ESPN.com recently ran a poll asking readers which pro sports league they thought displayed the most visible disparity in intensity between the regular season and the playoffs. Regardless of the results — the NHL was voted as having the largest difference — it bothered me that such a poll could even exist and acquire thousands of responses from knowledgeable fans.
It essentially represented everything I hate about pro sports and yet also embodied everything I love about college athletics. If such a survey was conducted on campus concerning NCAA play I believe people would be hard pressed to cast a vote for any competition in the collegiate ranks.
College athletes play for love of the game, blah blah blah … we know that, right? However, have you ever really thought about what that means?
My favorite movie is Jerry Maguire — “see this jacket, ya like it?” Classic stuff — and in one of the many great exchanges between Tom Cruise (Jerry) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Rod) they discuss this idea. The scene goes a little something like this: Jerry tells Cuba he’s too into himself and needs to start playing for the same reasons he did when he was younger. Rod admits he’s always played for the money, Jerry gets really angry and says “FINE!” like forty-seven times while punching the bathroom wall. Things then calm down and Rod says something profound like “You want me to dance?” Jerry seems reluctantly satisfied, Rod does well on Monday Night Football, his son curses, Rod dances, everybody falls back in love and Jerry has Dorothy at hello. So what is this all-changing talk of dancing?
It’s the very essence of sports that makes true competition such an amazing thing to watch and in which to partake. It’s also what pro athletes somehow lack once they start getting paid to do what they do.
It’s the beauty of a confident save by Matt Underhill, another gorgeously simple goal from Sean Greenhalgh, or yet another home run off the bat of Kate Varde. It’s the reaction such performances inspire and the feeling one gets when watching a young man or woman put it all on the line. It’s a dance in which all involved participate and in which we find ourselves lost.
What it isn’t is commercial deals, billboards, and money under the table. It’s not Shaq showing up on every other page of USA Today’s NBA playoff preview eating a Whopper or Vince Carter playing more inspired basketball in a Nike ad than on the court — as much as I love those ads.
Sport for sport’s sake is a wonderful thing to watch if it’s not a Hollywood-created facade. College athletics lack the superficiality of pro sports and one trip to nearly any Cornell event will illuminate this point. Go to Lynah Rink for goodness’ sake, head over to Reis Tennis Center, Schoellkopf or Berman Field on any given Friday or Saturday. Watch and take it all in.
You’ll see something that SportsCenter can’t capture. It is the faces of those performing the dance Jerry had to beg out of Rod Tidwell. It’s the reason why Juan Dixon, who had been through so much in his life, broke down in tears when the clock ran down on Maryland’s championship season. It’s the reason why softball head coach Dick Blood swells with pride when talking about the current career paths of former players.
My favorite onslaught of this very abstract thing is found in that glorious post-Final Four production CBS always puts on with the dramatic music and all the emotion of the NCAA tournament put into well-orchestrated images. I remember watching it this year and observing as an entire room of charged up guys fell silent and were near tears as “One Shining Moment” played on our emotions for five intense minutes. Powerful stuff, indeed.
Maybe it’s the taste of spring air we got last week, the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs or the final season of Felicity winding down, but lately — for some reason — I’ve been very sentimental about the closing of another year here on East Hill.
The power of sport has taken on a special meaning in these times as I’ve been able to experience the final moments in so many of our teams’ seasons. It is a special thing to witness. We here at The Sun are also preparing to say goodbye to part of our team and maybe that’s the most obvious source of my sentimentality.
Nags and Charles are the two members of our team we must now say our goodbyes to and their roles as leaders has been invaluable throughout the season of their careers. They know a whole lot about this “thing” that is the inexpressible attraction of sport because they have covered it, experienced it, and embodied it for four strong years in our beloved sports corner at The Daily Sun.
They have attacked those who ignore its power or spit on its importance while lauding those who provide us with the splendid moments of glory we crave. For that we all owe them thanks. You are two of the very best and we, your noble understudies, will try and continue the legacy you have left us of capturing — daily — the power of this thing we call sport on the athletic fields of our fair Cornell.
I suppose it’s ironic that the most famous phrase from Jerry Maguire ended up being “Show me the money!” since the movie wanted to emphasize something quite different. It is this something different that is so readily available on the hardwood, grass, and dirt of college sports. It is what makes it special to write about and why good people like our departing friends can do it so well for so long. I believe it is safe to say that we will miss Shiva and Charles as much as they will miss this crazy little thing we call the dance of sport.
So with but a few precious moments left on the clock of this season, I say best of luck, Shiva, Charles, and to you, dear reader, for we will surely meet again next fall.
Archived article by Scott Jones