a problem in fantasy leagues.
Numbers-oriented football books are merely an effort to capitalize on baseball's success in that area, as we search for a "Moneyball-like" revolution in football that isn't likely to come.

Personally, I've never felt the need to participate in fantasy sports. Part of sports' appeal to me is inclusiveness -- the fact that I can strike up a conversation about the Red Sox, Bills, or some other team with another fan and instantly have a common language. That doesn't work in fantasy sports, which limits its universe to participants -- in other words, about 11 other people -- who have the slightest idea what you are talking about. In other words, everyone connected with sports has had the experience of hearing about someone else's fantasy team ... and yawned. I'm not anxious to inflict that on others.

I'm not arguing here that fantasy sports are bad; I'm for anything that makes people happy. I'm saying that they aren't the traditional way of following the sport, and that the changing nature of, in this case, football is a big part of the reason behind their growth in popularity.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Turned off

It's time to stop feeling guilty, even though a little sadness comes with it.

I'm talking about -- of course -- cable television.

I have had the typical package on my system for the past 14-plus years. It has about 70 channels, of which I watch about 20 even once in a while. I also get Home Box Office.

Here's the catch: I've been receiving the Encore Movie Channel on my television for all of that time, and then some. In fact, I think it was in the apartment before I moved into my current house. Not only that, but I've been getting the Movie Channel for years and years without paying for it, either. The two premium channels were moved to digital tiers long ago, but for some reason the cable company couldn't, or didn't, make the switch on my personal system.

In hindsight, Encore was pretty worthless. I went months and months without watching anything on it. The Movie Channel was a little better. Sometimes it would show movies that had debuted on Showtime. In fact, I think I taped "Hotel Rwanda" shortly before I lost the channel. But HBO and Starz seem to get many of the best movies, so there wasn't much left for Showtime/TMC.

I felt a little guilty for getting something for essentially nothing, although I can't say I felt/feel undercharged for cable. Still, it's not like I did anything. The cable company was the one making the mistake, while I merely turned on the television. There were some interesting ethical questions connected with that sort of situation. I'm someone who has pointed out mistakes in my favor on restaurant bills, arguing that I'd be upset if the mistake went the other way, but I didn't do anything here. Hmmm.

I've looked at digital cable packages at the past, which won't affect my price much, but always figured I'd lose the free movie channels if I switched. Now, with that part of the matter settled, I guess I'll see if I'll bother getting a package highlighted by the Game Show Network. (I'm serious here; I like game shows.)

More likely, I'll do nothing and visit Blockbuster. I'm sure they'll look forward to my increased business -- from two rentals a year to four.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Told you so

I hate to gloat.

Well, let's say I don't like it when others gloat, so I know I shouldn't do it. But sometimes it feels really good to be correct.

Which brings me to the slightly dated subject of Nick Saban.

Back in the summer, I ripped Saban for passing up a dinner with President Bush during the midst of training camp. He wanted to show his players how committed he was; I thought he was teaching them a lack of perspective. Besides, it's tough to root for a coach who has banned other front office employees from saying hello to him in the hallways.

When the University of Alabama went looking for a football coach a month ago, Saban's name came up. He denied any interest in the job, and said there was no chance he'd be leaving the Dolphins to go to Alabama. He practically yelled at reporters for bringing up the subject.

Then the Dolphins' season ended. And suddenly, Saban wasn't commenting on those persistent reports. And then Saban was meeting with the owner of the Dolphins, saying he'd like to go to Alabama to coach but that he was willing to stay. What's more, Saban's agent was supposedly floating a story around football circles weeks before that the coach might be interested in returning to the college game.

The Dolphins let him go, and Saban landed in Alabama. The good citizens of Crimson Tide Nation seemed happy to see him. Miami was happy to see him leave.

There's no doubt Nick Saban will win at Alabama. He's a very good football coach. I think he might have turned the Dolphins around eventually, although he'd probably like that Culpepper over Brees decision of a year ago.

Still, it's going to be difficult to believe anything he might say from now on. He may have gotten a bit richer and happier this move, but he certainly shreded his reputation.

I've never felt like taking sides in Alabama-Auburn games before, but I think I'm going to be saying "War Eagle!" and "Go Tigers" in the future.