Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
About 10 years ago, we were sitting at a baseball game when our father, a man not given to hyperbole, was asked to name the best ballplayer he'd ever seen. He didn't hesitate: Mickey Mantle, he said. Then this well-educated, jaded, late-middle-aged man got a dreamy look in his eyes and began to talk about The Mick in the most mythical way, searching for words that could explain his diamond glory. "In cleats," our father finally said, "he was better than you can dream a man could be." We suspect that, 30 or 40 years from now, we will react much the same way when our children or grandchildren ask us to describe Emmitt Smith. We'll do what most people do when describing Smith. We'll start by detailing what he wasn't--he wasn't the fastest running back we'd ever seen (that would be Bo Jackson), the most powerful (Earl Campbell), the most dazzling (Barry Sanders), the most durable (Walter Payton), the best blocking running back...well, actually, he was the best blocking back we've ever seen. But he was more than that, more than just an average-speed back who never seemed to get caught from behind, more than a cog in the Cowboys' Super Bowl machines. He was...he was simply...this is where words will fail. Because it will be impossible to fully relate Emmitt Smith's greatness, no matter our advances in vocabulary. Unless you saw him that Monday night when he bounced through the Atlanta defense like a silver-and-blue pinball, unless you saw him methodically destroy the New York Giants' will with one good arm in 1994, unless you saw him burst through the Washington Redskins defense until only the speedy Darrell Green could chase him down, then watched, amazed, as he turned and tossed Green, a sure Hall of Famer, aside with a straight right arm to the chest...well, you'll never be able to dream a man could be that complete a football player. The reason we all watch sporting events is to catch a first glimpse at athletic endeavors that are not heroic (as they're often described) but are without a doubt transcendent. Emmitt Smith has provided such moments to Dallas Cowboy fans for more than a decade, and continues to do so even now, in the twilight of his career. Perhaps the simplest words are the best to describe him: When asked, we'll just say he was the greatest running back ever. Our offspring will just have to trust us.
Like other great moments in recent Dallas sports history, the best one of the year was a frozen one: Darryl Sydor, during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, crawling across the ice to defend his goal after he'd broken his ankle. ESPN analysts shouted in disbelief as Sydor, in obvious and tremendous pain, pulled himself across the ice with his arms, dragging his now-bum leg behind, and began throwing his hands in the air trying to deflect the puck as eventual champs New Jersey tried to score. It personified what makes hockey, and the Dallas Stars, so enthralling. Hockey at its best is a game that is at once more violent than football and more graceful than basketball, a game with an honor code that demands that hockey players not only play hurt, but play in blinding pain. Sydor's exhibition of--pick your clich--heart, determination, guts, whatever you want to call it-- almost made losing the Stanley Cup acceptable, because fans knew that moment reflected the Stars' effort, and the commitment fans ask of their sports stars.
We were rookies when we walked in, pros when we rolled out--or so it felt, with our nifty Specialized Expedition between our legs, our Bell helmet on our head, and our stylin' Fat Tire jersey over our shoulders. The last time we were on a bike was in 1982, back when Mom and Dad brought home that new Schwinn that long ago was reduced to bent, bruised metal after a nasty head-on with a car one night--enough to turn anyone away from biking for at least a little while. But two months after walking into the Richardson Bike Mart, looking for the instrument that was to be our salvation from an expanding waistline and encroaching lethargy, the place has become our home-away-from. The first day we walked in (underneath the framed Lance Armstrong jersey that hangs over the door), our salesman introduced himself (Sean Michael Dargan, whaddup?) and proceeded to introduce us to the right bike for the right build. Sean then explained that the bike had a lifetime guarantee and that the Bike Mart's expert staff would service it regularly, for a nominal (if not nonexistent) fee. But that wasn't the best part of the shopping adventure: That came when it was time to buy the accoutrements--the jersey and padded shorts, the gloves and helmet, the water bottle and bracket, the whole shebang that turns exercise into hobby into lifestyle. See, we like to bike--from nothing to 15 miles in two weeks, not bad if we do say so our own danged selves--but we like to look good while doing it, because that is, after all, the whole point. Uh, isn't it?
In this, the season that marks the beginning of the end for Your Heroes, there is only one human-interest tale worth telling concerning Dallas Cowboys players. Tim Seder, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound kicker who went to tiny Ashland University, was teaching at Lucas High School in Ohio when he found out he had a long-shot chance to make the team. He came to his first workout wearing a pair of indoor soccer shoes, complete with holes, that he'd borrowed from a student. He then went out and won the job, beating out dozens of other, seemingly more big-name kickers. Since the season's start, he has been the lone bright spot on a team that can no longer sniff mediocrity. Seder almost makes it worth going to home games, if only to root for him. Almost.
Yes, there's a double standard that goes on with sports fans in Dallas. If Michael Irvin gets caught with a roach, we will decry him as a moral degenerate. But if Stars goalie Eddie Belfour gets arrested because he was drunk as a monkey, well, that's just a man who lives a rock-and-roll lifestyle, brutha! Why? We'll let you draw your own conclusions. A black man caught with drug paraphernalia? Run him outta town! A white dude gets too loaded on a legal drug? Party on! At least, that's the way talk-show hosts and fans reacted to each episode. Our take: Michael Irvin was not only one of our favorite all-time Cowboys on the field, but he's also a guy we'd like to get to know off the field. Two reasons. One, crazed egomaniacs don't bother us (come to one of our editorial meetings sometime), and two, because, dude, we're dry right now, and we need a man with connections. After putting together a 400-plus page Best Of Dallas issue, one that honors a rich 20-year tradition, smokin' a bowl sounds so suh-weet right now...
We keep waiting for Hansen's act to wear thin on us. It obviously has on his humorless co-workers, who--save for the refreshingly human Gloria Campos--stare at Dale in confusion after he finishes a joke-laden sportscast. (Apparently a focus group hasn't yet told them whether they're supposed to laugh.) But we still love to watch Hansen, who is the most entertaining personality on local television. (An aside: Much as we like Babe Laufenberg, we miss Hansen in the radio booth during Cowboys games...but we digress.) This was never so apparent as when, after every moron in town was calling for Troy Aikman's concussed head, Hansen spent his newscast sarcastically mocking that notion, showing highlights of Aikman-like drop-back passer Kurt Warner. It was two-plus minutes of ranting--far more entertaining and, hell, more enlightening--than another recounting of the day's scores. Hansen is aware that people now get their scores on ESPN and the Internet; what he can offer is smart, snide commentary, often more valuable than an hour's worth of X-and-O jock talk.
Unlike the Byron Nelson, they don't get Tiger Woods at the annual PGA tour event in Fort Worth. Insiders suspect it's because Tiger's sponsor, American Express, doesn't want to help plug Colonial's sponsor, MasterCard. Winding between some of the biggest pecans and oaks in the state, the Colonial course is a shrine to the game and one of the sweetest sports venues in the nation.
You say to yourself as you're spraying a bucket of balls at Hank Haney Golf Center on a Wednesday afternoon: Sure, all those schmucks on Central are speeding off to come-to-Jesus meetings with the boss, or high-stakes sales calls, or divorce court. Not you. You've plunked down a few bucks, and you're shanking away at the city's most central golf attraction. For $15 you get the large bucket--155 balls--and a little piece of real turf. There's chipping and putting too. But when you're playing hooky from the man, there's really no need to sweat the small stuff. Yank out the big stick and take your cuts.
You can have your Humperdink's, your neighborhood sports bars, your chains with 30 screens--we'll take a smoky bar with a couple of small televisions. We watched every Stanley Cup Finals game there, and it was wonderful. You could walk in a few minutes before game time and get a booth, a beer, and a blue-cheese burger. By game's end, the place was full, but, unlike sports bars, it wasn't full of obnoxious drunks screaming after every play. It was full of quiet, contemplative drunks who preferred a simple, silent fist pump when things went well. In all, a sports lovers' dream.
Yeah, it's a big impersonal chain. Yeah, the jingles on TV are annoying (please get them out of our head...please). But there are some times in life when we want a megastore selection. We love Home Depot, OK? And we dig AS&O, because when we decide 21 times during the year that this is the weekend we're going to start losing weight, we want a large selection of sports equipment to choose from. Perhaps we'll take up soccer, or tennis, or dodge ball. Doesn't matter. We can go there, spend all day piling crap in our cart that we'll never use, and feel good about it.
Look, we're Troy Aikman homers. Big-time homers. We're such homers our son is named Bart, our nickname is Long Gone, and we've been known to sign copies of the Iliad on request (rim shot). We think it's silly to think that Randall Cunningham is a better quarterback for this team. But we were still a little embarrassed for dallascowboys.com writer and Ticket "Ranch Report" filer Mickey Spagnola when he recently got into a pissing match with morning-show co-host Craig Miller. Probably because Spagnola is Italian (as are we; we know, a temper is a terrible thing), he turned an "Is Aikman slipping?" debate into a personal attack on Miller and folks who have opinions but who don't go to every game, as Spagnola does. Miller, who argues like the single person he is--married men know it's not how many debating points you win, but that everyone feels good about themselves when the argument is over--delivered shots too, basically calling Spagnola a Cowboys shill. That's when it got ugly. And entertaining, in a train-wreck sort of way. Next up on the Spagnola-Miller agenda: Whose is bigger?
Yeah, yeah, we know, we're bandwagoners. So sue us. (We're kidding, Mr. District Attorney of Denton County, we're kidding!) But although we're still fans of last year's winner, Lone Star Park, we can't hide our excitement over SMU's new house. Used to be, the only excitement to be found Saturdays on Mockingbird Lane was at the discount aisle at New Fine Arts, a bit west of campus. Now, the glory of college football spreads along Bishop Avenue from Mockingbird up through campus: adult beverages, fall weather, hot dogs and hamburgers, tailgating, tail...all the things that make game day on most college campuses special. Then, once inside the stadium, the atmosphere gets even better: Every seat has a good sightline, it's not too crowded, but it is rowdy and fun. It completely refutes the asinine notion that SMU games were best when they were played off-campus by paid professionals.