This certainly is not the best time to be a sports fan, is it?
Apologies for starting this column on a selfish note. Yes, I realize people around the world are dealing with a dangerous illness that doctors and health care agencies are still struggling to fully understand, much less control and eradicate. People are dying from COVID-19, so complaining about how it has ruined sports can seem petty.
Having said that, I understand how losing sports at this time of year can be difficult. I do feel for those who were crushed by the premature end of the high school basketball season, and I share the hole in our lives created by the loss of events such as March Madness, the NBA and NHL seasons, and spring training baseball.
To address those feelings, I have a few suggestions to fill the void in our sporting world.
One is to watch “classic” sporting events on TV. I recently spoke with a younger friend who had a huge list of NCAA tournament games he would like to rewatch. We quickly learned our lists were wildly different; he was interested in recent NCAA games, and I wanted to revisit what I call “vintage” games such as Larry Bird’s Indiana State vs. Magic Johnson’s Michigan State for the 1979 title or the improbable title won by Villanova in 1986.
And yes, I’ll admit it: “Vintage” could be a synonym for “old.” Watching those games from 40 years ago can be a lesson on how the games have changed, not to mention the way televised sports has changed, which will hit you like a bracing slap in the face.
And speaking of “vintage” ideas, here’s another one for you: Read a book. There are so many classic sports books out there I could give myself a hernia carrying them all from my house to yours, but here are a few worth reading – or rereading, because they are so good:
• “A Civil War” by John Feinstein, which looks at the football rivalry between Army and Navy. You’ll never look at college rivalries the same way.
• “Three Days in August” by Buzz Bissinger or “Nine Innings” by Daniel Okrent, an older book that takes a similar look at the inner workings of baseball.
• Bissinger also authored a terrific look at high school football titled “Friday Night Lights.”
• “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis. While some of the facts in the book have not aged well – most notably the praise for Oakland’s 2002 draft class – the concept of using statistical measures to unearth hidden gems has taken the entire sports world by storm. And this book played a huge role in that maelstrom.
Speaking of statistics, here’s another way to enjoy “sports” while the games are not being played: sports simulation games. Those of us who are of a certain vintage remember classic baseball games such as “APBA” or “Strat-O-Matic,” and younger readers certainly remember “Tecmo Bowl,” or “Madden Football,” right?
These games give fans a chance to show they could do the job better than the manager or head coach. After all, it’s easy to create a dynasty like the Patriots, right? Well, play a game like “Football Mogul” and find out how “easy” it is. And the best way to understand how important a general manager is to the success of a baseball franchise is to play a game like “Out of the Park” and try to construct a World Series champion.
Playing these games also provides an opportunity to experience the anger of fans who dislike one of your trades or are angered by your decision not to resign their favorite player because their salary demands are too great. Recently I’ve been playing a game called “Football Chairman,” and I cannot figure out how to avoid relegation after I reach the third rung in the ladder. Needless to say, the fans of my team are not very happy with me as a general manager.
If you would rather not put in that much effort, I would suggest visiting a site called What If Sports. There you can match teams of any sort – teams from the past or dream teams of your own creation – and see how they would fare in head-to-head competition.
For example, I went to whatifsports.com and replayed the 1987 American League playoff series between the Twins and Detroit Tigers. Not that I hold a grudge, but “What If Sports” determined the Tigers would win seven straight games between the two teams. OK, I’ll admit that I’m still holding a grudge.
To relieve that stress, I rely on one other option that breaks up the monotony of having no sports: Working out.
Not having games to watch means I do have some free time available to walk, and I’m trying to pound the pavement when the weather permits. Exercise is a must for good health, whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally.
Friends, be smart about this and make sure you don’t do too much. But do something.
And young athletes should take this opportunity to improve their game even though team practices are not allowed. You don’t need a group to practice your jump shot, to bang tennis balls against a brick wall, or take a training run around the block to increase your endurance.
That practice will help you improve, and that will help you be better when sports return. And I hope you share the faith I have that, sometime soon, our sports will return.