Week of March 19, 2021

A Moment of Genius Fandom   

There are cool sports traditions, and there are ones that can feel oh so forced. Here’s a story about a very, very cool tradition from a soccer team in San Sebastián, Spain. The idea, over a half century old,  may have been the product of a hallucinatory haze. I’m already in. How about you? 

Here it is: a single fan shoots off bottle rockets just outside the stadium when a goal is scored. One rocket means the opponents scored, and two rockets shot off means the home team, Real Sociedad, scored. This fantastic idea was courtesy of Patxi Alkorta. Now, his great nephew carries on the tradition. 

One theory is, back in the day, the rockets were an easy way to let the fisherman out in the Bay of Biscay know how the game was going.  The real genius of the idea is not necessarily the rockets, but the code. Per Rory Smith:  

That the tradition’s appeal endured, though, was not only because it was something unique to San Sebastián — “the fans see it as something that belongs to us,” said Iñaki Mendoza, Real Sociedad’s club historian — but because of the simple genius of Alkorta’s idea: that perfect moment of suspense between the two bangs, the silence filled by hope and dread.

“When people are walking through the city on the day of a game and they hear the first rocket, they wait in suspense for the second,” Mendoza said. “And when they hear it, they resume their walk with a smile, because La Real has scored.” Izagirre described it as “a beautiful moment, where everyone is waiting.”

As the team has played to an empty stadium over the past year, the tradition has taken on another angle. While it’s not about breaking news (everyone has it on their phone), but it reminds folks that the game is not being played in a tv or some far off place but rather right there in town, and sometime soon they will be there to see it. – PAL

Source: The Rocketman of San Sebastián”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (03/18/21)

TOB: Oooooh that moment of suspense must be incredible. 

No Direction Home

A handful of folks reading this considered working in sports as a dream job when we were younger. Maybe one of your friends gave it a shot, or maybe you did, and it becomes clear pretty quickly just how difficult it is to break into that industry. For one, you’ll likely get paid shit for a good amount of time,  because the teams – whether it’s the Minnesota Twins or the Sioux Falls Canaries – know how common this dream is this dream is and they pay accordingly, and that’s if you’re lucky. Most folks have a hard time finding a spot to begin with!  Per John Gonzalez: 

That’s the tricky part of the whole dream job thing, especially in pro sports when there are only so many of those to go around in the first place. Unless you’re extremely charmed, there comes a time when you wonder how long you ought to keep chasing after it—and how far you’re willing to go

It’s only a matter of time that the dream is replaced with the reality that it’s likely going to take a long time and a lot of luck in order to get the job you imagined as a kid.  As Adam Tatalovich says, “Not everybody can be Erik Spolestra. Not everyone is coming in as the intern and then you become the head coach. I always knew these jobs would only last for so long.”

Tatalovich is the feature in Gonzalez’s story, and he’s an interesting dude. Tatalovich is a basketball scout, which was a pretty nomadic existence before the pandemic. Back in February, he was working for Guangzhou, a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. There’s a break in the CBA season in January around Lunar New Year. Most coaches and scouts step away from the job and go on vacation; instead, Tatalovich went to Turkey to meet up with a legendary coach there. And thus began his odyssey. Tatalovich hasn’t been back to Guangzhou since. 

March bled into April, and April gave way to a host of concerns—chief among them that he was officially unemployed and his prospects were limited. The woman Adam rented his Airbnb from in Belgrade let him convert it from week-to-week to month-to-month. Clothes were another issue, but that was hardly new. A lot of his belongings were left behind in China. He had an apartment’s worth of stuff stuck in storage and out of reach in Sacramento. He left behind a couple of bags worth of clothes in Australia. More of his things were scattered at friends’ houses all across the United States. All he had was the bag he packed for what he thought would be a quick holiday when he left Guangzhou.

How he spent his time and how he found his way to a job with the Knicks, and what he calls the absence of a nest – I found it all to be a distinct story and point of view on the last year. – PAL 

Source: The COVID Odyssey of One NBA Scout”, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (03/15/21)

RIP Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler died this week. He was my all-time favorite fighter. He didn’t take shit and he was tough as hell. Charles Pierce wrote an excellent tribute to Hagler this week, and I suggest you read it. But more importantly, if you even kinda like boxing, watch Hagler’s fight against Tommy Hearns, which in my opinion is the greatest single performance in boxing history. If you think boxing is slow and boring, just spend fifteen minutes watching this fight, and you see how two guys elevated the sport to its purest form.

Two guys, at the peaks of their career, absolutely gutting it out. Incredible. -TOB

Source: Marvelous Marvin Hagler Wouldn’t Bend,” Charles Pierce, Defector (03/15/2021)

PAL: I’d never seen this fight, and TOB is not overselling it. Honestly, this has to be up there in the pantheon of greatest sports ‘highlight’ ever. It’s incredible. Aside from the absolute grit from both of these guys, a few things stood to me, a complete boxing novice. 

  1. Hagler, a lefty, could switch stance and punish in a right-handed stance. 
  2. Hearns’ hands are is so fast. On those long arms, his punches are like a whip with an anvil on the end of it. 

And I heard this anecdote a couple times in the past week that Pierce references, too. After a debatable loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, Hagler walked away from the sport with his brain and some money. He moved to Italy and never game back. Leonard wanted a rematch. Big money. 

Later, when promoter Bob Arum came to New Hampshire to pitch a rematch with Leonard, Hagler’s response carried the sound of a great iron door, closing.

“Tell Ray,” Hagler said to Arum, “to get a life.”

That’s good stuff. 

What Happens When a Football School’s Basketball Team is Better Than the Football Team?

This was a very entertaining article. Here’s the premise:

Every American college that has a big sports culture is either a football school or a something-else school. While a few might identify most closely with lacrosse, baseball, hockey, or volleyball, the most common alternative to football schools are basketball schools.

The article focuses mainly on Michigan and how the basketball team the last few years has been much more successful than the football team. So has Michigan become a basketball school? No, not even close. The issue is the emotional connection, and for whatever reason, certain fanbases have a deep connection with one sport over another:

Coaston got hooked on the Wolverines at their 2005 win over undefeated Penn State, when Mario Manningham caught a walk-off touchdown as time expired. “The highs would be some of the best moments I’ve ever had,” she says.

The most crushing recent loss to the Buckeyes came in 2016, when Michigan came inches away from stopping Ohio State on fourth down to lock up an overtime win. “The emotions I had had about Trump winning in 2016—I was like, ‘I’m fine, I know I can handle this,’ ” Coaston says. “ ‘For the work I do, this is a really important moment, but I’m ready for it.’ I had put all of those emotions into a box, and then I’d shoved that box into Michigan football, and then the Michigan–Ohio State game happened in 2016, and I was like, ‘Ohhhh, no. The box exploded.’ There is no emotional safe space for pretty much anything.”

The box exploded is an all too accurate way to describe it. So is this:

“I don’t think I ever have thought about a Michigan basketball loss more than like a half-hour after it ended,” Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley, a fan since he was a kid in the ’90s, says, “whereas there are Michigan football losses from, like, 18 years ago that I still think very vividly about all the time.”

Swap Cal for Michigan in that paragraph and it’s eerily accurate for me. 

The author suggests a school cannot switch what kind of school it is. But I disagree, because it happened with Cal in the early 2000s. Cal had been a basketball school, with a very strong basketball culture and a passionate fanbase that packed its arena for every game. And then, over a span of 2-3 years, that flipped. The reasons for that are many and involve a rather unique confluence of events – the football team got good, the basketball team was involved in a pay-for-recruits scandal, and the beloved basketball gym was torn down and replaced with a sterile, sucky arena.

Still, this was a fun article and a nice primer for the start of the NCAA tournament. -TOB

Source: “Why So Many College Sports Fans Feel Miserable All the Time,” Alex Kirshner, Slate (03/17/2021)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: The White Buffalo – “Sycamore”

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What evidence is there that cats are so smart, anyway? Huh? What do they do? Because they’re clean? I am sorry. My Uncle Pete showers four times a day and he can’t count to ten. So don’t give me hygiene.

-Elaine Benes