January Sports: When the Rhythm Is Right
BOSTON — It's rare when everything in life is perfect. Down-in-the-mouth cynics say never. Even over-the-top optimists say infrequently. But right now is one of those perfect times. Glory be and wave your arms.
That's because when we look at sports (and who of sound mind and proper priorities and clean fingernails would want to look at anything else?) these last days of January are the only time in the year when essentially every sport we have is being played at the right time and none of our sports is being played at the wrong time.
Cherish it, Sporting Sceners. It only lasts a few weeks before baseball erupts and stuns our seasonal and psychic sensibilities.
Five days ago, we finally dismissed professional football from the calendar. That is, we have if you don't count the upcoming Pro Bowl in Hawaii, which no clear thinker does. Football is not a winter game. Football is a fall game, September to December. Football was born to coincide with leaves turning and school starting and frost on the pumpkins and fodder in its shock and I'm getting carried away.
Alas, football gets going in earnest in July and August. That's not right. Football is not a summer sport any more than Monday morning is anticipated with glee by much of working America.
A summer sport is baseball. It's center- field seats at Wrigley Field in Chicago in June with a hot dog and daydreaming that Ernie Banks got it right when he urged that on such a nice day, they should go ahead and play two games, neverminding they weren't scheduled. Conversely, baseball is not a February or March or April sport, unless you think this will be the exception and there won't be snow outs in New York or Detroit or Denver.
Nor, at the other end of the silly spectrum, is baseball a sport that should be contested in October with all of us sitting there looking ridiculous in ski parkas and insulated gloves. That's no good, even at Wrigley. October is football season. Go away baseball.
Ah, but the dying days of January give us everything in rhythm. College basketball started back in October although none of us paid any attention - because it was too early and we didn't care. Now, in January, it is just right. Conference play is heating up and so are player skills. North Carolina is excellent under new coach Bill Guthridge but, frankly, in the spirit of competition, we liked it when Maryland whipped the Tar Heels the other day after Carolina had ripped off 17 straight wins. The Tar Heels needed a swig of reality.
The National Basketball Association for the first time attracts our attention after playing for months in oblivion - because it was too early and we didn't care. Let's see. San Antonio seems to be playing well. Ditto Chicago and Seattle and the Lakers. Denver is 3-39? Impossible. Nobody can be this bad. Must be a typographical error.
Enjoy this moment when the NBA is in sync with our desires and the calendar. After all, the same NBA guys still will be playing the same games five months from now in June, which, to use a technical basketball term, is stupid. Do you reckon Dr. Naismith invented basketball with a late June championship in mind?
Hockey, like basketball, regrettably starts its season when the temperature is still in the 90s in much of the country and concludes when the temperature is climbing into the 90s in much of the country. But right now, frozen in this delicious moment in time, it is January and it is cold and there are blizzards and the bright lights are properly on hockey. We're in the mood. Dallas, Colorado, and New Jersey are playing well. Tampa Bay isn't.
The Winter Olympics are on the February horizon and gratefully, even television couldn't get them moved to August on manufactured ice crystals at Vail. In an uncertain and contrived world, how nifty that the Winter Olympics are held in Winter.
Anyway, it's a nice, settled time when sports are being played when they are supposed to be played which is when we naturally want them to be played which makes us delirious. We're a simple people with simple wants.
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org