The Sports Hangover recovers from a weekend of boxing in the blood seats at the DC Armory, an exhausting Patriots’ Day of watching other people run marathons, and incoming playoff action from all directions.
Loving the Alien
Boxing, currently a casino sport, spent its most vibrant years a city sport. So, Saturday night’s DC Armory card evoked nostalgia for someone else’s past. The perfect-ten ring-girls holding up eights and nines, bumping into the likes of Jimmy Lennon Jr., Dan Rafael, and Jim Gray backstage, and a nearly-full hall that boasted many seats but few spectators the last time I watched a card there all contributed to the electric atmosphere.
The assembled had come for an alien sighting. Rather than ET they got Bernard “the Alien” Hopkins, a 49-year-old pugilist who strangely outboxes men decades his junior. They don’t make humans like him. But on his home planet the creatures peak athletically in their forties rather than their twenties. Other visitors from Planet Bernard include Satchel Page, Gordie Howe, and George Blanda.
B-Hop’s nickname shift tells a story. Hopkins went by the worst nickname–the Executioner–in all of sports for most of his career. Entering the ring in an ominous executioner’s mask, he ensured that fans appreciated him as much as they appreciate the real-life hangman. There’s a reason those guys where masks. Realizing his gimmick detracted from his stature in the sport, Hopkins “the Executioner” transitioned to Bernard “the Alien”–a strange life-form that defied the biological constraints of humans. He kept a mask but ditched the nickname. His career, now spanning more than a quarter-century, similarly relied on adapting and overcoming. He’s still a slick, defensive fighter. But through ring generalship he now controls the pacing and smartly picks his spots. He needed to change to remain at the top. There’s simply never been a fighter with a higher boxing IQ than Bernard.
Hopkins can put casual fans to sleep. But for students of the sweet science his counterpunching, feints and rolls, and impeccable incoming punch-radar captivates. The man is the Picasso of Pugilism. And as if to say, “I can be a crowd-pleaser too,” Hopkins awarded the assembled a knockdown of Beibut Shumenov in the eleventh round before capturing a split-decision that I scored 117-110 for Hopkins from the first row of the ringside press section.
“If you don’t have to get hit,” he explained after the fight, “don’t.” That’s perhaps why fighting at 49 isn’t such a hard-luck story for the light heavyweight. As he explained to Jim Grey, “It’s good boxing all these years [that allows him] to speak to you without stuttering.” Boxing is a dangerous sport–if you get hit.
The Eastern Conference is anybody’s to win. The Indiana Pacers said as much in their opening-game statement loss to the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The 101-93 score understated the defeat. “There’s no way in hell they’re bringing down Miami,” Stephen A. Smith observed on ESPN Monday. “This team is a shell of itself. They’re not who they marketed themselves to be.” Perhaps the commentariat overstated the profundity of the defeat. It’s one game, and may be forgotten, or seen as the rock-bottom rallying point, if they win the series. Right now, they look to be the weakest top-seeded playoff team in memory. When Charles Barkley calls you “wussies” and Skip Bayless calls you “desperate” it’s time to step up or settle in to the insults.
An American Finally Wins the Boston Marathon
When I heard that an American won the Boston Marathon after more than three decades of foreign domination, thoughts immediately turned to Greg Meyer. In the past, I’d grab the nearest Almanac to confirm my suspicions that Meyer ran as the last American winner. We have the internet for that now. The Great God Google confirmed my suspicions–on Meyer and much else. Runners have improved since Meyer won in 1983. But not by much. This year’s American winner, Meb Keflezighi, bested Meyer’s winning time by 23 seconds. This suggests that long-distance runners, male ones at least, haven’t improved all that much in the intervening years. It also shows how Americans have declined. Sure, the Boston Marathon, with its gaudy prize money, has attracted a crowd of runners from all corners of the globe in a way it hadn’t before. But Americans don’t run the way they used to. Meyer, Alberto Salazar, and Bill Rodgers, the last three Americans to win, boasted winning times in the seventies and eighties that would have won in 2012 and 2013. Americans just aren’t running those times all that much anymore. But Meb Keflezighi did, so I will crank up “Proud to Be an American” based on his bodily demonstration that we aren’t all eating Burger King and playing Xbox.
How much do we favor cars over pedestrians? In the mid-2000s, the Boston Marathon pushed back its start time two hours. Organizers claimed it provided cooler temperatures for runners. They also mentioned something, under muffled breath, about road congestion. Starting the top women at 9:30 a.m. and the elite men a half-hour later means spectators must scramble for position early in the morning. This also ruins one of the great sports experiences in all of America: the morning Red Sox game followed by a Kenmore Square glimpse of the runners as they hit the home stretch. Rather than finish a game and watch the race’s finish, fans remain trapped in Fenway during the marathon. Any thought of watching the run with a few beers flies out the window for all but the hardcore drinkers. Who wants to start boozing during breakfast? The Tsarnaevs, among their bigger crimes, made backpacks and coolers an invitation to harassment. Race organizers took much of the fun out of a festive event by favoring wheeled machines over people–and on a state holiday, when parents chauffeuring kids to school and commuting workers have the day off, no less. Keep the marathon safe from the Tsarnaevs of the world. But keep it safe for spectators, too.
Why All the Walk Offs?
The walkoff, baseball’s version of the last-second shot, has been a more frequent coda for baseball games this year. On this page, we wrote about five of them on the night of April 2. Jesse Spector wonders why all the walk offs. “The answer may have to do with the macro-level parity seen around baseball,” he writes at the Sporting News. “Since 2004, when the Cardinals won 105 games and the Yankees won 101, there has not been a season with multiple 100-win teams. No team has cracked the century mark at all since the 2011 Phillies won 102 games, one of only three teams in the last eight seasons to reach triple digits, an unprecedented dearth of elite teams over a stretch that long in the expansion era. If teams are closer together from a talent perspective, it makes sense that the number of close games goes up, and so does the number of walkoffs.”
Clarabelle Cow Does Not Approve
Michael Egan charges numerous Hollywood power players of involvement in a pedophilia ring. Among those accused by Egan of abusing him as a teenager is David Neuman, the former president of Walt Disney Television, which unleashed Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and numerous other hypersexualized teen stars on the world. It always confused why the people who brought Winnie the Pooh and Old Yeller to the silver screen put such trash-waiting-to-happen on the small screen. A judge will decide whether Mr. Egan’s suit makes sense. It’s already helped me make sense of Disney.