The best novel since Lolita
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Is bodybuilding a sport?

And if so, dweller, does that mean my dear and native and Golden State is about to elect its first athlete as governor?

I don't know if bodybuilding is a sport, but I do know it is high, high comedy.

Like, the richest form of comedy.

I started to know this when my older brother told me of his ventures to watch low-level bodybuilding contests in San Francisco years ago, whereupon he observed crazed, maniacal fans in a mostly-empty auditorium shouting at their Speedo-clad heroes. His favorite was the final showdown, where all the bodybuilders flex, non-stop, in a chorus line, for the judges. I'll never forget that a guy next to him was spewing saliva and shouting for his bodybuilding buddy, a guy named Bobby.

Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder
"Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder" is a bodybuilder's Bible.
"Hit the light, Bobby, hit the LIGHT!", the guy yelled, as if his life depended, indeed, on Bobby's ability to hit the light. Imagine. A grown man, screaming for a Speedo-clad warrior with a shaved body to "hit the light!", meaning to flex in a position that maximizes the available amount of illumination provided on stage.

In other words, my state's next governor may very well have been advised, at one point, in his fledgling bodybuilding career, by a maniacal fan in a half-empty auditorium on a Sunday afternoon, to hit the proverbial light.

My boy Robbie and I have laughed for years about Bobby "hitting the light!", and I thought I was fully versed in the comedy of the cult of bodybuilding.

Turns out I was a 98-pound weakling with sand in my face when it came to understanding the depths of said comedy.

That same older brother later handed me a book that changed my life, not unlike the way Judy Blume's "Forever" changed the sex lives of every 8th-grader in America.

It was called "Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder" by Samuel Fussell, and I am here at The Cooler to tell you that I have only read one book written as brilliantly as Fussell's tome, and it was Nabokov's "Lolita."

Oh, were only Nabokov to turn his attention to the world of iron.

Dweller, if you do me no other favors in life, go to and order "Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder," by Samuel Fussell. With a writing style that holds up to any literary giant of the past century, Fussell documents his slow descent from a bookish, Oxford-educated nerd into a steroid-using, fake tan-having, SoCal-transplant who has renamed himself "Rocky Mountain Way," since Joe Walsh's theme is his posing music.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno
Arnold mocks Lou Ferrigno's speech impediment in "Pumping Iron," but still the two appear to be good friends.
Topically, Fussell documents how Arnold Schwarzenegger is to the bodybuilding community as Dr. Dre is to the marijuana-smoking community. Schwarzenegger's book, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder," is a book as revered in the bodybuilding world as a 40-minute drum solo from Mickey Hart is revered by the traveling Deadheads of the world.

Writes Fussell: "Arnold ruled bodybuilding the way Muhammad Ali ruled boxing, with enough skill and charisma to dumbfound critics and competitors alike. But it didn't end there. Upon his retirement from bodybuilding, Arnold simply changed fields, making himself part of the Zeitgeist with his ascension to the silver screen and his marriage to Maria Shriver. Through iron, he had got what he wanted: big-balled muscles and a permanent pass to the Kennedy compound."

And for those of you lucky enough to have seen "Pumping Iron," you will surely remember the scene in a a bus in which Arnold mercilessly mocks Lou Ferrigno's speech impediment. It's as cruel and effective as any grade-school taunt, scarring the victim for life.

Yeah, and Gray Davis is going to bother this guy?

Looks like my dear and native and Golden State's next governor will wear a Speedo, and will, indeed, hit the light.

On then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Mooch: A Lion, All of a Sudden.

Amused to see Steve Mariucci in the Honolulu Blue of the Detroit Lions as NFL exhibition season kicked into full speed. Just reminded me of how transitory it all is - not just life, but the NFL coaching carousel, too. Mooch made a point afterward to say how "fun" it was to have his family down to Ford Field for the debut.

Thing is, in my past life as 49ers beat guy, I've gotten to know Mooch and his family. From 1997-2002, they were Nuts about the Niners. His dear parents, Ray and Dee, had remade the Iron Mountain, MI, home into what was clearly a Forty-Niner Fortress. Niners coffee mugs, Niners throw rugs, hell, even Niners doilies.

Steve Mariucci
Steve Mariucci now bleeds Detroit Lions blue.
Then, 49ers owner John York gets a wild hair, fires Mooch, and I can only wonder: What happens to the loving parents, who have remade the home as a shrine to their beloved son's great, cool job?

Do they call NFL Properties and get a straight trade-in, Niners throw rug for Lions throw rug?

Do they head out to the dumpster in the middle of the night, and make one big dump of all traces of the 49er franchise, under the cover of darkness? I liken this to how old Soviet leaders were treated once deposed - simply airbrushed out of photos, and never spoken of again. I can see the friendly Midwestern neighbor dropping by, clueless about the job transition, and saying: "So, will you go out to California this fall to see Stevie?"

And his parents, stone-faced, deny it all. "California?" they say. "Why would we do that? We're Detroit Lions fans, through and through. Here, want a Honolulu Blue sweatshirt?"

2. Speaking of the NFL . . .

Amid the parade of inanity that passed for early August football on my TV screen, I did catch a glimpse of the Black Jesus himself, Michael Vick, plying his trade. In that brief glimpse, I have decided that there is absolutely no question - the Atlanta Falcons will either win the Super Bowl, or make us all wish, as we watch Jay-Z get cozy with Beyonce in the halftime show, that they were there to try.

You know, it just feels like the 2003 season has been bequeathed to this cat already.

Let's say it now: In our lifetimes - and I didn't live to see Jim Brown tote the football - Michael Vick is already the most exciting player we've ever seen.

Good thing he's playing for a franchise with a tradition and history as rich as Atlanta's, and for a coach as experimental and open as Dan Reeves.


Dave Bliss
For Baylor's record over the last four years, alumni could have saved their money and contributed to a good program.
3. Dave Bliss: He's Had His Share of Problems.

My boy Sully has always been amused by a co-worker's long-ago analysis of legal woes besetting an athletic figure. The co-worker, amusingly enough, was knocking back a Dixie Cup of Cooler water when he said of journeyman quarterback Gale Gilbert - "Gale Gilbert . . . he's had his share of problems."

It's as useful a way to sum up a fall from grace as any.

Now, I don't know if Baylor coach Dave Bliss was in any state of grace, but I do know the fall is ugly, and the fall is hard.

Here's my problem: The guy's program is providing illegal tuition payments for his players, and Baylor basketball, like, stinks! They went 5-11 in conference play last year, man. Five and eleven! Now why would you waste perfectly good alumni money on a program that is dragging up the rear of the Big 12? In four years, Bliss went 61-57. And he's paying players? Dweller, when American schools can't even cheat right, we are heading down the path of no return.

4. Rafael Furcal: A Little Piece o' History.

An unassisted triple play! How . . . lucky!

Listen. I've seen one of the 12 unassisted triple plays in big-league history, and it a) happens incredibly fast, and b) takes about 15 seconds to sink in. Meaning - it isn't so much about seeing a cool bit of ball history as it is seeing the Bearded Lady or the Dog-Faced Boy. It's a freak show, but it's not like seeing Willie Mays hit four bombs in one game.

Rafael Furcal
Rafael Furcal (left) turned an unassisted play. For some reason, it brought back memories of the "Bad News Bears."
Mine was covering the 2000 Oakland A's, when Randy Velarde, at Yankee Stadium, speared a line drive with runners at first and second. The runners were on the move so, as I recall, Velarde caught the liner, tagged the runner from first and, seeing the runner from second nearly around third, trotted over and stepped on second base.

In the press box, we had the Stun Gun reaction, pausing, pausing, pausing . . . until my boy G. Wash finally broke out the "Bad News Bears" memory and likened the moment to Tanner Boyle's triple play. "Tanner Boyle!" G. Wash said, in a moment of clarity heretofore, and since, unseen among America's scribes. "A triple play!"

Note to dwellers: At least I think it was Tanner Boyle who made the triple play - wasn't it? Forgive me if I'm wrong. I'm getting old.)

And that was it. An unassisted triple play. No feel that you had just seen an act of incredible skill, like Kerry Wood fanning 20 as a rookie, or Jason Giambi hitting a grand slam in the rain to win in extra innings. Just . . . an amazing piece of luck, I guess.

But, if it's good enough for Tanner Boyle, it's good enough for Rafael Furcal, and Randy Velarde and the rest of the Bearded Ladies.

5. Jeremy Shockey: Keep it Coming, Pal.

So now we've lost Jeremy Shockey, the best quote in the NFL.

So sad.

Great quotes are so rare; and like rare species, they must be protected and caressed so as to flourish in our midst.

OK, he should not have called Bill Parcells a "homo." It was amateur, grade-school and silly.

But can we please let this guy have a mulligan?

We, the quote-starved sports media, need Jeremy Shockey. We need him like Bill Parcells needs a hair rinse, and an ab workout.

Can you even imagine what Jeremy Shockey and Arnold would have said about Lou Ferrigno if they sat in the back of the bus together? Quick, somebody green-light "Pumping Iron 2: The Shockey Era."

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

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Murphy: I love Wimbledon

Murphy: TigerSpeak 101

Murphy: On a hot streak

Murphy: Anti-rocket fuel

Murphy: Going, going ... boring

Murphy: Raising a Tiger

Murphy: Fandemonium

Murphy: Life imitating art

Murphy: Masters of our domain

Murphy: Somebody has to lose

Murphy: Welcome to Cooler Day!

Murphy: Spring is in the air

Murphy: Here's to Ew

Murphy: A barren wasteland

Murphy: Tiger gets his Phil

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