In Praise of Monsoon Play

Earlier this week, there was a basically meaningless NFL game in Kansas City between the Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks. That is, come Super Bowl time in January, it's unlikely that anyone will look back on this contest on the first weekend in October as turning-point stuff.

Yet, to many of us, it will be our favorite game of the year.

That's because it was played in a sensational, driving, torrential, monsoon rain. It was a delicious mess. Conditions were wonderfully impossible. Nobody could run, pass, catch, block, tackle, see, or stand up. It gets no better than this.

That's because individuals and teams best define their excellence, or lack thereof, in all kinds of conditions. Why shouldn't world-class athletes be able to play nicely in 72-degree windless comfort inside a domed stadium? OK, big-deal stars, now, let's see you do it in a rain of biblical proportion and horizontal configuration in Kansas City.

Any athlete always will remember fondly a game played in horrific weather.

Poster child is the 1967 NFL championship game between the Packers and the Cowboys, played in minus 13 to minus 19 degree temperatures in Green Bay. Wind chill made it at least minus 40. Whistles used by officials froze so they had to shout. Packer fans repeatedly leaned over the rail and pulled the plug on the heated Cowboy benches. The Packers won 21-17 in a legendary game wrapped in fact and fiction.

Said Packer coach Vince Lombardi afterward, "Cold? What cold? I didn't notice any cold."

That's the spirit.

Sadly, sports have been diminished because way too often they give in to weather and seem embarrassingly anxious to do so.

Golf is perhaps the worst offender. It demands near perfect weather or else it retreats to the clubhouse in tears. At last summer's British Open, the wind happily howled. Grumped Tom Lehman, "I'm not sure this suits anybody's game." Ah, nuts. The point is not for the weather to suit the game but for the game to adjust to the weather. Just go play and zip your lip about it.

Golfer Hal Sutton was furious at a 1986 tournament at Pebble Beach: "Playing conditions were horrible. It's just not fair." Huh? The weather isn't fair? Weather is always fair because it is what is.

Tennis is a close second in weather whimpering. In 1990, temperatures on the courts in Australia in tournaments prior to the Australian Open went past 150 degrees. A referee, Bill Gilmour, contended, "If it rains, we call off the matches. If the wind blows, we bring them off the court. There should be some limit to the heat." Right. That's just what tennis needs is yet another excuse not to play.

How about you just wipe yourself off with a towel, have a swallow of water, and go serve?

Baseball is obscenely soft. A summer shower summons the tarps and generates postponements. Former Yankee catcher Rick Cerone says his right hand never recovered from frostbite he suffered in the season opener in 1977 at Toronto. The wonder is that they let the fragile players be outside long enough to get frostbite. Must have been computer error.

It's as if sport looks to the weather to give it a chance not to play. Sport needs to understand the weather doesn't detract. It adds. The worse the weather, the more it adds and the more fans and players like it.

Of course it's disruptive and the athletes and coaches can't do what they planned. So adjust.

For years there has been much emphasis on making everything ideal for these pampered athletes to show off their often self-described amazing skills. That's acceptable. But when the weather intervenes with its own curmudgeonly insistence, so be it and go forth in good cheer.

Athletes talk about overcoming adversity and being tough and rising above. By and large, it's mostly chatter. Some years ago, when the Boston Bruins were still in the hockey playoffs in late spring on a warm day, the ice was soft and a weird mist was rising from the surface. There predictably were all kinds of complaints. The game wasn't memorable; the memory of the conditions endures.

Any fan understands. If you have ever sat in a blizzard watching a football game, you definitely remember it. Do you remember specifics regarding all the nice days you sat in that same stadium?

Bring on the storms.

* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is: looneyd@csps.com

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