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ISSUE 120 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/27/2006

Inside the Lines: Scary Predictions

By Eric Monek Anderson
Staff Writer

Friday, October 27, 2006

Around Halloween, scares abound in a St. Olaf student’s life: Friday the 13th, midterms, and for the pro sports fan, some truly terrifying trends.

For instance, the University of Miami and Florida International University football teams supplemented their recent game with an all-out brawl that took nearly 15 minutes to control. Images of a Miami player slamming his helmet into a mob of athletes flashed all over ESPN, as did cuts of players from both teams stomping with their cleats on others who had fallen. Analysts called it “one of the worst fights they’d ever seen.”

Yet both coaches have their jobs, and no Miami players were kicked off their highly ranked team. That rankles some people, appropriately.

As the clear leader in sports media, ESPN controls sports news for most of the nation. Of course, ESPN employs comprehensive coverage with similar stories, like the Pacers-Pistons melee of 2004 and each successive chapter in the wildly overblown Terrell Owens (excuse me, “T.O.”) saga. It has to be great for business.

What’s missing from the coverage by ESPN and other media outlets is investigation and deep analysis. TV media pays only lip service to the many ways in which sports relate to our humanity. The big official stories are those that get front page billing, particularly in television and on websites. ` Besides the eternal ruminations on T.O.’s character, ESPN throws a steady stream of predictions and expectations at its viewers. Note that with each successive round of the baseball playoffs, the “experts” choose new favorites. With each successive week of the NFL season, a team becomes the apple of analysts’ eyes.

In the space of the last few weeks, the Seahawks have gone from NFC favorites to jinxed to back at the top of the NFC West to chronically injured.

The fellows who knocked the Seahawks from their imaginary perch in the analysts’ hearts and minds were the Chicago Bears. The 2006 Bears, at 6-0, are already “warranting” comparisons to the famous Monsters of the Midway, the Bears of 1985. They began 12-0, won the Super Bowl, and are considered truly one of the best football teams ever. The 2006 Bears are not on their level, but they’re the Bears, and they’re good, so why not compare the two?

Is there some insatiable desire to make connections between eras when we should simply enjoy each team for their individuals and collective achievements?

Funny how the “favorites” often fall. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers, two preseason picks in the NFL, are sputtering through this season. In baseball, the Yankees and Mets were the two teams with the best records and weightiest expectations. Now they’re noticeably absent, as are the hometown Twins, heavily favored against Oakland. A series isn’t decided until it’s finished, so what’s the point in anticipating the result?

There’s genuine joy in any baseball or football or basketball or hockey season with any team. You appreciate the breakout rookies, the unexpected trials and successes, the stellar individual performances, and the classic games.

When we get caught up in expectations and predictions, or even fantasy sports, we miss the essence of sports.

This week, a Sports Illustrated issue arrived in my P.O. with a whopping 38 pages previewing the NBA season. Something tells me I won’t be seeing another 38 pages next June reviewing another eventful season.

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