Tag: sports

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

Header

Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

BlackfootConfederacy-1

The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 979: A (Football) Tale Of Three Cities

Header

Fans of American football are no doubt giddy with delight in the afterglow of last night’s victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers – the first actual game we have seen in seven months. Non-fans of American football most likely stopped reading this article after the headline, or after they realized this has nothing to do with soccer-football. That’s okay, not everyone shares the same sports-page passions – a fact that becomes resoundingly evident every year as the city around me leaps to their feet at the start of hockey season.

Younger fans of the game might not recall that this 13-season stability we have seen in team names and locations is unprecedented in the history of the league. The 20th century saw several clubs shuffle around the country in search of a permanent home. Most every move was money-based, each one was reviled by fans, and some took place under dubious circumstances.

No team relocation was handled quite so strangely as the Baltimore Colts’ mysterious overnight disappearance to Indianapolis. It was a figurative stab at the collective heart of Colts fans, and a cloak-and-dagger escapade that would leave a gaping wound in the spirit of the city. A wound that would not heal for more than a decade, when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was ready to inflict a similar agony upon the football devoted of his own city.

MemorialStadium-1

Memorial Stadium. Home of the Baltimore Colts since their inaugural year in 1953, and home of baseball’s Orioles for even longer. By the early 1970’s, it needed a facelift. 10,000 of the seats had lousy views, 20,000 seats were just wooden benches with no back support, and both pro teams had to share office space and locker rooms. Colts owner Robert Irsay tried to work with the city to land some new digs for his team. Read more…

Day 926: Cleveland Rocks! (As Long As You Aren’t Talking Sports)

Header

Like a vintage facial scar or a controversial Foghorn Leghorn tie, I am proud to wear my fandom for Cleveland sports teams, boldly and without a micron of hesitation. While my tootsies have yet to come in contact with Cleveland soil – in fact, I’m not certain any member of my direct lineage has crossed the threshold into the Metropolis of the Western Reserve – I nevertheless cheer on their teams with a curious zeal.

Why is that? What compels my soul to that southeastern elbow of Lake Erie? From Eastlake to Olmstead, from Brook Park to Shaker Heights, there’s something about this blue collar town – a town that hasn’t scored a professional sports championship in fifty solid, dreary years – that appeals to me. Not in an I-want-to-live-there sort of way; I just want these stalwart fans to have some reason to cheer.

Some 732 days ago (hey, that’s two years and two days!) I wrote about the Cleveland Browns’ unfathomable seven league championships and ten championship game appearances in a ten-year span in the 1940’s-50’s, just as they transitioned from the AAFC to the NFL. The Browns were unstoppable. Well, except for those three years they didn’t win. But that’s pretty damn close to unstoppable.

Nowadays, Cleveland teams can barely get started.

ChiefWahoo-1

Cleveland Indians fans call it the Curse of Chief Wahoo. The Chief has been the official (and moderately racist) face of the franchise since 17-year-old Walter Goldbach crafted the cartoonish visage in 1947. Sportswriters took to calling the symbol by the strange yet remarkably joyous name of Chief Wahoo shortly thereafter, though Goldbach ostensibly disagreed with the moniker. In a 2008 interview he pointed out that chiefs tend to sport a full headdress, whereas Wahoo’s lone feather would make him a brave. That didn’t cause Clevelanders to rescind the name, though it probably inspired a few chuckles from Atlanta baseball fans. Read more…

Day 896: When Footy Gets Kooky

Germany Soccer Euro 2008

Chances are, if you’ve even so much as sneezed in the same room as a computer connected to the internet this week, you’ve absorbed some snippet of World Cup fever. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world – more so than the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Full-Contact Bare-Knuckle Finger-Jousting Championships combined. And due to the current impressive girth of our pudgy modern internet, which is just right for streaming the games to every interested PC, tablet and phone, they’re predicting this to be the widest audience for anything, ever.

Soccer is the ultimate sport to bridge together the citizens of this floating rock, mostly because the rules are simple and you can make a workable ball out of trash and/or roadkill. It’d be hard for a poor rural village to fashion together functional sticks to play hockey, hoisted-up hoops to play basketball or crudely-crafted anabolic steroids to play baseball. Soccer (or “football” – I know, I know) is where it’s at.

Apart from the degenerate wuss-bags who perform acts of atrocious theatre in hopes of drawing a foul for the other team, soccer really is a great game. And even though I’ll be spending the next few weeks getting caught up on the new season of Orange Is The New Black, I might allow myself to sip just a little bit of the tournament’s excitement. After all, soccer can – in rare cases – get a little weird.

Barbados-Grenada-1

In my neighborhood, local interest for the qualification round of the 1994 Caribbean Cup was pretty much nil. But for fans in Grenada, the January 27 game against Barbados was huge. Having lost to Puerto Rico already, Barbados would have to win by two points in order to advance to the final round and bump Grenada out. For a country perpetually mired in revolutions and/or hurricanes, this was a big deal. Read more…

Day 883: The Starlet Of The Sports Pages

Header

“It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”

So said sportswriter Joe Williams of the New York Herald-Tribune. He was writing a critical (and overtly misogynistic) piece about Babe Didrikson-Zaharias. Babe’s name is anything but household today, though at the time she was the most important woman in the world of sports.

To claim that Babe was the single greatest female athlete of the 20th century would not be an unmerited hyperbole; she played a myriad of sports and excelled at every one of them. Babe was tough, she was brilliant, and she wasn’t afraid to be an “athlete” instead of a “woman who plays sports”. She hammered out her own identity and handled all her own PR. How her life story remains unknown to so much of the general populace today, I have no idea; we all know Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer, Red Grange… and those schmucks only mastered one sport apiece.

Babe Didrikson-Zaharias conquered most of the sports section, game by game.

Babe-1

Mildred Didriksen (she’d later change the ‘-en’ to ‘-on’) was born to Norwegian parents in Port Arthur, Texas – also the birthplace of Janis Joplin. She took the nickname ‘Babe’ from her mother’s childhood pet name for her, though she’d later claim she was given the nickname in honor of Babe Ruth after she’d hit five home runs in a childhood baseball game. Her version of the nickname origin was an exaggeration, though I suspect the baseball story is true. Read more…

Day 777: 7

Header

What is your favorite number?

It’s an odd question, if you really stop to think about it. Why have a favorite number? Okay, maybe it’s the number that was splashed across your jersey when you played high school basketball. Perhaps you hit it big with a fortuitous spin of the roulette wheel once. Maybe you met the love of your life on a bus with that number, on the street with that number, at precisely that number o’clock, on that number’s day of the month. If so, please tell me about it; that’s a great story.

Mathematician Alex Bellos is conducting a survey to figure out what’s the most common favorite (or, I suppose, lucky) number. I entered my pick, but found myself torn. While I am a firm believer in the notion of luck, inasmuch as the universe seems to unfold in a fortuitous manner some days, I don’t cling to a specific digit. What would I pick? My daughter was born on the 26th, I met my wife in ’95, my favorite childhood football player wore 33… it all seems so arbitrary and unnecessary.

The current front-runner in Bellos’s survey is seven. This comes as no surprise; with its omnipresent visage in all forms of gambling, from seven-digit lotto games to the most dreaded and praised roll in a game of craps, seven is the smoke-choked caterpillar on life’s giant toadstool. Seven sees all, man.

Religious

Any integer housed in that exclusive neighborhood of Single-Digitsville is going to find itself wrought with significance throughout religious and secular history. But there’s a special pedestal reserved for seven. Not only has this digit turned more fortunes than any other in the hallowed halls of Vegas casinos, but it has found itself firmly entrenched within the spirit of humanity. Why do we love seven so? Maybe because it’s a prime number, mighty and indivisible. Yet seven fits into logic’s keyhole with a crooked and devilish squeak. Read more…

Day 776: Of Fingers And Knuckles And Stuff

Header

Faced with the prospect of a sixth trip to the dentist in two months for the same misbehaving molar, I find myself begrudgingly short on optimism for today. Rather than delve through another tale of a corrupt world or criminal conspiracy (both of which usually keep me perpetually entertained), I’m going to turn my curiosity toward the world around me.

There are so many miniscule aspects of our trivial routines whose histories and origins are overlooked because deep down, we simply don’t care. Throughout this project I have learned more than I’d ever wanted to know about the history of swear words, about polypropylene chairs and about German artist collectives. My life is endlessly richer for it.

Rather than comb the obscure I’m going to investigate a bit of the history behind some of the hand gestures we take for granted. Why do I do this? Does the public really need to know? Will Day 776 go down in this project’s history (or really any history) as anything but just another day? Should I stop asking rhetorical questions and twirl my word-fork through the pasta of this subject?

HighFive

The first nationally exhibited high-five in history (though it had no doubt gone through years of laboratory testing before reaching this level of exposure) occurred on October 2, 1977 between Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Baker had just blasted his thirtieth home run of the year over the fence, marking the first time in baseball history that a single team saw four players notch at least 30 homers apiece in a single season. Glenn Burke, who was next to bat, was waiting with his hand raised when Dusty jogged home. Dusty, being of a quick wit and a clever mind, smacked the open hand with his, changing the course of greetings history. Read more…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

Header

Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

SammyDavis&Ella

First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 764: Happy Super Day!

Header

As you may have noticed by the disturbing lack of available Doritos at your local corner store, today is among the most revered and holy days in western culture. No, not the groundhog thing – around here that’s just a joke anyway. I live in a town where six more weeks of winter after February 2nd is actually a shorter sentence than we’re used to. No, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, the day when western culture grinds to a 3.5-hour halt in front of its TV.

But not everyone is a football fan. I get that. I live in a country where the blood is only as red as the centre line and our footsteps echo with the clatter of pucks against a garage door. American football fans here are more scarce. I grew up with a father who poured a heaping bowl of football into my Sundays every fall and winter, and I’ve found a distinct advantage to being an NFL fan in Canada: I have no geographical obligations, team-wise. I can cheer for the Denver Broncos because Peyton Manning is a blast to watch, but I can also get excited when the Seattle Seahawks show off a cartilage-crumbling defense.

So I’m a fan of 31 out of 32 teams (I still can’t bring myself to like the Patriots – they’re just so damn smarmy). Today’s game will feature the two teams who most deserve to be there, and I’ll be riveted to the screen – Big Rock beer in hand and home-made chili tickling my palate. And since I won’t be slapping a kilograph onto my creative grill every day next year at this time, I will take this last topical opportunity to write a little something about the big game.

FirstTrophy

On the left is former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, presenting the sacred world championship trophy to Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi after his team had won the first Super Bowl in 1967. Four years later, once the upstart American Football League had sewn its hem permanently to the NFL and the Super Bowl had officially acquired its name, the trophy was posthumously named in Lombardi’s honor. Unlike the Stanley Cup, which is perhaps the most sacred single trophy in professional sports, a new Lombardi trophy is minted every year for the winning team. Read more…

Day 736: Returning To The Frozen Tundra Of Lambeau Field

Header

If you’ve been anywhere near the sports pages this week, then you have probably heard all about the weather in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The hometown Packers, the tiny-market, publically-owned NFC North champs are hosting a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in wind chills that could smack that wretched point where Fahrenheit and Celsius collide, right around the -40 mark.

Edmonton’s air promises to be just as unforgiving today, and I’m already dreading the sprint from my car to the grocery store; I can’t fathom loping around a sideline for the better part of a 3-hour contest. This is the kind of weather that can scramble cogent thought. Walking through -40 makes one pray for a nearby explosion, just for the heat of the flames. It turns a loogie into a crusty green snotsicle before it hits the pavement.

And so football lovers will turn their pre-game focus to other chilling playoff epics. The mighty Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers could have jetted to the Super Bowl in early 1982 were it not for the vicious wind in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The hometown Packers were frozen out by the New York Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game. But nothing – not even today’s game – will compare to the infamous Ice Bowl.

IceBowl

The 1966 NFL Championship didn’t earn its oft-marked page in the tome of football history for simply being the coldest game ever played. Its significance is spread all over the game like cream cheese on an excessively-dolloped bagel. This was Green Bay’s attempt at an unprecedented third consecutive championship. It would determine who would represent the NFL in the second Super Bowl. And most importantly, it was the last time the NFL championship was considered to be the most important game in the sport of football. The American Football League was still considered a ‘secondary league’ and the Super Bowl between the two league champs was more an afterthought. Until Joe Namath’s league-rattling upset the following year would forever cement the Super Bowl at the top of the charts. Read more…