John F. Russell: Spontaneity is gone in sports
October 4, 2009
Steamboat Springs — One of the things I love most about sports are the spontaneous displays of emotion that often define the game – or become bigger than the game.
For generations, sports have provided images of great athletes soaking up moments of victory and defeat. Our generation has plenty of moments like Tiger Woods pumping his fist after nailing a long putt and the look of determination in Michael Phelps’ eyes after he reached the end of the pool and waited for the times.
But I wonder whether the images of our times will hold up against the test of time.
Will the moments rival the ones that have set the bar, or are we so saturated by news, images and preplanned events that those moments will mean less? Will the emotions of our generation be lost somewhere between the staged celebrations at the end of every Super Bowl and the plastic-covered locker rooms of Major League Baseball’s best teams?
Will we have moments like the one captured in 1964 by Morris Berman, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle kneeling in the end zone, bloodied and beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the image of Babe Ruth standing near home plate, just a few steps up the third-base line, taken by Nat Fein at Yankee Stadium in 1948?
Times were simple when those images were made. Nothing in sports is simple anymore. We live in a world where every celebration is planned and executed as if Mike Shanahan organized the events. Photographers have limited access, and the public is saturated with a never-ending flow of images.
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Last week, the Rockies were handed swim goggles before they walked into the locker room after securing the wild card spot, and the locker room was covered in plastic. The moment had all the spontaneity of a lecture series.
I’m sure there were more than a few happy players and moments in the Rockies locker room, but all the goggles and the plastic ruined the moment for me. I feel the same way about the ticker tape explosions at the end of the Super Bowl and the cliche Gatorade bath on the sideline of every big win in football.
I know those things are a part of sports now and that many fans enjoy watching their teams celebrate.
Personally, I would rather remember the moments that make the game what it is. I can’t remember one thing about the parade that followed the Broncos’ first Super Bowl win, but someday I hope to tell my grandchildren about John Elway’s first-down dive that led to the 31-24 win against the Green Bay Packers. I skipped most of the TV coverage after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001, but I’ll never forget when captain Joe Sakic handed Ray Bourque the cup.
I guess those moments are still out there. You just have to find them through the swim goggles, the plastic-covered locker rooms and all the ticker tape at the Super Bowl.