Dear refs

Dear replacement refs,

You can breathe easy now. I’m sorry everyone felt you were incompetent and let you know it. You’re just inexperienced and maybe in a little over your head. The League would hardly have fared better if the commentators had tried their hand at your job; they only occasionally make the correct call from their lofty stadium box.

Plus, sports fans get a little crazy sometimes. OK, all the time.

It’s hard being a substitute anything, but you guys had it worse than substitute math teachers. You were the fresh young hires at Sterling Cooper scrambling to learn the ropes in an office full of buxom Joans in distracting low-cut dresses. But you made it through and can now go into seclusion and write a book about your ordeal and make a solid 1% of what those guys on the field are making for throwing around a ball.

Sincerely,

A sympathetic fan

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Olympics miscellany

+ The more I think about, the more I realize I’m not ready to win a gold medal. Not because I have no sport or a lifetime of training, but because I wouldn’t want the pictures of me in my defining moment on the podium with a track suit and wet hair.

+ Wouldn’t it be refreshing if athletes spoke their mind before their event, so that instead of the pat, “I just have to go out there, stay relaxed, and do my best” it was more like “I have to kick some serious ass and take what belongs to me.” Instead of the usual post-race response from a silver medalist who says, “I just didn’t get it done and I’d like to congratulate my opponent,” I’d rather hear “I am soooo pissed and cannot believe that chick won.”

+ There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s a heck of a lot of crying in gymnastics, swimming, diving and—I’m guessing, though I haven’t watched it—table tennis.

+ When do the boring sports start? These high-profile events are costing me sleep.

Olympic fever

I love how you can become a rabid fan of a sport in less than 10 minutes during the Olympics. All it takes is a story. A montage. An underdog. I watch supposedly washed up Alexandr Vinokourov from Kazakhstan duke it out with a young Colombian in the homestretch of the cycling road race. I’ve never wanted anyone to win more. The Colombian rookie turns his head for a second and Vinokourov breaks away and wins the gold, jubilant, even though the commentators are calling him the old guy. At 38. And for the record, I had no idea he was this adorable until he took off his helmet.

Was it me or was the tribute to the National Health Service at the opening ceremony a way to say In your face, America?

I wonder if Michael Phelps gets tired of hearing about Michael Phelps.

Losing and winning

I think it was a considerate move by the networks to air the Golden Globes directly following the playoffs so that at the moment when you realize the Patriots’ loss is inevitable, before a funk even sets in, you can switch to the glitz of the red carpet and get swept up in the cattiness: Annette Bening’s hair looks like a porcupine! and Wait, The Tourist was nominated? The one with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? Seriously?

And you can almost forget that your team isn’t going to the Super Bowl, and it’s no big deal, right, because there’s Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon lookin’ fine, and so what if they came with other people; you know they would have taken you if they could have, and you would have been a charming date after taking out a loan to buy a dress; and hey, there’s Aaron Sorkin telling girls that’s it’s good to be smart, and Ricky Gervais is ripping people to shreds in a biting but truly hilarious way, and you’re glad you’re not famous because you’re not sure you’d want to hear what he’d say about you, but then it would hardly matter when you’re on the arm of Mr. Damon who’s whispering in your ear: I’ve got this locked up and you have to tell him, gently, Honey, you’re not nominated this year, and when the water works come, you wipe his tears and tell him you’ll make it up to him later when you’re alone.

Loser. Winner.

Confessions of a curler

Back in the 90s when curling was the hip new Olympic sport (what?), I saw a sign in my hometown inviting people to come and try it out for free with the local curling club. I was so there.

I arrived at the festive lodge in a bulky coat ready to step out onto the ice, until one of the members instructed me to first strap this plastic slider onto my shoe; apparently, the ice was not treacherous enough. The idea was that you’d grip a round stone with a handle and glide it as accurately as you could toward the target on the other side of the pitch. With an extra-slide-y shoe, it was easy to tip over.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, another member said, “Great, now let’s try sweeping!” with an enthusiasm that made me wonder if he was talking about the same domestic task that I did every week in my kitchen—the task that in my mind did not deserve an exclamation point.

While one team member released a stone, our instructor showed us how two other team members get out  in front of a stone and start shuffling along and sweeping the ice. Huh? This would smooth the ice, he explained, encouraging the stone to go farther. The key was learning when to stop sweeping. Usually, the team captain would yell, “Sweep!” or “Stop!” which all too often sounded the same to me. Turns out I was an enthusiastic sweeper.

With the firm belief that this was a sport I could handle, I signed up and got my league assignment. I was the only woman on a team of four, all encouraging guys who made me feel like I was a natural. I was not. Despite my lack of skills, we ended up in first place that season and celebrated with drinks in the clubhouse afterwards. The country club feel was not for me, but I had enjoyed that rare moment when I placed the stone exactly where the team wanted me to place it, even if what they thought was skill was really luck.

So, adopting the brilliant idea for an Olympic Persona Generator app over at Kim’s Tour of No Regrets, I declare myself Ingrid Bing, Olympic curler. After a devastating sweeping injury, I came back this year to win a team silver medal. We might have taken the gold had my teammate not dropped the stone on his own foot in competition.

In a sport that gets no respect—curlers spend half their time saying It is NOT shuffleboard on ice!— you have to hand it to this year’s Norwegian curling team. Their loud pants are bringing attention to the mild-mannered sport in a way that says, yes, this sport is a little ridiculous, and we embrace that.

Ready for the backcountry

A few years ago, I frowned on winter sports. I mean, it’s cold and windy outside, and inside is so very, very warm. Leave it to the winter Olympians, I thought. But then I discovered walking in the snowy woods (I’m a slow learner) and how if you actually just layer up like your mother tells you, you can be outside without crying. These days, I walk every morning unless it’s a blizzard. I draw the line at driving snow pelting my face. 

Today’s chapter in Embracing Outdoor Activity featured a stab at cross-country skiing. The strong sun, smooth trails, and patient teacher who piled on the positive encouragement (he’s my boyfriend, so he had to), conspired to make a believer out of the former I Prefer the Lodge Me. 

Somehow, I found myself gliding down one bunny hill after another, never wiping out, despite the feeling that I was in a runaway train careening toward a ravine. I did, however, master the art of falling down while just walking from one spot to another. 

The best part? Skiing makes you super tall…

Mostly though, my view was of my feet, marveling at how skis have a mind of their own despite me swearing at them to Go to the left! Go to the left!

Football in the great outdoors

   


grandma’s porch.

Originally uploaded by endlessrevolt

I had a dilemma on this gorgeous almost-fall day: watch my beloved Patriots while stuck indoors or get outside and soak in the fleeting summer sun. Unwilling to choose, I camped out on the porch, dragging an ancient TV set with me; football, is, after all, meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

Sitting in the sun made me feel like I was at Gillette Stadium–not that I’ve ever been to Gillette Stadium, but how different could it be from watching football on my porch? The traffic whizzing by was loud–not unlike the sound of 68,000 cheering fans; there was tailgating (OK, some half-stale chips and salsa), and the sun was streaming down as if I were baking on the 50-yard line, kind of making it hard to see the plays, actually, but no matter. Then, when it was evident the Pats were going to lose spectacularly, not unlike the way they used to crush other teams, I packed up early and went inside to beat the traffic.

Game over…er–on

To stop the sobbing that started the moment Tom Brady went down on the field with a knee injury in the first quarter of the first game of the season, I’m trying to focus on the positive. Because hey, my Sundays have just opened up. Football season is so demanding anyway–sure, for the players, but equally for the fans. First, it’s a huge time commitment: several hours every Sunday afternoon or occasional marathon Monday night throughout the fall and winter. Who needs that kind of distraction? Second, it’s a heavy emotional investment, which, after the catastrophic end to last season, cannot be overstated. Suffice it to say, I’m at risk for high blood pressure and have a defibrillator on hand for the games. Third, the time off will give Brady some quality time with his son and model girlfriend, paparazzi-free, because really who will care where they’re buying a house or going to dinner or what he’s wearing: if he can’t throw the football, he’ll be lucky to rate a segment on Access Hollywood.

Oh, what’s this? Backup QB Matt Cassel has thrown for two touchdowns, and the Pats are on top 14-10. Maybe things will be OK (flashback to a young Brady coming in for an injured Bledsoe and getting the job done). And wait, now the Chiefs’ QB is down too? Damn, there go my Sundays.

New England's Tom Brady (12) fires a pass downfield just as Kansas City's Bernard Pollard (out of the photo) hits his leg and buckles it. (Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

Invasion of the kitesurfers

The beach I frequent is tranquil and idyllic, revered for the solitude it provides. Last weekend though, despite a 7:30 a.m. departure for the Cape, the parking lot was chock full when my friends and I arrived at 10:00. Once on the sand, we were met by a gusty wind on a mission that pelted us with sand, sand that burrowed its way into every crevice in an annoying way but that a fellow beachgoer tried to spin as a free exfoliation. All told, I think I lost a full layer of my epidermis.

Everywhere though, unnaturally fit men and women traipsed down to the shore wearing wetsuits, harnesses, and carrying enormous pieces of equipment that looked like pterodactyl wings; the kitesurfers had descended. It was as if every novice and amateur kite surfer had woken up, sniffed the air, and quickly threw their gear in the hatch before barreling down to the beach. They spread out across the beach like sand flies, leaving no room for sunbathers and swimmers. We tucked ourselves away in a dune of questionable protected status (seriously, I wouldn’t sit on a piping plover), away from the chaos and at least minimally sheltered from the assaultive wind. 

The preparation involved in this sport was staggering: inflating the parasail-like kite part, getting it in the air and stabilizing it by holding a trapeze-style bar connected by heavy cables–hard enough on land, but near impossible on the water. Next, a surfer wades into the ocean and secures his feet in a snowboard apparatus (this is when I gave up any hopes of trying), keeping the kite aloft, and then somehow get up on the water, only to be immediately pulled at high speed by the wind. Holy. 

We watched a small-framed guy glide across the water at frightening speeds, gasping when his board lifted above the water, suspending him in midair–child’s play to him though, as his next run involved tricks that made it look like he was skateboarding above the water. Tired of watching all this exertion, I finally rolled over and succumbed to the most perfect beach nap, cushioned by baby turtle eggs.

 

A rainbow of kitesurfers on the Cape

A rainbow of kitesurfers on the Cape

My path to Wimbledon cut short

 


tennis ball

Originally uploaded by jesusfreak92

It’s possible I overdosed on sports today. Breakfast at Wimbledon is my Fourth of July weekend tradition, so I settled in this morning to watch the men’s final between Nadal and Federer at 9 a.m. thinking I’d have the afternoon to Get Stuff Done. By 4:00 in the afternoon, I was still glued to the TV watching the end of an epic, record-long match. I’m exhausted. All that watching is so…fatiguing. Two convenient rain delays allowed me to eat and shower, but aside from those mini-breaks, my eyeballs were darting back and forth all day getting a good workout.

I suppose the players were tired too but then they’re conditioned for this with all that endurance training. With my focus on the game sharp as an athlete’s, I still had time to think back to my own tennis career. My first day of practice was sophomore year in high school when, for a moment, I fancied myself an athlete. It’s possible I just wanted to wear the cute skirt. After about an hour that involved running and hitting drills and chasing down balls that rolled to the remote corners of the court, I thought how little it all resembled the tennis I loved watching on TV. Where were the ball boys? Where was my towel? The towel would have been especially nice because my body was experiencing a strange, damp sensation. Am I sweating? I don’t like sweating, I remembered.

So, after running and sweating and enduring a constant feeling that I might faint at any moment, my tennis career ended. I felt like a ball that had lost its bounce: flat, tired, and happy to roll off the court into the grass to rest awhile. What I liked best about tennis, I discovered, was watching others play it on TV.

Your turn, Celtics.

Another day in Boston. Another parade. This is getting old. (Not really.) Oh, Boston sports teams, why are you so suddenly and universally victorious?

For me, the highlight will forever remain the first Super Bowl win and the parade that followed. A frigid winter day didn’t stop thousands of fans from lining up around the Boston Common to express their thanks to the Pats, even if my fingers were numb from staking out my spot for hours and the cup of hot chocolate I was holding splashed into my hair and froze immediately. We were an excited bunch that couldn’t contain the joy and amazement at our luck.

The second Patriots victory was pretty exciting too: more hot chocolate and signs held aloft. By the third, I was content to watch from my warm cafeteria at work, which overlooked the route in the most convenient way.

The first Red Sox win in my lifetime: huge, and during a season more conducive to a parade, so we joined the billion people along the route where old people tears were not uncommon. The second one I was again perched on the windowsill waving at Manny like a fan all too comfortable with winning.

Now, the cheering has begun and the Duck Tour boats are about to rumble by, but seeing as I have no interest in basketball and watched only the second half of the last game, I know I’d be booted off the bandwagon if I even tried to jump on. So, I think I’ll just sit here as basketball fans approach the euphoria that I felt the first time my team won and reminisce.

Sportsmanlike conduct

Picture for a moment that it’s the end of September and that we’re at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox play the Yankees for a spot in the playoffs. The place is electric and the game, stretching into its sixth hour, is still scoreless. We’re munching on a Fenway frank when A-Rod comes to the plate and hits one out of the park. The beauty of the stunned silence is that fans can hear the moment his knee blows out as he rounds first base. Because this is Boston, we cheer. If A-Rod can’t make it home, the run won’t count. His teammates can’t touch him, and the rivalry between the teams has reached the point where Sox fans would trample his grandmother if it meant beating the Yankees, so we stand by and watch A-Rod writhe in pain and ultimately be carried off the field in a stretcher. The Sox win. The crowd goes wild.

If you’re a softball team of young women in the Northwest, however, you don’t operate that way. Sara Tucholsky, a senior at Western Oregon found herself crumbling to the ground when she had to go back and tag first base, unable even to crawl. The umpire reminded her teammates that if they touched her, the homerun (her first homerun ever) wouldn’t count. So, in an act of sportsmanship that celebrates the generosity of women, two members of the opposing team spontaneously picked her up and carried her around the bases, effectively ending their run toward the playoffs. Had that been A-Rod, we might have kicked him as he crawled toward second. But not Mallory Holtman. She knows the feeling of hitting a home run (she leads Central Washington in that stat) and grabbed another teammate to help the injured runner to gently touch each base before resuming the game and losing—if you think losing can be determined by something as insignificant as the score.

Things I did on the first Sunday without football

1. Put away my Patriots t-shirt for the season. Goodbye stupid shirt; see you in August. Just so you know, you’re no longer my lucky shirt.

2. Made a mediocre lunch, nostalgic for the feasts of game day. Even lime Tostitos have lost their charm.

3. Moped around the house, reflexively grabbing the remote and then tossing it aside with a sigh.

4. Cursed the snow that fell during four separate squalls on Sunday. Snow is only welcome during playoff games.

5. Read an article by sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy who put the loss into perspective: it was bad, but not as bad as the spectacular collapses of the Red Sox, which while true, only made me feel worse.

The Pats are Super Bowl champs–in Africa

It’s a given that days before the Super Bowl, t-shirts are made declaring each team the winner. Hungry fans demand wearables the very next day. So, where do the silkscreened sweatshirts of the losing team go to die? Third world countries, apparently. It’s a win-win: manufacturers ship the clothing to people who need it, and New Englanders can take solace in the fact that somewhere, at least on the backs of a few blissfully unaware Zimbabweans, the Patriots are Super Bowl champions.

There is crying in football, sobbing actually

“Morning,” the bus driver said. I noticed he had omitted the “good” and I was grateful. We sat in silence, joined in sadness. The bus wasn’t scheduled to leave for another two minutes. More unendurable waiting.

“Can you just drive?” I asked. “I mean, somewhere else.”

He was reading the Globe, full of bad, bad news. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s go.”

We agreed on Florida–it’s warm and a long enough drive to allow for uninterrupted sobbing–but as the bus lumbered down the street, I saw that he was just humoring me. We were taking our normal route to the city, as if he thought I were kidding. As if he thought I could be remotely useful in my job today. As if he thought I had any reason at all to live.

Forget it. I don’t want to talk about it.