Thursday, July 30

The 10 Best Sporting Events to See Live OR: Rick Reilly Has Weird Taste in Sports

In a column that ESPN paid him roughly 4.5 billion euros to pen for their website, Rick Reilly lists and defends an arbitrary collection of sport-ish gatherings that he calls the 10 best sporting events to see live. I'm really, really not a fan of Reilly's, and this list certainly confirms why. Out of the 10 we have:

- 1 exhibition event
- 1 dog sled race
- 2 golf tournaments
- A non-playoff baseball game
- A sailing race
- A bicycling race
- A non-NCAA tournament college basketball game
- A tennis tournament
- A horse race

It's almost like these were chosen at random - either that, or maximal annoyance of me. Why would you want to attend a golf tournament or a sailing race? It's so ridiculous that I feel the need to pick on Reilly's specious reasons for selecting them.

10. Home Run Derby -- Better than the All-Star Game because it's never ended in a tie. Besides, it's everything real baseball is not. Guys swing at every pitch. Every third ball is a souvenir. And you don't have to wait 45 seconds while Nomar Garciaparra re-Velcros his entire uniform between pitches.
Having not ended in a tie doesn't make it better than anything. That doesn't in any way speak to its quality as an event. Maybe it's fun in person (?), but I watched it on TV this year and it was really dull. Also, is Garciaparra still in the league? Is this from 2001?

9. Iditarod -- Whenever somebody tells me the Iditarod is cruel to dogs, I answer, "I agree, the dogs left at home." You should hear them howl when they're not picked for the team. This is the hardest event to watch. I once had to bribe an ex-Vietnam pilot to fly me to a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, where we landed in a half-plowed field and were picked up by an Inuit on a snowmobile pulling a sled. Try to be in Nome at the end. One bar almost always has a ladies' arm wrestling contest. Trust me, you'd lose.
This doesn't make any sense the second time through, either.

8. Ryder Cup -- Where else can you witness multimillionaires nearly hurling over three-foot gimmes with nothing more at stake than pride and some very ugly shirts? Unlike other golf tournaments, every shot matters every day, for better or worse.
I dunno, can't you see that at any rich, private golf course?

7. Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway -- There's no better place in baseball than Fenway, which is like playing in your grandmother's attic. The Green Monster isn't an architect's precious quirk; it was the only way to shoehorn the place onto the available land. And Fenway is filled with people who don't need giant clapping hands on the scoreboard to know when to cheer.
Why is one's grandmother's attic a good place to play baseball? Weird comparison. Do grandmothers have differently-sized attics? I suppose this is one I'd like to attend, even though I despise both clubs, but I think any playoff game automatically trumps it.

6. America's Cup -- You need a good Chris-Craft to see it, but if you can't bum a seat on one, who cares? The pub scene alone is priceless. Endlessly thirsty crew members, billionaires in dorky captain's hats, diamond-dripping cougars, all elbowing each other out at the bar. Bring an extra liver.
The pub scene where, in the ocean? I fail to see how rich people at a bar make this the 6th best sporting event in the world to see live.

5. Tour de France -- Like trying to get to 20 Super Bowls in 23 days, but worth it. Pick a climbing stage, bring friends and a bike, ride the course in the morning before the race (you're allowed), have lunch in a hamlet atop some exquisite Alp, watch the heart-skipping finish, have a bottle of Bordeaux, spend the night, bike down in the morning. Rinse and repeat.
Funny he makes the Super Bowl comparison and then weirdly leaves the SB off the list. Not only does this plan sound completely infeasible, but since when are the finishes of bicycle races ever close?

4. North Carolina vs. Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Fans pulling the hair of Tar Heels players as they inbound the ball; students camping out for months in K-Ville for tix; the hilarious chants from the Crazies, who once yelled at Grant Hill's parents, "One more kid!"; public school vs. private; an electricity that makes the Final Four and its corporate crowd seem like a three-day seminar on bunions.
Bunions? This would be a fun one to go to, though again I'd prefer a tournament game. Do they really pull hair? That seems unsportsmanlike.

3. Wimbledon -- There's nothing in America within a par-5 of it. It's a Windsor Castle garden party with grunting. It's queens and cobblers, cheek to cheek, over grounds so huge it would take you and your Toro a month to mow. It's a phantasmagoria of color -- greens and purples and yellows -- and that's just Bud Collins' pants.
Hilarious pant joke aside, are the games fun to attend? He never addresses this, and it seems like a lot of time in the sun, and the tournament takes forever.

2. Kentucky Derby -- My life's aspiration was to be Damon Runyon, and the Derby is as close as I'll get. With its wooden stands, elegant barns, men in seersucker suits and women in hats you could land an F-14 on, it's 1927 everywhere you look. Don't miss the fillies the day before in the Kentucky Oaks or the Barnstable Brown Gala or the awful race-day breakfast at Wagner's Pharmacy, across from Gate 3. If you hear a tip there, book it, because everyone around you is a trainer, an owner or a groom.
Damon Runyan, another reference that resonates with today's readers. I've heard from friends that this event is fun, so I'll let it slide even though it's a 2-minute horse race.

1. Masters -- Sneak into the clubhouse for the peach cobbler and steal into the Eisenhower Cabin, where some paintings are actually by Eisenhower. Do the par-3 tourney Wednesday and Arnie's first tee shot Thursday; see the droop-shouldered cut players driving out Magnolia Lane Friday, Amen Corner Saturday and golf history Sunday. Because Augusta already has most of the money printed in America, it has not sold out an inch. There are no ads, just flowers. No luxury boxes, just $1.50 egg salad sandwiches. Timeless.
Just two entries ago, Reilly said there was nothing in America within a par-5 of Wimbledon (an odd mixed metaphor), and now he awards the top spot to an American golf course largely on the basis of cheap sandwiches?

Reilly wrote later that he received a lot of critical mail on this piece, and deservedly so. He even wrote a shorter post about five events about which many people inquired: why'd you leave this off? For example, you may have noticed that none of the championships of the 4 major North American sports (college or pro) made his list.

1) The Super Bowl. It's too hyped, too over produced and crammed with too many people who have absolutely nothing to do with football to make any top-10 list. Unless you really think Super Bowl weekend is the place to stage the premier of Barbershop 2, which actually happened. Half the celebs and a third of the corporate suits at it can't name a single player on either team. Most people leave Saturday. The worm now officially eats the bird.
I hate, hate, hate it when people call the Super Bowl "too hyped." It's the biggest fucking game in American sports - should we downplay it? Stay low-key? He was all about the bar scene at the America's Cup - aren't there pre-Super Bowl parties? This is the most inexcusable omission on his list, and what's more, he knows it and seems to be smugly defiant at leaving it off.

2) The World Series. Because baseball is so greedy, the World Series now often doesn't end until Halloween, which means you find yourself sitting in Busch stadium around Nov. 1, freezing your redbird off, not really caring who beats whom, just hoping you can get out of there before your tongue sticks permanently to your frozen beer.
1) Please explain the "greedy" accusation further. 2) If you sat in Busch Stadium last year, you definitely were "not really caring who beats whom," because the Cardinals didn't play, and 3) people watch football games in Buffalo in December, so suck it up. It's the World Series!

3) The Olympics. They're just much, much, much better on TV. Any Olympics. On TV, the men's ski jumping is 30 seconds away from the women's figure skating. In real life, it's two overpriced tickets, four Tylenol and a three-hour bus ride with a Japanese photographer asleep on your shoulder the whole way. Fun for a weekend, but then go home and watch it on your plasma.
I don't doubt that they're better on TV, but aren't a lot of other things? Can't you follow a golf tournament a lot easier on TV, or the Tour de France? That latter one sounded like a real hassle when he described it - now a bus ride is too much? Personally, I'd love to be there for some of the track and field events. If the Kentucky Derby made this list, couldn't the men's 100m final, for instance?

4) The BCS Championship Game. Until we get a playoff, it's a pointless exercise, like covering a Cuban election.
Whether you prefer a playoff or not, it's not "pointless." It decides the championship of a major collegiate sport. The Cuban election thing is a typically forced Reilly metaphor, and an inapt one. It's hard for me to grasp how a one-party rigged election is like two of the best (if not the two best) college football teams in the nation battling for a championship.

5) Soccer. I've had hundreds of emails telling me I'm despicable for not picking Barca v. Real Madrid (Spain); Boca Juniors v. River Plate (Buenos Aires); and Rangers F.C. v. Celtic F.C. (Glasgow), along with a few hundred other rivalries in The Beautiful Fake an Injury Like Your Achilles Just Snapped Game. One guy wrote: "River-Boca fans shoot each other on the streets!" Whoa, cool! Can you get me two up front?
Soccer sucks - I'm with you here, Rick!


Ernest said...

Wow, you sold me Andy! I was formerly just lukewarm on Reilly, but now I can see what a terrible lazy hack he is.

Despite his devotion to all teams Boston and the fact that I hate ESPN, I do like Bill Simmons as a sort-of alternative to Reilly. He's a genuinely good and funny writer.

Nick said...

This list just seems random. I feel like even the most marginal sports fan could fake it and put something respectable together just by choosing the biggest events for each sport.

Home run derby is dumb. Iditarod would mostly just be cold. If you're going to go to Augusta or a major tournament at another signature course (which would make my list, probably) like a Pebble Beach, you might as well skip the Ryder Cup. America's Cup does nothing for me.

Tour de France would be cool for about 15 minutes. Duke/UNC at CIS is a good call. Wimbledon and the Kentucky Derby are supposed to both be alot of fun, in spite of how dumb horse racing is.

The Super Bowl would be cool just for the atmosphere, although the game and crowd often both disappoint. I'll even give him the World Series (if my team isn't in it, I don't really care), BCS title game (college football doesn't come close to the NFL for me), and soccer (boring, annoying/condescending fans), but I would love to go to the Olympics. It doesn't take much for me to get behind anything where I can start a "U-S-A" chant.

John said...

I don't see myself as hostile towards psuedo sports as Andy, but he's right on most of this stuff.

Seeing a sporting event live should be about the sporting event. Otherwise call the article best sport events destinations or something like that.

So many sporting events are improved for at least 40% of the fans by seeing it on TV.

Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

The facts show that the Iditarod is terribly cruel to dogs. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod. Two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team froze to death in the brutally cold winds. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite of the penis and scrotum, bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race. No one knows how many dogs die after this tortuous ordeal or during training. For more facts about the Iditarod, visit the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, .

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,