|Do new ads work the United Way?|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Page 2's "Critical Mass" is a weekly survey of what's happening at the busy intersection of sports and pop culture.
On the air
The campaign worked for years, as the United Way's fundraising totals (according to their website) climbed from $800 million in 1974 to more than $3.7 billion today. During the last couple of years (2000-02), though, the PSAs have been different. They look pretty much the same (although players' wardrobes have, mercifully, evolved toward something more casual and stylish over the years), and have the same earnest, straight-forward delivery: "This is Jake Plummer of the Arizona Cardinals. He helps United Way build stronger communities by supporting educational outings." But these days, they're played for laughs.
In one of the new ones, Jake tells a bunch of kids at the zoo that Cardinals are the fiercest birds in the wilderness. A little girl in the group is dubious.
"Cardinals? What about eagles?" she says.
"Cardinals eat eagles," he tells her.
"What about falcons?"
"They eat them, too."
"He doesn't look so tough."
"Well, he just is," Jake tells her. "The little fella's got a big heart. Listen ... bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump."
You may have seen others: Charles Woodson gets shown up by children unimpressed with his bench-press numbers; Pats' wideout Troy Brown plays to win in games of shuffleboard and horseshoes with senior citizens; Shaun Alexander dresses up like the sun, while kindergartners dance all around him and their teacher sings. If you haven't seen them, or even if you have, check out the United Way archives.
There's just one thing nagging at me: This flowering of irony in the world of charity, it's not evidence that the average postmodern citizen is carrying around a shriveled, ungiving heart, is it? The United Way doesn't have to go tongue-in-cheek, wink-and-nod on us, just to get folks to pony up, do they? I mean, it's great that they do -- entertaining as all get out -- but if it came down to it, if they went straight on us again, if they just made an open, old-fashioned, homely lapels-and-goofy-hairdos appeal to our better angels again, we'd give, right?
On the rack
What little I know about sports and fashion I learned from a kid named Deangelo in the seventh grade. He came out every day for P.E. in loose, long nylon shorts, thin white socks pulled up to his knees Michael Cooper-style, low-top shoes barely tied, and a T-shirt two sizes too big and stretched way out and down at the neck.
His look was a revelation to a buttoned-down, stock-issue kid like me. I pretty much wore what I was told. Deangelo wore what he felt good in. I used to watch him move. I remember thinking he had this thing, this magical, liquid quality that I wanted. He had flow. Flow wasn't just the way his clothes swished and swayed around his body (though it was that, too), it was an entire smooth, never-flustered, ain't-no-stopping-us-now-we're-on-the-move thing; it was the sort of comfort and confidence you couldn't help but envy, and it came from, or came through, his "uniform." Deangelo wasn't the best athlete in class, and he was a big, heavy kid. To look at him, you wouldn't expect much. But when he moved, when his flow kicked in, he was capable of some sweet, crazy stuff that was great to watch.
I don't know why guys in the Bigs are into sporting baggy stuff these days. I have ideas, but I can't be sure. The thing is, if the feel, cut and shape of their unis makes them feel just a little bit more in the flow, makes them a little more capable of the sweet, crazy stuff I like to watch, I don't care, and I don't care to see anyone crack down on it.
RIP, Bob Hayes
On the small screen
Contrary to what you may have heard, football is not a diversion, it is not an entertainment, it is not an option. Football is a pathology. It flows in your blood, manifests in your body and spreads throughout your brain. For both good and bad, football is a part of you -- the company you keep, the way you walk, the things you want and value, these are all laced with football.
You are a citizen of Massilon, Ohio. You have the disease, the same disease your mother and father had before you. You are sick with football, and you feel fine.
Wilco lyric redux
You're quite a quiet domino, bury me now
Take off your band-aid 'cause I don't believe in touchdowns
What was I thinking when we said hello?
Big thanks to everyone who wrote in. Here's some of the best of what I got:
-- Dr Moist
Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column, which will appear every Wednesday on Page 2. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.