Even though the actual holiday is behind us, I intend to keep going through the rest of YESvember with the list of Things I'm Thankful For in 2012, or what I now like to call BLOAT 2012, though in 2010 I called it LOFTY. Hope everyone had a filling and fun-filled Turkey Day. We did. It was fun. Bennett and Carter have both seemed to enjoy the time with family too, and I certainly can't complain about that. Bennett has had some minor behavioral instances, but only minor.
These aren't in any order as far as importance, I just wrote them as they came to me.
#40 - Sports Rivalries
I know, I know...this is the post that will probably be skimmed or entirely skipped by many, including Elizabeth and Claire and others. Though perhaps that should be reconsidered, since this does go slightly beyond sport and beyond football if you stick with it.
But then again, that is a reflection of me and how I tend to view many things or how I tend to absorb many things, in a very personal and emotional way. For me, my love of football is based on much more than the fact that it is a terrific sport. It is based on a lot of its history, its character, its emotional components and many of its intangibles that transcend the actual sport itself.
And nothing helps to define that transcendence than the classic 'rivalry' that often springs forth in many sports across our cultures and across our different sports.
Whether we are talking about Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Redskins vs. Cowboys, Auburn vs. Alabama or the 80's Celtics vs. Lakers, there is an intensity and passion to the sports rivalry that ups the ante for both sides that makes that game or games something very, very special.
I picked this subject because as I write this I am watching The Game, as it is called here in Columbus, Ohio. Always the last game of the season, it is one of the top five sports rivalries of all time...Michigan vs. Ohio State.
This town changes this week. There is just something in the air. I can't explain it. It is crazy. But it is a helluva lot of fun. It is NOT fun, though, if Ohio State loses.
But hey, that is the nature of a true rivalry. Ohio State could go 0-11, but as long as they beat Michigan this town will consider the season a salvaged one. However, if the Buckeyes go 11-0, as they have done this year, and they lose this game, the season will NOT be considered a success. PERIOD.
By some. Not by me. But I am less invested in college football than I am in the NFL. And I have only lived here since 2006. Well I did live here from 1997 to 2000, so I guess cumulatively I have lived in Columbus around 9-10 years total.
Perhaps after a while I will feel differently? Ya never know.
#39 - 30 for 30
I learned just how warped the passions of a fan could get in a sports rivalry a couple of nights ago when I watched an episode of the ESPN documentary series called 30 for 30 on Netflix. The episode was called Roll Tide/War Eagle and was all about the rivalry between Auburn University Tigers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Here's a quick summary of the episode from the ESPN website.
There are many great rivalries in sports: Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State, North Carolina-Duke. But they don't compare to the venomous and consuming in-state college football rivalry that is Alabama-Auburn. With no pro sports, the state of Alabama centers around one game in the year: The annual meeting between the two universities called the 'Iron Bowl'. And you could not script what has transpired in the state in the past two years.
30 for 30 is great documentary television, not just great sports documentary television. Some fantastic renowned directors tackle subjects they are passionate about. And what is extra-special about that is the fact that where there are sports, there is passion.
The show currently airs on ESPN, and of course you can catch older episodes on Netflix. One of my favorite episodes, if not my absolute favorite, is The Band That Wouldn't Die, directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson, about the Baltimore Colts marching band, that never broke up after the Colts left town in the middle of the night in 1984 and how their unbridled passion was, no pun intended, instrumental in Baltimore getting a new NFL franchise.
#38 - Steve Sabol and NFL Films
Speaking of sports documentaries, I would be remiss if I didn't express my ultimate gratitude to NFL Films and most especially to Steve Sabol, who took over as president of NFL films after his father Ed passed away but was also one of its founders. Tragically, Steve Sabol passed away this year. On September 18th he lost his battle with, of all things, a brain tumor. Sucks.
It is hard to put into words just how much of an impact NFL Films had on me, especially as a kid, shaping how I felt about the sport. In those days there was no real source of back data like there is today. There was no internet. No blogs. There were books of course. But the only real media access of things from days gone by was to be found by watching documentary television that you could find on a very few select channels.
I remember how great it was on Super Bowl Sunday to watch all the 30 minute specials showing all the previous Super Bowls, shot on film, many with the deep baritone voice of John Facenda (often nicknamed 'the Voice of God') and scored with actual orchestral music (that I actually still listen to today).
It's sort of a chicken and egg thing. I don't know if it was the Sabols and NFL Films that shaped my perceptions of sport as dramatic presentation, or if it actually IS that and NFL Films was keyed into it as many of us are and that is why it is such a successful entity. Who know? Who cares?
All I do know is that I still watch a TON of stuff that NFL Films makes, and always will. They are THE kings of the sports documentary.
#37 - A Football Life/America's Game
Arguably the crown jewels of the modern era of NFL Films are two programs. One is America's Game, the other is A Football Life. I could have listed both as separate things on the list, but they are both similar in nature and so I am putting them both together.
Both are NFL documentary shows, with America's Game focusing on Super Bowl Championship Teams, and A Football Life focusing on an individual and their life and impact both inside and outside the NFL.
America's Game started with two seasons, since Super Bowl Championship Teams were obviously a limited resource to draw from. They then added a third, smaller season called America's Game: The Missing Rings, which showcased fantastic teams that came DAMN close to winning the Super Bowl but did not. That was a great little series, because it was fascinating to see that particular perspective. And of course every season they add an episode to the overall series with the latest Super Bowl Championship Team.
The format is great. They have a narrator who does standard documentary style presentation of the information you are watching, interspersed with interviews with 3-4 key people from the team. For example, and I am picking this simply because it is the episode I have watched the most, in the episode of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens the credits say 'as told by' Brian Billick, Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis. That's the Head Coach, the Quarterback and the future hall-of-fame Middle Linebacker.
A Football Life is much more of a traditional documentary format, and focuses on a single individual, in MOST cases. I say MOST because they have deviated from that and done a couple of fascinating episodes like Cleveland '95, about the year Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, or The Fearsome Foursome, about the lives of Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams.
The best episodes, though, focus on individuals and their lives, especially how their lives go beyond the gridiron. Like the episode about Kurt Warner that showcased his relationship with his disabled stepson, or the more recent episode about Ohio State alumni Chris Spielman and his wife's battle with breast cancer and how he had to make the transition from linebacker to national spokesman for her foundation.
Both series are spectacular, because both show that behind the hits, behind the frivolity that you often see focused on each Sunday, these are human beings with real lives that are often more interesting than the game itself.
Well...at least AS interesting. :)
#36 - The Baltimore Raven's Continued Excellence
Living so close to Cleveland makes you learn how to appreciate a team that keeps winning. And to hopefully not take it for granted. EVER.
I always feel bad for the city of Cleveland.
The Indians and their struggles. That whole LeBron James thing. And then there's the fact that the Ravens are the Browns reshaped and reforged.
I have seen what that does to people first-hand. In 1984 I was only a junior in high school, and I cared way more about how in the world I was going to use what God gave me to make out with a girl than the NFL. I did see around me how people who were already getting some got totally destroyed when the Mayflower trucks pulled out of Owings Mills, MD in the middle of the night.
They were devastated. For YEARS. Had the Colts gone to Indiana and then won a Super Bowl right after that? It probably would have just been that much worse.
Baltimore's wounds have healed up a lot now since the Ravens have put a consistent winner on the field, especially lately. Hopefully, with the Brown's new owner, Cleveland will get a chance to get a whole lot better too. I don't mind. I like competition. The Ravens vs. Steelers rivalry is blossoming into one of the best of the modern day sports rivalries, and I've already gone into how much I like rivalries. I certainly would not mind seeing another AFC North rivalry brew up.
In the meantime, I'll just be grateful that I get to root for a team again this year that is right in the thick of it, despite being decimated by injuries by some of our key defensive players. Here's to hoping we get all the way to the Super Bowl this year. That'd be SWEET.