The Complex Life of the Couch Potato
‘If the question is about sports,’ legendary TV sports producer Don Ohlmeyer once said, ‘the answer is money.’ Whatever is a fan to do?
As a couch potato-au gratin, to be sure-who probably watches too much sports on television, I find myself thinking more and more about losers. I think about those athletes upon whose bulky shoulders the loss of a game or match can be squarely laid: the guy who hooks the easy field goal; the kid who misses the two free throws that might have sent his team into overtime and given it a chance to make the playoffs; the closing relief pitcher who blows the save; the golfer who overhits the gimme putt that costs him a couple of hundred grand. Sports may well be a good deal less about the thrill of victory than it is about the sadness of defeat.
In this past season’s National Football League conference finals, both games were decided by a clear and not easily forgiven error by a player on the losing teams. The Baltimore Ravens’ Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime and given his team a chance to play in the Super Bowl. During overtime in the other game, the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Williams fumbled a punt that allowed the New York Giants to score a game-winning field goal. Both players let down their teams, their fans, and the cities for which they play.
Think of these two athletes in their respective locker-rooms after the game. Inconsolable had to have been their condition. How many of their dreams will be blotted with mental replays of their costly mistakes? A small number of athletes have been remembered almost exclusively for errors: a University of California linebacker named Roy Reigel who recovered a fumble in the 1929 Rose Bowl game against Georgia Tech and ran the wrong way with it; Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher who served up a gopher ball to the Giants’ Bobby Thomson (“the shot heard round the world”) that denied the Dodgers a trip to the World Series; the Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner who let a slow grounder hit by the Mets’ Mookie Wilson dribble through his legs, costing his team the World Series; a first-baseman for the Chicago Cubs named Leon Durham who made the same error in the 1984 playoff series against the San Diego Podres. The morning after the game, my local grocer asked me if I had heard about Durham’s attempted suicide. “No,” I replied, much concerned. “He stepped out in front of a bus,” he said, “but it went through his legs.”