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The big game ... er, election

Little difference between watching politics and watching sports

Posted: Wednesday November 3, 2004 12:21PM; Updated: Wednesday November 3, 2004 3:45PM
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To get myself psyched up for an evening of election returns, I watched The War Room, D.A. Pennebaker's great documentary on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. In it, a flustered Mary Matalin counters a reporter's assertion that President Bush had "lost" the final debate by saying, "This," meaning politics, "is not a sports event." But as I ass-grooved my couch, flipping from network to network, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a sporting event.

At the top of every hour I'd switch to CNN and watch Wolf Blitzer (who looked like a man who had never seen the set he was trying to navigate) tick off the seconds to the closing of more polls like a crazed hoops fan counting down the final seconds of the MAC conference final. Every few minutes a familiar name would pop up on the crawl: Paterno (JoePa's son Scott, who lost his Congressional race in Pennsylvania), Bunning (Hall of Fame pitcher Jim, who was re-elected to the Senate), Osborne (former Nebraska coach Tom, who romped to re-election to the House), Ryun (Olympian Jim, who was re-elected to the House).

Larry King and Jeff Greenfield suggested that Bunning was "infallible" to many because he had pitched a perfect game. (And he might be; the guy said his opponent looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons, and he still won.) Yogi Berra was quoted. James Carville (and others) declared the election was going to be decided by whoever could win a best two-of-three contest in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- an early '80s NBA mini-series of politics, if you will.

NBC befouled the world's most famous ice skating rink in the name of democracy. And as we were reminded all night, the Electoral College is an arcane, confusing, math-heavy way to pick a winner, much like the BCS. So there was definitely enough going on to give even the most ardent sports fan something to relate to. Just as intriguing as seeing who'd win the big game -- er, election -- was seeing which network would come out on top. Apparently it's difficult to fill seven hours on TV, because the evening was filled with ridiculous moments.

• NBC: They painted a map on the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Democracy Plaza? Guys, let's hold off on renaming landmarks, okay? And if we are going to name a place Democracy Plaza, let's pick a location without a J. Crew.

• FOX: The network called its two hours of coverage "You Decide 2004." What a title. I guess "We really don't care. Whatever you want is fine by us. Really, you decide" was taken.

• CBS: Two words: Dan. Rather. "The Presidential race is swinging like Count Basie." "The race is humming along like Ray Charles." Fine simile, Dan. The race is humming along like a man who's been dead since June.

• CNN. They kept boasting about some sort of "spatial logic" technology. Hanging your hat on something so Star Trekky is never a good idea. Bonus points to Larry King for staying awake past midnight, though.

•  ABC. Didn't seem to do anything too ridiculous. As he was in The War Room, George Stephanopoulos was quite watchable. There's your winner in my book.

Marion Barry was elected to the District of Columbia City Council. One of the keys to his platform was his opposition to a stadium for the Expos, which underscores just how up-in-the-air that team's situation is. Albert Chen wrote about it yesterday, but let me throw in my two cents.

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MLB has screwed up this situation royally. The team has absolutely nothing. Its new offices are under construction, but I understand when they're built they'll be magnificent -- they're going to be trailers in the RFK Stadium parking lot. The team has no owner and a skeleton-staffed front office. How is that possible? MLB has known this team was moving for ages. Wouldn't you plan for things like having someone in place to pay the bills? Until they have an owner, which might not happen until after the start of the season, they can't hire a full-time GM, so they hired Jim Bowden yesterday. Don't bank on Bowden staying long -- he's got a job at ESPN he's hankering to get back to. He has no interest in keeping the job once the owners are in place. Way to give the people of Washington a go-getter!

Not that I blame Bowden, but what are fans supposed to think when the message from the team is: "Come on out to the old ballyard -- don't mind the mess and stay out of the trailers -- and see a team no one owns that was put together by a guy who'd rather not be here!" MLB has put itself in a serious jam, like a high school sophomore putting off a term paper on Edmund Spenser until the night before it's due and then trying to motor through The Faerie Queene.

How bad were the Nuggets in the first half last night? If Chris Mihm almost outscores you in the first quarter of your opener, you can take that as a bad omen for the season.

So this Jay-Z vs. R. Kelly feud is fascinating. Apparently someone from Jay-Z's entourage pepper-sprayed R. Kelly.

Speaking of feuds, just finished a good book called Gentlemen's Blood -- a history of dueling, written by Barbara Holland. It's a good thing Jay and R. didn't have this beef 500 years ago in Denmark. Then one of them might have to stand waist-deep in a pit with a club while the other circled and took swings with a stone in a leather sling.

That's it for now. From Democracy Plaza, I implore you to stay classy.

Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.

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