Friday, November 17, 2006

"Organized" Sports

I’m not a particularly neat person. My apartment is not tidy. Yet there is something about cleaning that I find very satisfying. This is a simple observation. But watch me take it world-widely: There is a certain part of me that wants to clean the entire world, especially those places that do not really belong to anyone, like highway the grass strip between highways (although prisoners sometimes clean these), or the grass growing in sidewalks.

A large part of my childhood was waiting for my mother to pick me up. After a game or a practice, I’d wait in the parking lot for my mother to arrive in her wood-panel station wagon. The waiting-for-mom places often had imperfections: A wood fence with a whole section missing and a worn path through the gap, a building’s foundation that had raised several feet above the earth, an edge of a parking lot that had become a collection of asphalt puzzle pieces. Being a kid and not understanding how ownership of public places worked, the decay of these areas left me feeling helpless. Who was responsible for the necessary repairs and improvements? Where was the accountability?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was starting quarterback for the second-best team in the state of Connecticut. The best team was a school named Xavier, and they wore all-black uniforms with a simple white “X” on their helmets. They didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. When the team arrived before a game, they exited the bus soundlessly. They each wore the hood on their black hooded sweatshirts up. All the teams that I’d been on had stragglers and jokesters and disorganization. I was always amazed and a little intimidated by Xavier. I knew their coach was in control of his team. His players had bought into his message. And I knew that they would be tougher to beat because of it.

The most intimidating fans are the ones that are organized. When thousands of people are shouting something in unison, it can be very convincing. Although I am not a fan of anything Duke, I did go to a Duke v. Davidson basketball game a few years ago and left amazed by how organized their fan-base was. As has been well reported, they stand the entire game and the crowd chants "clever" cheers in unison. I felt like someone must feel when they go to a Catholic mass for the first time. And this was against Davidson, not exactly a basketball powerhouse.

Tangentially, I disapprove of all in-game post-accomplishment celebration. When I see a post-touchdown/post-dunk/post-sack celebration, I can’t help but think that the coach of the offending athlete is not completely in control of his team. If I were a coach, I think to myself as Warren Sapp waggles his body in some absurd way after a sack, I wouldn’t allow these sorts of celebrations. Sapp-like celebrations communicate to the other team that your team is not on the same page. Your team is not the sort of team that repairs its broken asphalt or mends its fences, so to speak. Your team doesn’t believe in collective accountability. Your team is disorganized. And as a direct result, your team is not as intimidating or as good as it could be.


Musa D said...

Coaches know their players have to have fun or else they won't play as hard. Restricting celebrations more than the rules do is a dangerous idea; the coach puts himself on the side of the officials. Those celebrations are almost always group activities anyway. (Less so at the pro level, but those guys are doing a job for millions of dollars--usually much more than their coach. Pro coaches know not to bother with that sort of discipline. Their job is technical.)

DrGravitee said...

While I don't agree with your correlation between "fun" and "playing hard," that issue is largely irrelvant for the topic at hand. During the course of any sport season, if you have a good coach and good kids, fun will be had--especially if your team is winning. I'm sure Xavier had a very fun season: they had a great coach, nice kids (I was in driver's ed with some of them), and they won every game they played. What impressed me so much was how every player on that team knew when to put their game face on. This happened because the coach was able to connect with the leaders on the team, and the leaders on the team were able to communicate this message to everyone else. They came focused and ready to play. And when I looked around at my team, with Kurnack rubbing a dirty jockstrap into a freshman's hair thirty minutes before gametime, I knew we were already losing the game before it even started.

This has nothing to do with officials. This has to do with gaining that extra mental edge over your opponent. LT scored four (4) touchdowns last night (and four last week). After each one he jogged to the sidelines. I think this adds to his aura of invincibilty more than any celebration dance would have.

Anson Mountain said...

What we are not accounting for, perhaps with good reason, is the in-game pre-accomplishment celebration (high-stepping into the end zone). I suspect you feel the same way about this as you do the in-game post-accomplishment celebration.

DrGravitee said...

I had completely forgotten about the in-game pre-accomplishment celebration, perhaps because it seems to have diminished in popularity since Super Bowl XXVII when Don Beebe knocked the ball out of Leon Lett's hands at the one and then recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. (The Beebe play is the exact sort of thing that is fun to rewatch on YouTube, by the way.) Beebe, incidentally, holds the record number of Super Bowl appearance by any one player (6). Six Super Bowls in a nine-year career. Not bad.

The in-game pre-accomplishment celebration might slowly becoming the football equivalent of baseball's "don't steal when winning in a blow-out" type unwritten rule: you can do it, but the sport elders will throw at your head the next time you're up to bat.