Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You

Raise your hand if 1) you watched the BCS Championship Game, 2) watched more than a few plays here or there of any bowl game and 3) recognize that college football has done everything it can to produce its most legitimate national champion.

TigerBlog's hand is down.

College football is in a weird place, because unlike any other major pro or college sport, it has the regular-season that matters most and by far the worst postseason.

The litmus test would be if you were to start completely from scratch. Say there was no postseason in the NFL, Major League Baseball, Division I football and basketball and you were tasked with coming up with one. Would you come up with one that:

A) selected a certain number of teams and had some form of elimination tournament, perhaps rewarding those teams that had done the best during the regular season with home games or byes?

B) schedule one meaningless game after another, with names that are even more confusing, with little to guide the casual fan as to what games are relevant and with no reward to the winner, while ultimately deciding the championship in a single game between teams that are chosen through a combination of computer rankings (the genesis of which are not made public) and two human polls (which scream conflict of interest)? Oh, and you'd wait five, six, seven weeks before you'd play these games?

Right, it'd be A.

The games just before the BCS Championship Game matched Arkansas State and Northern Illinois in the godaddy.com Bowl and SMU and Pitt in the BBCA Compass Bowl. Anyone know where those games were played (Birmingham and Mobile)? This is what the entire bowl season builds to?

TB used to love the bowls on Jan. 1. This year, he probably watched less than 30 total minutes of every postseason football game combined.

The NFL playoffs? Now that's a different story.

And though TB didn't get to watch much this weekend, he did see the last four minutes and the overtime (all 11 seconds of it) of the Denver-Pittsburgh game.

So what to make of Tim Tebow?

As TB was driving in this morning, he was listening to "Boomer And Carton" on WFAN as they talked about, what else, Tim Tebow. Carton made the point that so many make about Tebow, that they're turned off to him because he seems like he's too over the top with his religious side and that it has to be phony.

Why is this?

It's because of just how conditioned everybody is to being let down by their heroes, especially in sports. In fact, TB is pretty sure that this has helped the rise of trashy reality TV, because it's so up-front about horrific behavior that there is no chance of being let down.

Between steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, arrests, drunk-driving, fathering children with many different women, texting explicit pictures of themselves and on and on and on, it's not easy to have a sports hero these days. And it doesn't seem to matter who it is, how pristine they seem to be - nobody seems to be immune.

Could you have predicted, as such, what would happen with Joe Paterno?

The lyrics that Simon and Garfunkel wrote so long ago in the song "Mrs. Robinson" ring so true today - "where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Maybe Tebow is more Joe DiMaggio than God. Maybe he just gives the general public a chance to see someone who can excel without being a jerk about it, without having such a flawed character. And, because society is so cynical, there are large portions of the public who can't let that be and therefore need to either question its sincerity or simply attack it.

The Daily Princetonian had a column a few weeks ago about the way that the media and the general public view Ivy League grads in the NFL.

The crux of the column is that it's impossible to read about, say, Ryan Fitzpatrick without reading about the fact that he went to Harvard or scored so high on the intelligence test given to prospective NFL players.

The conclusion is drawn that there is a wide-ranging sense that these athletes have achieved the level of success they have as much for their mental skills as their physical. Somehow, the average fan thinks, Ryan Fitzpatrick has become an NFL quarterback because he has figured out how to manipulate the game on a metaphysical level - like the young chicken in the "Foghorn Leghorn" cartoons.

The reality is that intelligence is a valuable tool in sports, but to be a professional athlete, you have to have the raw talent.

For TB's money, the reason that Fitzpatrick is always mentioned in the same breath as his alma mater is the same that Tebow is such a polarizing figure.

It's unique.

In a world where the average professional athlete comes across as a spoiled, pampered, anti-social jerk, it's nice to see someone who presumably doesn't fit that mold. That's why they stand out.

They're normal-ish.

It's one of TB's favorite parts about being at Princeton and in the Ivy League. The athletes are NOT jerks.

They play hard and the games are important to them. They have their chippy moments. Some are here almost exclusively because it was the only place that recruited them.

But they're still not jerks. It's not all me-first showboating. It's not all trying to come up with the most unsportsmanlike response to every situation. It's not an endless series of whining, complaining, lack of hustle, self-congratulatory nonsense that plagues professional sports.

So good for Tim Tebow. And Ryan Fitzpatrick.

But also remember that society has gotten to this point, where not being a jerk can be celebrated as a differentiating characteristic.

It's a bit sad, actually.


Anonymous said...

"It's one of TB's favorite parts about being at Princeton and in the Ivy League. The athletes are jerks."

Might want to fix that line.

TigerBlog said...

Ah, good catch. Yes, TB meant to say NOT jerks. The correction has been made. Thanks again. Corrections are always welcome.