Thursday, February 21, 2008

52 52 52 Week #1: Mississippi

In which I examine crappy local sports journalism on a state-by-state basis, progressing through the states in terms of an alphabetical ordering of the heights of their tallest points. Because I can.

My first stop in my 52-state tour of bad journalism takes me to Mississippi, where Tishomingo County's Woodall Mountain clocks in at a robust 806 feet. Some facts about Woodall:

1. Locals are rather charmingly self-aware about the fact that such a tiny peak is their state's highest point. You can buy a hat in area stores that proudly proclaims, "Ski Woodall." Yes, please.

2. There's a bluegrass band in Tupelo called the Woodall Mountain Boys.

3. During the Civil War, the Battle of Iuka took place in 1862 on Woodall Mountain. General William Rosecrans won victory by taking the mountain and barraging the nearby town of Iuka with artillery and plenty of it. No word on whether or not Rosecrans or his aid, Staff Sergeant Guildenstern, met their fates in the battle, although I imagine they're now dead.

Mississippi's representative in the series is Tommy Snell, who writes a column about golf for The Sun Herald, a Biloxi newspaper whose readership is mostly made up of denizens of the Gulf Coast. To the paper's immense credit, they kept publishing during Hurricane Katrina even after all their offices were devastated by the hurricane, which forced them to publish out of the Columbus, Georgia newsroom of the Ledger-Enquirer. This ultimately won them a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. So yeah...nothing but respect for The Sun Herald.

This column by Mr. Snell? Eh, not so much.

Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel suggested, maybe even demanded, that Tiger Woods stands as the greatest athlete of all time.

Ooh boy. Look, I'm already going to say I'm not on board with any of this. I think "greatest athlete ever" is a really dumb topic to begin with - I mean, how the hell do you compare the relative athletic excellence of, say, Wilt Chamberlain to Gale Sayers? Let's say for a second you tried to do this scientifically. Even if you figured out how much they outperformed the average players in the sport, how do you calibrate the two marks so that it's a fair comparison? Is being the greatest pitcher ever more impressive than being the best quarterback? I've heard it argued Wayne Gretzky is greater than Michael Jordan because his stats were way more insane relative to the league averages. But does that mean he really was better or just that, for whatever reason, it's easier to outperform the mean in the NHL compared to the NBA?

Then there's the concept of "athlete." Does that mean we're talking about them in the context of their sport, or are we trying to get to some transcendent quality of "athleticism"? I suspect many people who want to argue this topic are more interested in the latter, which is pretty much wholly unquantifiable. Was Pele more "athletic" than Sandy Koufax? And speaking of Koufax, how do you deal with people with incredible athletic abilities whose careers never panned out the way they should have, like Bo Jackson or David Thompson (or even, much as I hate to say it, Michael Vick)? Should Bo or Deion Sanders get extra credit for excelling at two sports?

So yeah, all of these are valid rebuttals to the idea that Tiger Woods is the greatest athlete of all time. A much less valid but more assholish counterargument would be that his greatest rival looks like this:

When your chief competitor has man-boobs...yeah, I don't think I'm buying you as greatest athlete of all time. Honestly, there's only one worse choice than Tiger Woods that I hear when this argument comes up.

That's fast company, Secretariat would say.

And there it is. I'm not going to argue this beyond four incredibly simple words: SECRETARIAT...WAS...A...HORSE. I mean, if you're making some top fifty list of greatest athletes, I could see putting Secretariat in there somewhere to add a bit of color. But as the first athlete Tommy Snell names to refute the Tiger Woods argument? That just won't stand.

That's not a slam dunk, Michael Jordan would argue.

His Airness is a legitimate candidate for this asinine title. Also, that's a terrible...wait, does that even count as a joke?

Brett Farve's Fanatics from the Kiln would just have everyone look at the record book.

This is, I think, why I wanted to embark upon this project: to discover the weird in-jokes that dominate local sports columns. Seriously, I have no idea what the Kiln is supposed to be or how it got its name, but I'm going to assume it's a group of amateur potters who spend all their time firing clay sculptures of Brett Favre in various exciting positions, such as "throwing a potentially career-ending interception" or "sitting on a tractor." Also, those fanatics apparently love Brett so much that they haven't actually bothered to learn how to spell the man's name. I will resist any temptation to impugn the intelligence of the great people of Mississippi, but I'd really appreciate it if they didn't keep lofting softballs at me.

Oh, and Brett Favre as all-time greatest athlete? Eh, it's better than Secretariat. But I'm a little dubious of Favre's credentials for a made-up bullshit title like this. What am I supposed to be arguing again?

On a Sunday when Tom Brady and a bunch of Patriots might throw a different name into the "super" ring, it's fitting to start the argument of "greatest athlete of all time."

So this was written right before the Super Bowl. I think it should be pointed out that that sentence suggests that either the Patriots currently have on their roster several candidates for the best athlete who ever lived, or that he's suggesting the Patriots as a team might be the best athlete ever. I don't know which of those arguments is sillier. Also, "throw a different name into the 'super' ring"? I get that the word "super" is in there because of the Super Bowl, but I'm still pretty sure that doesn't make even a quantum of sense. Or solace, for that matter.

I happen to agree with Brian Hewett of TGC that Secretariat was the greatest athlete, if we can call a horse an athlete.

No, we can't call a horse an athlete. You realize why, right Tommy?

A horse is a horse, of course.

Precisely, though no points for the obvious reference. I'll see you your Mr. Ed and raise you Comet the Super-Horse.

Farve might not be playing in Phoenix today,

Since Favre is apparently the Sun Herald's local deity, I'm still shocked they can't spell his name correctly. This is the sort of thing I just assumed was a myth...I didn't honestly believe anyone was this terrible. Once again, my faith in humanity is totally unwarranted.

but as they toss 5-yard dumpoffs or 70-yard TDs, Manning and Brady will feel the grip of NFL and Packer records etched in the pigskin. Unitas, Bradshaw, Starr and Brady won't catch the USM grad this year or the next, and that's argument enough to throw down the "greatest" gauntlet in The Kiln.

Let me get this straight...with just the Super Bowl left to go in the 2007-08 season, Tommy Snell feels the 59-year-old Terry Bradshaw, the 74-year-old Bart Starr, and the dead Johnny Unitas are unlikely to do enough to surpass Favre's achievements? And just to make things clear, even another season for three men a combined 204 years of age won't do enough to edge past Favre? THAT is the Kiln's argument? That his 2008 campaign will be better than a dead guy's, even if said dead guy is Johnny U? I'm not hallucinating, right?

Man, gotta love the Kiln. They're so fucking edgy. Logic is for pussies when they're around. By the way, how has this proven anything - and I'm using "proven" incredibly loosely - beyond Favre being the best quarterback ever? When are we going to hear about how Brett Favre will throw more touchdowns next year than Georges Vezina? C'mon Kiln, step it up!

Tiger might be the luckiest athlete of all time. He conjures up shots at just the right moment.

Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, let me get this straight. As part of your argument that Tiger is one of the greatest athletes ever, you essentially write off all his obviously prodigious skill as mere luck? I'm sorry, do you just keep a gun constantly trained at your own foot? I bet the Kiln would be behind something like that, especially if they could make an erotic Favre sculpture based on that imagery. It'd be controversial, but all the better for it.

With unmatched crowds and a stadium-like setting (600,000 expected this week), he made a hole-in-one on No. 16 at the FBR Open, the loudest stage in golf.The more he practices, the luckier he gets. Cliché? Maybe, but facts are facts. More wins? More majors? As the lyrics suggest, "it's just a matter of time."

WHAT LYRICS!? I admit my cultural milieu may be slightly different from Tommy Snell's, but I have no idea what the hell he's referencing. Is it Randy Travis or Brooks Benton? Maybe Cartel? Dream Street!? Fuck it, I didn't get into this to be a musicologist.

Greatest coach? That's easy, John Wooden. Seven consecutive NCAA national championships and the greatest winning percentage (.813) of all time. When Florida wins five more in a row, we'll talk.

Did you include that just to take a random shot at SEC rival Florida? Come on, Tommy, be honest. I won't forgive you, but at least I might someday understand you.

Greatest athlete? A bit more difficult. The jury's still out, but Tiger's giving his closing remarks.

You know, I'm pretty sure when a jury is out for, you know, deliberations...well, I'm pretty sure the time for closing remarks has passed. You know, you make your closing remarks, and then the jury's out. So if this metaphor is correct, Tiger would be giving his closing remarks to an empty jury box.

All of which leads me to me to think that even if Tiger Woods is the greatest athlete in the history of everything, he's sure as hell not the best jurisprudent. Actually, I'm pretty sure that title goes to the feller from Alabama, not Mississippi.

Congratulations, Tommy just got your local ass handed to you! I feel so big right now, you can't even imagine.

1 comment:

Passive Voice said...

Holy shit that was a terrible fucking article. I wonder if every sports article from Mississippi is legally bound to include a Favre(/"Farve") reference.