Small-town high school football losses on Friday night are especially devastating, often tearful. The scene after NFL games is usually a jovial meet-and-greet. Weeping on the hardwood after NCAA March Madness games is not something you see in the NBA, where players from opposing teams openly flaunt their friendships as more important than traditional rivalries among their teams. Professional maturity is one thing, but if you're a little boy you might wonder how hard LeBron was really trying.
It does not help when preening sports analysts brag about their playing days. The now-ubiquitous sports media seems not only self-referential but also bloated, having stuffed itself with experts. In fact, a culture of disdain for journalism has been evolving among these ex-players, who find traditional reporting mean-spirited and its skills remedial. After all, it's so easy; they just stepped right into it after their playing days. Plus, they make a lot more money than that schmo at the paper. And why are journalists always so negative? This is only a slight caricature.
And when it comes to caricatures, what about those spoiled millionaire NBA players and greedy owners, now in their 21st week of negotiation? As Mickey Mantle once put it: "I don't care who you are, you hear those boos."
WHAT COULD be less important than a football game, what could be more... .
Senior writer Kelli Anderson was a 20-year-old junior and on the field with the Stanford band for "the Play" at the 1982 Big Game at Cal. It wasn't the Play itself but its aftermath that stays with Anderson, particularly the extreme emotions sports can stir in otherwise rational people.
From her vantage point in the end zone, the Play unfolded like this: After a Stanford kickoff with four seconds left, time ran out with the Cardinal ahead 20--19. Anderson followed other musicians onto the field in celebration. ("Woohoo! Road trip to a bowl in Birmingham!") Suddenly people were turning around and running back, Cal football players at their heels. After Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell was flattened by Cal's Kevin Moen in the end zone, giving Cal a still-controversial 25--20 win, Anderson was among the many wandering around the field asking, "What the hell just happened?" John Elway stalked by, his face like stormy weather, his Heisman campaign and final college game ruined. Anderson remembers looking at a row of Stanford fans (you can practically touch fans from the field at Memorial Stadium) and seeing not confusion and disappointment but anger—hatred, even—directed at her and her bandmates. One fan hissed obscenities at a tiny blonde piccolo player: "You just f------ lost the game for us!"
Across the field Cal fans, the beneficiaries of the band's alleged screwup, "flipped us off," Anderson says. "Once we slunk back to the Stanford campus more than a little afraid—most of us pulled off identifying hats and jackets on the bus ride home—we got more of the same. A 10-year-old boy waited for us in the parking lot just to loudly berate us. This was not a fan base noted for its passion, and this was not a game with all that much on the line aside from rivalry bragging rights and a second-tier bowl bid. Still, the vitriol was thick."
As ugly as some emotions were immediately after the game, better ones emerged with time. Moen and Tyrrell were thrown together in so many Play anniversary events that they became good friends. "Even John Elway got over his bitterness and finally was able to laugh about it," Anderson says.
"It just took him 25 years."