Friday, January 13, 2012

The Four Horsemen Of The ESPNocalypse



It's no secret that sports media as a whole are collectively losing their minds over Denver Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow, who embraces all the clich├ęs about "will to win" and somehow triumphs despite not usually being, you know, a good quarterback. It's even less surprising that the Worldwide Leader In Vaguely Sports-Related News is leading the charge. Still, as Adam Kramer remarked earlier, ESPN's piece asking LeBron James what he thinks of Tim Tebow is the most ESPN story of all time. Surely that means the ESPNocalypse is near, especially as certain newspapers have already ventured into hellfire and damnation (as you can see from the Boston Metro cover at right). In the spirit of that, we present two pieces. First, a dramatic reworking of the first three paragraphs of Grantland Rice's "Four Horsemen", timely considering how ESPN has appropriated the man's name:

Outlined against a blue screen in Bristol, Connecticut, the Four Horsemen of the ESPNocalypse rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Brett Favre, LeBron James, Tim Tebow and Craig James. They formed the crest of the media cyclone before which all intelligent sports commentary was swept over the precipice of the Internet yesterday afternoon as billions of spectators peered at the bewildering panorama spread on the ESPN.com homepage.

A cyclone can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from Bristol, where the studio lights still gleam through the fortress windows of the ESPN campus, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed.

Yesterday the cyclone struck again as ESPN beat the intelligent commentators decisively, with a set of made-for-TV stars that ripped and crashed through sports fans' defences with more speed and power than the open-minded could meet.

ESPN won yet again through the driving power of one of the most SEO-friendly lineups that ever churned up the pageviews of any website in any Internet age. Brilliant backfields may come and go, but in Favre, LeBron, Tebow and James, covered by a fast and charging array of sycophants, ESPN can take its place in front of the field.

The rest of the web sent one of its finest teams into action, an aggressive organization that fought to the last play around the first rim of darkness, but when George Bodenheimer rushed his Four Horsemen to the track they rode down everything in sight. It was in vain that 1,400 sensible sports fans pleaded for the rational line to hold. The rational line was giving all it had, but when a tank tears in with the speed of a motorcycle, what chance had flesh and blood to hold? The rest of the web had its share of stars, but they were up against four whirlwind backs who picked up at top speed from the first step as they swept through scant openings to slip on through the algorithm defences. The web had great writers, but the web had no such distribution power and ongoing determinedness, which seemed to carry the mixed blood of Charlie Sheen's tiger and the antelope.

And now, a reading from the Book of Revelation (inspired by Scott Feschuk's great piece):

"And I saw when the Bodenheimer opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, the voice of the Berman saying, 'Come and see.'

And I saw, and behold a purple horse: and the Favre that sat on him had a cell phone; and a lawsuit was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to throw interceptions, and to bring a famine of real football news about players who aren't retired.

And when the Bodenheimer had opened the second seal, I heard the Simmons say, 'Come and see.'

And there went out another horse that was red and black. And power was given to the LeBron that sat thereon to make a Decision, and take peace from the earth, and to make owners write angry e-mails in Comic Sans. And there was taken from him a great sword, and given to him a flaming basketball, and the power to command the media, and the power to bring an omnipresent pestilence of his presence.

And when the Bodenheimer had opened the third seal, I heard the Paige say, 'Come and see.'

And I beheld, and lo! A white horse. And the Tebow that knelt on him had a football in his left hand.

And I heard Skip Bayless' voice in the midst of the four beasts say, 'A flawed measure of a quarterback shall be designed to promote Tebow, and three measures that dislike him shall be ignored; and see thou hurt not the television ratings.' And power was given unto Tebow to cause the reasonable to lose their minds, and to create great and widespread destruction.

And when the Bodenheimer had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the Schad say, 'Come and see.'

And I looked, and behold a pale horse! And his name that sat on him was James, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto him over the domain of college football, to kill coaching jobs with accusations and lawsuits, to silence colleagues, to ignore ethical conflicts, to reduce the audience's intelligence, to break the laws of amateurism and get away with sanctimoniously criticizing others who did the same, and to run for political office, and cause the death of objectivity (and perhaps some scarlet damsels as well).

...

And the kings of the Internet, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in their mothers' basements.

And they said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Bodenheimer.

For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Marchand Of Venice



It's remarkable how insane the Vancouver Canucks - Boston Bruins rivalry has become lately following Saturday's Stanley Cup rematch. It's led to everything from fanbase and organizational fights to media going after bloggers who cover the other team to reporters verbally duking it out with opposing players to allegations of media defacing the NHL's media guides merely because a player they didn't like adorned them. There are some serious questions about the media's role in all this, and I talked about some of them this morning in an excellent discussion with Jessica Quiroli and others. Serious discussions aren't a lot of fun, though, so instead, I present one of the wackier ideas that came to mind; rewriting Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" (original quotations available here) to cover the Vancouver-Boston rivalry, and particularly Boston's Brad Marchand's polarizing hit on Sami Salo and subsequent suspension. Thanks to Cam Charron, Thomas Drance, Tom HawthornJason Ford  and
Ashok Sadana for their help, and thanks to Maclean Kay and PPP for encouraging me to turn this into a post. What follows is a partial script. Call me, Hollywood!

THE MARCHAND OF VENICE

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:
- In the role of Shylock, Brad Marchand, A Bruin
- In the role of Portia, Brendan Shanahan, A Disciplinarian
- In the role of Antonio, Sami Salo, A Wounded Canuck
- In the role of Gratiano, Alain Vigneault, A Coach
- In the role of Bassanio, The Vancouver Media, A Dubious Entity
- In the role of Salarino, Zdeno Chara, A Boston Captain

ACT I:

"In sooth, I know not why I am always injured. It wearies me, you say it wearies you." - Salo

"I hold the NHL but as the NHL, Vigneault, a stage, where every man must play a part, and mine a sad one." - Salo

When criticized for his team fighting back against Boston, "Why should a man whose blood is warm within, sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster?" - Vigneault

"There are a sort of men, whose visages
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond;
And do a willful stillness entertain,
With purpose to be dress'd in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit;
As who should say, I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark!" - Vigneault on the Vancouver media

"Vigneault speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Vancouver." - The Vancouver media

"If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, Brad Marchand and the rest wouldn't be in the league and Sidney Crosby would still be healthy." - Shanahan

"When he is best, he is a little worse than a man; and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast." - Shanahan on Marchand

"If I can catch him once upon the hip,
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him." - Marchand on Salo.

"They hate our sacred nation; and they rail,
Even there where Canucks fans most do congregate,
On me, my hits, and my well-won roster spot,
Which they call a disgrace." - Marchand on the Vancouver media.

"Thee devil can cite scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness,
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek." - Salo on Marchand's justifications.

"O Father Shanahan! What these Canucks are,
Whose own hard dealings teaches them suspect
The thoughts of others!" - Marchand to Shanahan.