|Give me my remote, my early start times|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
In the words of Horace Greeley: Go West, young man.
Because, in the words of Snoop Dogg: I'm 'bout to show you how the West coast rock.
I'm talking sports on TV, Pacific Daylight style. I'm talking gather-round-the-big-screen way out west. I'm talking about the land of pixel milk and stereo-sound honey. I'm talking about a place where it goes a little something like this …
You're in a hammock on the back porch, ankles crossed, remote at your hip, sweet sun shedding its grace across the lawn, a slight breeze and the dewdrops from your margarita glass flowing over your hand. Sixers and Hornets are on the deck set. AI and Mash going anything-you-can-do, and you going yep-yep, sip and sway.
Your breath falls easy and light; it's the breath of satisfaction, the inhale-and-exhale of peace and delight. And you think, What could possibly be better than this? And then it hits you, like a soft kiss on the cheek, like Gramma's feather bed: it ain't even dinner hour yet; you've got steaks coming off the grill in a bit, another margarita if you feel like it, and not one, but two more games of the playoff tripleheader still to come. And just at that moment, young dog Allen lets fly a little floater that dances and drops straight through the net, and you think, Say what you will about Manifest Destiny -- this now, tonight, on the ocean side of the Rockies, this is grand.
Or maybe it's a Sunday morning in November. You've had one of those hellish weeks -- scrambling at the office, fighting at home, and coming up short at every turn -- and you just want a nice stretch of nothing. Nothing but pigskin, helmets and pads. Nothing but the chance to slip, like Jeff Bridges in "Tron," through the screen and into another world; a world with cleaner conflicts and simpler struggles, one where the good guys are winging out wide with you on the sweep and the bad guys are wearing a different uniform.
There is football, you are in your jammies, and it is too early for the world to sink its claws into you. There is football, your hair is mussed, your breath stinks, and you've got three solid hours of nothing laid out before you. And when it's over, you feel refreshed, sated, calm and capable. And the day, the good, long rest of the day, seems to stretch on forever. Maybe you'll garden, maybe you'll take the kids to the zoo, maybe you and your honey will take a rowboat out on the lake at Echo Park. Maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a much better week than the last one.
That's what it's like out here where the water flows in great, glorious streams over smooth, round pebbles towards the ocean.
You want more? All right, picture if you will …
Fresh crullers and fritters and hot, black coffee at the start of NFL draft day and pizza at the end of it.
Think about a night like last night …
Sixers-Hornets? Good stuff. Done. Mavs and Blazers? Another beauty. In the books. Magic and Pistons? Ugly and over with. Kings and Jazz? Finis, and the Stockton-Malone story along with it. Devils and Ducks? Win-Win. Full slate of baseball? Stories filed. And guess what time it is? 10:30. And me? I feel good. Still got a little in the tank. Think I'll watch me some Headline News, some Wilco on Letterman, sip a glass of vino, and then shuffle off to bed, knowing I know what went down today, and knowing that tomorrow is another full day and that I'll be able to swallow it whole and sleep on it easy too.
Mull this over …
Watch sports TV out west and you've actually seen Shawn Green play a bunch of times; you've followed Bonzi Wells' development night in and night out; you've kept pace with Carson Palmer's progress for four years. Watch sports TV out west and you know more, you know the guys your buddies in the east know and you know guys they've slept through or have only seen a handful of times.
And here's a scenario worth thinking about …
"You never talk to me anymore."
"Huh? Yes I do. Just a minute, I'm watching ..."
"You love that game more than you love me."
"You do, don't you?"
"Look at me."
"I swear, I'm gone. I'm out the door right now. I mean it."
"This is me leaving."
(Commercial break) "Wait. Sweetie, don't be like that. Listen, let's go out tonight, just you and me. This game'll be over by 7, that'll leave us plenty of time for dinner, a movie, dancing -- you name it."
"That sounds nice." (Smooch)
"Or, you know, we could stay in, listen to a little Barry White, get cozy." (Smooch)
"You know how I like Barry …"
"Yes, I do. I surely do."
That's western flavor, folks.
Same game night in the East, darkness coming on and the night shriveling up like a prune? The door slams. There's no Barry and no cozy. Game over.
In the East, a transplanted Dallas diehard settles in to watch the first game of Ducks-Stars series the other night. He's with it through regulation. He hangs in for the first overtime. By the second overtime, he's pounding back Mountain Dew, but it's not working -- the ice is melting, his eyes are sliding. In the third overtime, he's got his lids tacked back "Clockwork Orange"-style and, if you ask him, he'll tell you about the bad men lurking outside the window and the voices in his head. By overtime four, he's out. A little line of drool hangs from his bottom lip.
When Sykora's goal finally goes in in the fifth OT and the announcers shout, the guy is jolted -- first disoriented, then disappointed, and ultimately depressed. The next day at work, he looks haggard and moves slowly. People mock him behind his back, steal things from his desk, and throw food at him in the cafeteria. He's too wiped out to respond, or even notice. He just sits there and takes it, staring off into the distance, whispering the words to "Once in a Lifetime":
"And you may ask yourself/ What is that beautiful house?/ And you may ask yourself/ Where does that highway go?/ And you may ask yourself/ Am I right? ... Am I wrong?/ And you may tell yourself/ MY GOD! ... WHAT HAVE I DONE?"
In the West, a homegrown Ducks diehard sees the whole game, from start to quintuple-overtime finish. The next day, still riding high on a wave of euphoria and a good night's sleep, he starts writing songs and poems about Sykora and his mates. They're not great, mind you, but they're heartfelt, and when he stands up on the table in the middle of the restaurant at lunch to recite one of them, the patrons go wild. They fight for the chance to buy him a drink. They clamor for more. They wish they had the same sort of passion beating in their own hearts. They bask in the glow of his joy and tell themselves they can be more, do more, and care more … about themselves, about each other, about everything.
You see what I'm saying, right? You're packing up and following the sun, right? You've got the gold football helmet on and the chopper ready to roll. You're born to be wild and born to be West, yes?
Then maybe you want to consider this …
Coming around? I know what will seal the deal: Think about the kids …
Think about the kids back east whose parents put them to bed before a late game gets started. Think of what they're missing. Think about the kids who watched Game 7 between the Yanks and D-Backs in 2001 and wanted to go out and play stickball in the street afterwards but couldn't because it was too dark. Think about the kids who watched the Super Bowl and wanted to go outside to play two-hand but got called in because it was too cold and the light was fading fast.
You're tearing up now, aren't you? Sure. Who can blame you?
Now picture the kids out west. They're watching all the big games, no matter where and when they're played. And when they get inspired, they come pouring out their front doors and onto every unclaimed inch of street, lawn and alley, looking to relive the great plays they've just seen, hoping to duplicate the feats of their heroes, feel the rush and blood of the game in their veins. It's warm out. These kids are connected. They're reveling. The games live in them. They are sport's future.
You're tearing up now, aren't you? Sure. Who can blame you? We all do it. It's the western way.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.