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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Playing a sport or watching a sport, I think we must all agree, is one thing. Talking about a sport is something else again. It is a specialized activity, highly intricate, difficult to do well and hazardous. I was reminded of this the other day when, at a cocktail party in the country, close to where we live, one of the guests suddenly launched into a description of what you may (or may not) recognize when you read it to be the Williams-Amherst football game of 1948. No one had urged him to. He just did. "I remember that game as if it were yesterday," he said, and paused to let the room fall silent.
"There we were," he continued in a voice full of portent, "getting ready for the biggest game of the season. Both teams were pretty tense. I don't suppose anyone remembers which team was favored that year." He looked around the room. No one did. "Well," he went on, " Amherst was favored—very slightly favored. Still, though Lord Jeff was favored, all of us were ready to do our best for Old Eph. Well, kickoff time was approaching...."
For a while I studied the intricate tooled design on the toe of my shoe. When my attention finally wandered back to the man who was talking, I found that he was still in the first half.
"...and then, in the second quarter," he was saying, "Duffield aerialed to Cool, and Cool carried the ball to the one-inch line. The stands were going wild! Farmer carried it across! Then the Sabrinas came charging back. Well—with the help of some penalties and a couple of smart passes—they pushed over, too, for their first score. But the Jeffs failed to convert. So the score, at the half time, was Eph 7, Jeff 6...."
As the fellow's voice droned on, I glanced about the room. Faces were fixed patiently and politely on him for the most part; only here and there did I spot a surreptitious yawn. But over all the group there had crept a curious tiredness, a kind of leadenly waiting lassitude, a sense of resignation and of never-mind-it-will-be-over-in-a-while. I realized that what we had all encountered here was another of the many species of sports bores. And I decided (my mind journeying farther and farther away from the details of that insignificant contest on the long-ago gridiron) that at this beleaguered New Year's season—a time of resolutions and promises—a good thing might be to learn how to spot a sports bore and, having spotted him, to learn either how to get away from him or roadblock him before he starts indulging in his favorite activity.
It is not easy. There are, to begin with, many different kinds of sports bores in addition to the type described above who specializes in play-by-play descriptions of decade-old football games. There is a second type, for instance, who begins every sports anecdote with a detailed run-through of the rules of the game. He feels that it is important—since his story concerns baseball—that you understand how baseball is played, with three bases, a home plate, a catcher who catches, a pitcher who pitches and so on. As he passes meticulously through the pages of the rule book you may be sure you have spotted a bore of the first order.
There is a third type, however, whose approach is less obvious—by which I mean he is on you before you have had a chance to realize what is happening. This is the type who acts out the plays, and all at once there he is crouched on the carpet, calling out signals, or rolling over against the coffee table under the force of an imaginary tackle, or carrying the ball yard by yard into the dining room. As a sort of sideline, this fellow is quite apt to supply sound effects that are intended to add realism to his performance. He will simulate crowd noises, cheers, pants, groans, bones crackling, with varying degrees of success.
Type Four is the familiar type who tells you what you just saw. Up to now, we have been talking about people who describe incidents and events that, supposedly, the listener knows relatively little about. More perplexing—and just as deadly—is the person who provides a running commentary on the game while you are watching it, on the assumption that your senses are unavoidably focused elsewhere as you sit beside him (or in back of him or in front of him or three seats across from him) in the stadium. "That's Smith," he tells you as Smith gets the ball. "He's got the ball." Smith starts down the field. "There he goes," your informant explains, and then, when they get Smith on the 20-yard line, he says, "They got him." A sort of subcategory of Type Four is the fellow who tells you all about the game you have both just seen as you leave the stadium and are most concerned about remembering where you parked your car.
A fifth type is the arguer over small, technical points. Occasionally he disputes some tiny point of play, but most often he finds himself in disagreement with a piece of equipment: the mechanical scoreboard, for example, has registered a score that differs from his own; the machine that photographs the finish of a horse race is not as accurate as his eye. This type is also apt to be a statistical bore, too, and it would be a wise thing to beware of him and his statistics. "I suppose you knew that back in 1910, which was the first year of the World Series—when the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Boston Red Sox by a score of 7-5, thanks to two home runs by Kuminsky—the official dimensions of the diamond were only 70 by 70 instead of 110 by 110," said one of these fellows to me the other day.
"Oh, sure, I knew that," I said airily, trembling slightly from the impact of the statistical barrage. I had, of course, fallen a victim to the statistical bore's commonest weapon. He knew that I did not know, and was confident that unless I went to the trouble to check I would never discover that his statistics were not authentic, and that there was no one named Kuminsky.