Posted: Thursday September 2, 2004 1:39PM; Updated: Thursday September 2, 2004 4:03PM
The Preface: While the response to last week's Blog -- in which I rightfully argued that all judged events be removed posthaste from the Olympic Games --was impressive (more on that later), a few of you begged me to stop referring to myself in the third-Blog (e.g., "The Blog is all-knowing," or "It wasn't nearly as good as The Blog's"). So I've decided to do a trial-run sans Blog. Let me know what you think. If you dig it, The Blog's days might just be over. If not, so shall The Blog return.....
So I'm here sitting on the deck of the wonderfully quaint Rockmere Lodge in Ogunquit, Maine, a stunning little town on the state's southern coast, watching surfers (in Maine!) devour a nice (3-4 feet, right and left breaks) morning set while bathed in one of the prettier sunrises you'll ever see and pondering Wednesday's dismissal of rape charges against Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. And I must confess: I can't stop thinking about O.J. Simpson.
It's not that I don't care about Bryant's case. I was as stunned as the next person last July 6, when the news crawled across the screen that he'd been accused of rape at that Eagle, Colo. resort. I watched as you did over the past 14 months, as he admitted his infidelities and proclaimed his innocence; bought the wife that horrific purple diamond and turned a title-craving Karl Malone into a glorified press liaison halfway through training camp; made those solemn walks through the courthouse once a month and then hit the court the same night with a vengeance. I went back and forth on his innocence, back and forth on my sorrow for the accuser, based on the day's news reports or tabloid fodder or, because of my business, the occasional "tip" I'd get from an alleged "insider with knowledge of the case." Ultimately, I knew only this: We'd never really know what happened in that hotel room, even after a trial.
And then I saw that man smiling through my television screen last night. Whether coincidence or not, as the crawl beneath told us all of Bryant's aborted trial, ESPN devoted an hour to Simpson, as part of series that ranked headlines of the last quarter-century. Simpson's trial for the murder of his wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman, came in at No. 2. I hadn't thought of O.J. in some time. Other than the passing mention of his latest public spat with a girlfriend or motorist or heckler, his quiet life in Florida spent "searching for the real killer" on any number of the Sunshine State's golf courses has thankfully kept him far from my mind.
But as the show summed up the saga in sepia tones, and Simpson's chuckling visage was intercut with the reflections of the bumbling Christopher Darden and the soulless Johnnie Cochran, another "expert" interviewee -- I admit, I can't remember whom -- asserted that in a post-O.J. world, most any black athlete accused of a felony is haunted by Simpson, or, as the man put it, "the one that got away."
Too bad he's right. Because regardless of Bryant's innocence or guilt -- and given the Eagle County district attorney's actions, Bryant's officially a wrongly accused, albeit adulterous, man -- I'm still sitting here now, watching as a perfect tangerine sun washes over dudes at play in impossibly good surf, and I, too, am haunted by O.J., and all that he wrought.
On a happier note...
For SI's NFL preview issue currently on newsstands and in mailboxes, I wrote a profile of Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck that was almost a year in the inking. With space at a premium during the NFL season, even a win -- indeed, Seattle won two of the four games I saw while reporting the story last season -- isn't always enough for a story to crack the lineup. So when my football editor, Mark Godich, informed me that the preview issue's theme would be toughness, I knew Hasselbeck's tough talk into referee Bernie Kukar's open mike at the overtime coin flip of Seattle's first-round playoff game at Green Bay last January (remember, "We want the ball, and we're going to score"?) meant the story would finally run.
Which is a good thing, because the 27-year-old Hasselbeck is one of the nicer, more genuine and deserving fellows I've met on my five-plus years on the beat. Funny and wickedly self-deprecating, Hasselbeck is a journalist's dream: he is pathologically incapable of not speaking his mind. While his gift of gab has left him in dutch with his coach, Mike Holmgren (who prefers to direct, and not hear, his quarterbacks), it's also largely wasted in Seattle, the NFL's Siberia. (Quick: Name three other Seahawks.)
Hasselbeck's charisma (not to mention his heart and fortitude) is such that if he were a major-market QB, he'd own the league. So here's hoping that the Seahawks do well enough this season that more folks get to enjoy the guy's talents on the field, where he's one of the league's seven-best QBs, and at the mike, where he may be the best, period.
Keep 'em coming...
Submit a comment or question for Josh.
RE: last week's Blog, I was going to go the mailbag route this week (if for no other reason that having a mailbag is pretty damn cool) and answer selected folks' questions in a "Q & A" format. But since roughly 65 percent of the letters asked, with varying degrees of vulgarity and outrage, the same thing -- to some extent, all sports are judged, so why stop at getting rid of gymnastics, boxing and diving? Referees make bad calls in every sport, from missed illegal dolphin kicks in swimming to the blown call in the Cuba-Australia gold-medal baseball game, so where do you draw the line? -- I thought I'd simply point out the following: In every sport, referees and umpires and officials are needed to enforce a sport's rules and regulations, or there'd be anarchy. But bad calls in climactic moments -- when decisions that have some bearing on a result's outcome are made -- are the exceptions to the rule. But in, say, gymnastics, those calls, good or bad, are the rule. So I say it again: If the competition in question demands a performance solely for the dissection of judges, it is not a sport. It's a hyper-athletic, often death-defying talent show.
As for the 34 percent of you who agreed with me, keep the faith. And the other 1 percent? I've forwarded your notes to the proper authorities....
Three other sporting thoughts:
1. Give it up for another snake-bitten subject of mine, Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell. The guy was Philly's Can't-Miss Kid two years ago, when he was putting up numbers that had the Phanatics thinking Schmidt redux, and -- as the city's most relentless bachelor -- loving the City of Brotherly Love like no athlete in recent memory. I wrote about him last April, almost to the day that he went into a season-long nosedive that no one can explain. The story never ran, but when he started hot this year, I was dispatched again. Always the gamer, Burrell agreed to pick over his own carcass, and I left impressed not just with his talent but also his maturity and ability to navigate such painful territory. Then he proceeded to swoon anew, and is now fighting through a wrist injury that should probably require season-ending surgery.
Even though the Phils are finished (in a year that began with them as favorites in the NL East), Burrell is struggling through a minor-league rehab stint rather than going under the knife. Good luck, man. Here's hoping it was just me. ...
2. NFL kickoff is one week from tonight. Which means I'll see you next February.
3. Ah, I give up: Go Sox.
So Hootie Johnson and Co. have decided to pollute the Masters with commercials again. Having covered the tournament for the past two years, I can only assume this is a bad thing, for two reasons.
1. There is no better way, or so I've been told, to recover from a "big" Saturday night than sprawled on the couch, watching a commercial-free Sunday at Augusta National. It's an event singularly suited to the nursing of a hangover -- exciting but quiet, gravely important but slowly paced, and easy on the eyes (especially on the back nine, where they dye the water and paint the grass) -- and to be forced to weather Jessica Simpson pitching buffalo wings and that annoying Wendy's guy (what now-unemployed moron approved that ad campaign) just isn't right.
2. For two glorious April Sundays, you've been able to look your significant other in the eye and say, with all seriousness and in total truthfulness, "Sweetie, I'll get on it ... right after the next commercial."
I can only imagine how grand that must've been....