When sports and politics collide (cont.)
It was no accident that on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama was introduced by her big brother, Craig Robinson, now the men's hoops coach at Oregon State. (He interrupted his brief address to bay at the rafters, "Go Beavers!")
Before bringing out his little sister, Robinson delivered a scouting report on his famous brother-in-law, the first guy off the bench on the Punahou (Honolulu) School's 1979 state champion basketball team: "He's confident but not cocky. He'll take the shot if he's open. He's a team player who improves the people around him, and he won't back down from any challenge."
It was Youtube gold for his campaign when Obama drained a three-pointer -- on his first shot -- in a Kuwaiti gym crammed with U.S. troops in July. But it was obvious to me, in a phone interview with the candidate last spring, that his passion for hoops transcends political expediency. The same could be said, for that matter, for Bush's attachment to his mountain bike, and for Richard Nixon's legendary football jones.
In one of the more surreal passages in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72, Hunter S. Thompson recalls a one-hour drive up Interstate 93 in New Hampshire. The year was 1968. For the duration of that journey, the author sat in the backseat of a barge-like Mercury sedan with Nixon, talking football. (Eavesdropping in the front seat: a youthful, pugnacious speechwriter and future MSNBC panelist, Pat Buchanan).
Thompson was invited to ride along on the condition that he discuss only football with the candidate. Despite Nixon's occasional gridiron allusions on the stump, the Gonzo author recounted, "it never occurred to me that he actually knew anything more about football than he knew about the Grateful Dead. But I was wrong. Whatever else might be said about Nixon -- and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for a Human -- he is a god damn stone fanatic on every facet of pro football."
There was Olbermann last Wednesday night, giving Obama ups as a bona fide NFL fan because the Senator refers to the site of his acceptance speech not as Invesco Field -- its proper, if widely despised, corporate appellation -- but by its old-school handle, Mile High.
A former sports anchor, Olbermann is very much at home at the intersection of sports and politics. Yet it was Matthews, his manic sidekick, who did the most to pull the evening's events into the sporting arena. This happened during his sign-off with McAuliffe, who'd long since lost his voice. Ever considerate, Matthews offered this medical advice:
"Get some steroids."