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April, Mr. Eliot long ago told us, is the cruelest month, but he neglected to mention (because he departed the planet too soon to know and in any case probably wouldn’t have been interested) that for the couch potato October is far and away the richest month. A veritable embarras de riches, as the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, is on offer on the sports buffet in October.
Major League Baseball playoffs begin early in October, and are underway currently, only to end at the close of the month. The professional football season, picking up steam, is now going into its seventh week. College football is well enough along for sportscasters to begin talking about Heisman Trophy candidates, while the BCS rankings are already being debated. Hockey has begun, and before the month is out the thundering hoof-beats of the National Basketball Association will be heard tromping up and down courts across the country.
A veritable embarras de riches, as the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, is on offer on the sports buffet in October.
Like the man who comes away from the buffet with his plate piled way too high, one feels piggish watching so many sports on television; at least, I do. Last week, for example, a die-hard baseball fan could have watched four playoff baseball games in a row, from 1:00 p.m. until midnight, Central Standard Time. Professional football is played not only on Sunday afternoons, when three games are always available, but also on Monday and Thursday nights. A television contract was struck with the University of Louisville to play its games mid-week. Other college football games are televised on Friday nights, and of course college football is on all day long on Saturday. This doesn’t leave much time for sex or answering one’s e-mail.
The crushingly efficient way the seasons are strung together — with baseball sliding into football which slides into basketball which slides back into baseball, while hockey is going on from October through the playoffs that end in June — keeps the couch potato in thrall. Hockey used not to be a problem for me. I simply ignored it; but last season the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and I, like the excellent fair-weather fan that I am, climbed aboard the bandwagon. In these, my sunset years, I even taught myself what the significance of the blue line is and what constitutes the penalty known as “icing.”
I pay an extra $8.99 a month for the Tennis Channel, which I often turn on, with the sound off, while eating my breakfast of toast and tea in the mornings. What with Grand Slams, the Fed Cup, the Davis Cup, Masters tournaments, and other tournaments played everywhere from Cincinnati to Kuala Lumpur, outdoors and in, tennis goes year round.
I have instructed my son, should he learn that I have developed an interest in NASCAR, to shoot out my kneecaps, then have me committed.
I happen to be a sports Leninist. When Lenin was told that they were killing the workers in Germany, he is supposed to have replied, ‘Good. This will hasten the world revolution. Worse is better.’ And so with the sports teams I follow.
A married philosopher is a joke, Nietzsche said. A married couch potato hooked on sports may be no less comical. Thank goodness I’m married, not only because I happen to love my wife, but because if I weren’t I might never move from my television set. Picture what is nowadays called a “man cave,” with myself as the caveman. There I am: unshaven, generally unkempt, in my pajamas, with newspapers and magazines scattered about, empty pizza boxes and Styrofoam cups strewn across the floor, groggy, watching men and women in immeasurably better shape than I play games for thunderous sums of money.
“You can’t have too much of a good thing,” Mae West said. She was of course wrong. You can have too much of a good thing, and sports may be one of those good things. A guilty couch potato is a pitiful specimen to behold. From looking in the mirror, I know.
As a couch potato, I ask myself whether I ought to go on a sports diet. Is there a sport I might cut out altogether? Perhaps I might forget about hockey, at least until the playoffs. Of all the televised sports, hockey makes the most demands on the viewer. By demands I mean it requires a viewer’s full attention. One can easily read magazines and light books during the many intervals while watching football, basketball, and especially baseball games. Watching the Blackhawks in the playoffs on their way to the Stanley Cup earlier this year, I would frequently find myself staring at the screen with my fists clenched. Other times, usually near the close of a game, I would be on my feet, counting down the time left in the game. Hockey is pure tension. Last week’s Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues game was decided with 21.1 seconds remaining in the final period. Hockey is not for your patrician, your casual couch potato.
I could cut down on college football, which I chiefly watch on Saturday afternoons. Here, though, I have a problem. Northwestern, the school at which I taught for thirty years, after decades in the athletic slough of athletic despond — at one point losing 34 football games in a row — has suddenly emerged with good football teams. Nowadays, when anyone asks me what I think the best thing about Northwestern is, I answer without equivocation: “Buildings and Grounds and the quarterback coach.” I feel not the least loyalty to the school, please understand, but it is the local team, and so I find myself noting the time of Northwestern games and arranging to find myself at my post — my couch — just before kickoff every Saturday.
You can have too much of a good thing, and sports may be one of those good things.
I watched a lot less baseball this year than in previous years because the two teams I cheer for — the Chicago White Sox and the Cubs — were dismal beyond all reckoning. My only specific grievance, in the midst of my general disappointment in them, is that both teams narrowly escaped losing an even hundred games. Cheering for the failure of one’s favorite teams may seem odd. But I happen to be a sports Leninist. When Lenin was told that they were killing the workers in Germany, he is supposed to have replied, “Good. This will hasten the world revolution. Worse is better.” And so with the sports teams I follow. If they can’t win, let them, I say, descend to the very depths, whence a revolution may come about. Worse is better.
As I read over what I have written here and in earlier couch potato columns, I see that I am a most peculiar sports fan. I have no wish to watch sports at the game, in person, “live,” as we now say. I am strictly a fair-weather fan, of highly limited loyalty, with nothing in the least die-hard about me. When I watch sports on television, I chiefly do so with the sound off, for I need no further guidance from such sportscaster geniuses as Tom Brennaman, Ken Harrelson, Al Michaels, and the rest. I cannot stand too much tension in the games I watch, lest the games get in the way of my leisurely reading. I am less than loyal to the teams I claim to favor, sometimes even finding myself rooting against them.
It takes all kinds, apparently, even on the couch.
Joseph Epstein is The American’s couch potato and the author of the book Essays in Biography.
Image by Dianna Ingram / Bergman Group
The greatest month to be a sports fan.
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