The sporting chance

This weekend was the first one since the Super Bowl where I had the opportunity or inclination to park my butt in front of the TV to watch some sports. My butt didn’t necessarily stay there, though.

Friday night, for example, I didn’t turn the set on until pretty late in the evening. I did some quick channel-surfing and came across the Big Ten channel with six minutes left in the Gophers-Indiana game in the Big Ten Men’s Tournament. I hadn’t watched much of the Gophs this season, but I knew the names of the players and that senior center Spencer Tollackson was out of the game with a sprained ankle. Given the team’s history in recent years and the fact they were missing their big man, I was surprised to see that the Gophers were leading. Not-so-surprisingly, they went into epileptic chicken mode, letting the Hoosiers hang around and eventually take the lead with 1.5 seconds left. The way they put Indiana at the foul-line twice with less than five seconds left was shocking only if you hadn’t once watched the football team mishandle a punt snap a couple of years ago to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the closing seconds of a conference game.

Friday night, anyway, I had noticed that freshman shooting specialist and ESPY-winner (for famously hitting a last-second, game-winning shot from the seat of his pants in high school) Blake Hoffarber wasn’t in the game. Not having followed the team closely I didn’t know if it was because of other deficiencies in his game, but when Tubby Smith called timeout and sent Hoffarber in with less than two seconds left I figured there was no way you could ask the kid to come off the bench cold and take a shot to win the game. Absurd. So there I was, sprawled on the couch as the long throw-in crossed mid-court and went into a tangle of arms and bodies, only to deflect into Hoffarber’s hands with just enough time for him to turn and shot-put a left-handed shot at the rim — where it disappeared along with the breath of every Hoosier fan in the Fieldhouse. As for myself, I found myself totally and automatically levitated from the couch while a loud “D’oh!” was yanked uncontrollably from my lips. It was a magical and exciting moment and I had witnessed it with my own eyes!

Then this afternoon I turned on Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational shortly after Tiger Woods had separated himself from the other leaders on the front nine. I stuck with the event through the afternoon as Tiger looked as if he was going to run away with it until he inexplicably took a page from my game and three-putted from six feet on number 10. The rest of the tournament was tense as several people stayed in contention until finally a relatively unknown pro forged a tie with the Great One and headed for the scorer’s tent as Tiger prepared to assault Bay Hill’s challenging finishing hole, ultimately leaving himself with a 25-foot downhill slider of a putt to win the tournament. This time I was on the edge of the couch, both feet on the floor, elbows on knees, leaning forward toward the set as the putt started on its long, slow, curving patch before dropping into the cup in much the same way my briefcase hits the floor when I come home from a long day’s work.

Rather than levitating, however, I flopped backwards, hands on my forehead at what I’d just seen, nearly unnerved by the fact that someone like Tiger Woods now strides the earth.

For all the excesses and scandals in pro and “amateur” sports these days that can leave you jaded, it’s great to not only remember but experience the sheer drama and unscripted displays of skill and will that ultimately make our games so compelling.

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