|The good, the bad and 10-10-220|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Before I get started with a look at some of the highlights of the year in sports culture, I have to ask: Who is it that's giving the 10-10-220 folks positive focus-group feedback on the Emmitt, Terry, Mike and Hulk ads?
Is it you? You gotta stop it. No, really. I don't care if you are just playing with them. Stop it. It's not funny. Seriously, for the love of Pete, tell them the truth. Don't encourage them. People are getting hurt out here.
And you -- you with the 99-cent itch in your pocket -- put the handset down, step away from the phone. Write a letter, send an e-mail, get in your car and go see whoever it is you're so all fired up to talk to. Do not use the numbers, do not, under any circumstances, even hint that this campaign is working on you.
And if maybe it isn't you who uses the numbers, but a friend of yours ... I'm sorry, but you have to go teenage-horror-flick on him and cut the phone lines outside his house. Now. Tonight.
Because they're tracking this stuff. They're tracking usage, and they seem to think people want to see Piazza and Hogan goofing on modern art about 700 times during an average three-hour football game.
You can't let this continue. You must strike a blow, you must resist the digits, you must make the unfunny bad actor athlete men go far, far away.
O.K., now, back to the task at hand: 2002, the year in sports culture. Roll the tape:
Three reasons to turn back time: The loss of Dick Schaap, Jack Buck and Chick Hearn.
Two more reasons: "The Hustler" and "Slapshot," both out on DVD this year.
The best big-budget sports movie of the year was "The Rookie." There wasn't much competition -- though, like everyone else, I had high hopes for "Juwanna Mann," and I admit I too was a little seduced by the Oscar buzz leading up to the debut of "Extreme Ops" -- but "The Rookie" was a smart, patient movie that would have fared well in any year. Part cliché, part fresh hooks, and a believable journey (in unbelievable circumstances) from hope to doubt to regret to fear, back to hope, and ultimately, to satisfaction. (Note: the good people at Disney, who own our nifty little web site and write my checks every two weeks, would, I'm sure, want me to add that the film is "a heartwarming, feel-good story for the whole family.")
The best "little" flick prize is a push: "Dogtown and Z-Boys" -- the documentary story of a skateboard revolution (which I've written about here) -- and "Lagaan," a Bollywood power-to-the-people epic about a cricket match between British imperialists and Indian farmers that makes earnest look important and cricket look interesting.
The it-must-have-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time award goes to the Hannukah hoops cartoon, "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights."
Speaking of seeming like a good idea at the time, I just have to ask, was there ever a time when those 10-10-220 ads seemed like a good idea? Seriously, who pitched that concept? Forget the pitch -- who's the genius that approved it? Was it you?
Movie I most wish would get a U.S. release: "Bend it Like Beckham." Anglo-Indian girl, inspired by British striker David Beckham, wants to play professional soccer, against the wishes of her orthodox Sikh parents. Big hit in England; latest word is it'll debut stateside in L.A. and New York in March 2003.
Movie I most wish would get made in 2003: "Night Train." Ving Rhames as Sonny Liston. Yep, that'll do.
If you only read one sports book published this year, let it be one of these four:
1. "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by Jane Leavy. The author is a bit swept away by the legend, but you don't mind because she's so attentive to craft, to how he actually, technically, did what he did on the mound, and to how he literally, consistently, captured the imagination of teammates, rivals and fans.
2. "Big Game, Small World" by Alexander Wolff. Hoop life -- and I mean that literally; life through ball, ball through life -- in every corner of the globe. Reading it makes you want to play.
3. "Mickey Mantle: America's Prodigal Son" by Tony Castro, which is meticulously researched and has the right combination of devotion and doubt.
4. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" by Mark Frost. Here's all you need to know about this golf book: Frost was the co-creator of "Twin Peaks."
If you read only two pieces in "Baseball: A Literary Anthology", let them be these two:
Richard Ford's "A Minors Affair," which is about how the game is made up of the same actions and rituals played out over and over again, and the excerpt from Keith Hernandez's "Pure Baseball," which is about how much difference lurks in each one of those same actions.
Good TV, Part One: TNT's Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith talking about Chuck's slave-garb SI cover in March. Talk is good.
Good TV, Part Two: ESPN's dueling postseason press conferences between Allen Iverson and Larry Brown. Made me feel kind of Joni Mitchell: "I've looked at life from both sides now/From win and lose and still somehow/It's life's illusions I recall./I really don't know life at all."
Good TV, Part Three: HBO's ":03 Seconds from Gold." Documentary on 1972 gold medal basketball game between U.S. and USSR. A story you thought you knew well is made fresh and compelling again.
Very bad TV: HBO's policy of running "Summer Catch" on at least one of its nine channels every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week and month of the year.
Good TV, Part Four: World Cup soccer in the wee small hours of the morning.
Good TV, Part Five: Fox's dugout reaction shots during the MLB playoffs and World Series.
Good TV redux: Complete "Sports Night" six-disc DVD box set. Casey, Dan, Benson -- all good. Dana? Annoying. Natalie? Good. Key to the show? Hands down: Jeremy.
What nobody said, that needs to be said, about the Terrell Owens Sharpie episode: A Sharpie is a mighty fine pen, the sort of pen a man holds onto should he be lucky enough to find one, the sort of pen he takes into battle with him, knowing it will write smooth and full, no matter what kind of flak comes raining down on him.
I used to work in a record store in the mid-'80s and the rock buyer there, she used a Sharpie to label the bin cards for the albums and CDs. She was fanatical about that pen. She would give you this nasty, violent look should you ever ask if you could use it, and tear you a new one if you ever actually touched it, even accidentally. Rest of the time, she was sweet and gentle as could be, but when it came to that pen she was a crazed dog.
Why do I tell this story? No reason really, except to say a Sharpie is a heck of a pen, a special pen, the kind of pen a guy should be praised for choosing, even in the midst of a bad choice.
If the 10-10-220 spots are the ads I hope never to see again, these are the '02 ads I'm always hoping are coming up next:
Best sports culture crossover move: BET founder Robert Johnson buying into the NBA.
Second-best sports culture crossover moves: Bill James to the Red Sox and Hubie Brown to the Grizz. Bill, just because it happened, and Hubie because it seems to actually be working.
Thing that's bugging me as I write this, and watch "The Natural" on AMC: I know we aren't really supposed to believe Redford as an 18-year-old kid in those early sequences, but are we supposed to believe he looks like a 34-year-old rookie either? I know it's a classic and all, and I'm not looking to jam up the reputation or anything, but I gotta say, there's no way he's an even remotely believable 34.
Proof that sports not only participate in culture, but in the cosmic, karmic laws that govern the universe: Bud Selig's night at the All-Star game and the Twins' run to the ALCS.
Good look: Steve Nash's hair. More than anybody in the league, he's got the "shut up and play" thing working.
Look on the way out: The Pat Riley aesthetic. Look for Hubie's Caesar-thing to be the new chic.
Trend I like: Hip-hoppers wearing the bold, hideous jerseys of the '70s Padres and Astros and such. Thinking about getting me one of the original Mariners tops, in the powder blue.
Trend I could do without: Extreme sports angles in movies. Except the new "Charlie's Angels" pic, due out this summer, which, thanks to being in the throws of a caffeine rush as I watched the preview the other day, I'm actually kind of excited about.
And that's where I am now -- caffeine-addled, worrying about the old Redford, dreading Piazza and numbers, glad for the chance to look back, and eager to read, watch and listen in '03.
Eric Neel reviews is a regular columnist for Page 2. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.