I might be the only guy in Boston who’s man enough to admit this publicly, but I’m watching the Winter Olympics. And I mean hours and hours of the Winter Olympics. You know how much time your lazy 14-year-old son squanders playing “Halo 3”? That’s how much time I’m spending in front of the Olympic coverage.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like the boldest public pronouncement of all time, but it still took some guts. Because being a fan of the Winter Games is the love that dare not speak its name. Aside from me, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of guys willing to admit they’re watching the goings-on in Vancouver. It’s one of those things that millions do but very few will own up to. Like looking at porn. Or watching Jerry Springer. Or voting for Martha Coakley.
I mean, clearly I’m not the only one tuning in every night for some red-hot curling action and the brain-melting excitement of Nordic combined. NBC won’t see ratings like this again until its next Super Bowl. Or once Jim and Pam’s baby is born. Or until Conan finally snaps and puts a mid-monologue beatdown on Leno’s ass. So while everyone is watching, I feel like I’m the only guy I know willing to ’fess up and admit I’m liking the hell out of these Olympics.
The hard part, though, isn’t admitting I like the Winter Games; it’s trying to figure out why. I grew up around here, so I can sort of relate to most winter sports. I’m a so-so skater. I sledded a lot as a kid, but my Flexible Flyer’s name isn’t going to be on my lips while I lay dying in my priceless mansion. I learned to ski as an adult … though, to be honest, it’s never meant much more to me than something I do until the lifts close so I can finally go inside and have a Captain Morgan and cider. Skiing is one of those insane things people do when they’re sober.
So while I like winter sports, I don’t love them. Not enough anyway to be checking the world short track speed skating power rankings year-round. Until the Olympics come. Then for some reason, I become interested. Interested to the point where I’m one ugly sweater and an Adam’s apple away from being the next Cris Collinsworth.
I’m just not sure why. Maybe it’s just the fouryearishness of it. I suppose if something is rare enough, there’s a certain novelty to it that makes even the most pointless, trivial quadrennial event interesting. Like leap day. Or a presidential election.
But what I really find odd about all this is that I’m from Boston. I’m a Masshole, born and bred. We don’t follow these mamby-pamby amateur niche sports. Played for the glory, honor and national pride. We prefer our sports played by millionaires with massive egos, playing for endorsement money and all the mistresses that can pass muster with their entourages. Hell, we barely even follow college sports, never mind the Swiss skeleton team. To a true Masshole, real winter sports are things like Leaving Work Early, Shoveling Snow Into the Street and Traffic Cone Parking Space Guarding.
So, frankly, I’m torn. The Olympics are like the people of Canada themselves: earnest, sincere, well-intentioned and desperately hungry to please everyone. And for a Masshole, it’s hard not to make fun of such a slow-moving target. I mean, check out this mission statement from the Games’ official website:
“The Vancouver Games are driven by a strong vision. With its mission statement being; and to touch the soul of the nation and inspire the world ...”
And that’s an exact quote. In all its teenage-goalie-fresh-from-Quebec-Junior-Hockey broken-English glory. How can you not admire the spirit of those sentiments, but at the same time want to mock them mercilessly? That doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a Masshole.
But on the other hand, to their undying credit, the Olympics do us a public service, too. Let’s face it — this is THE worst time of the local sports calendar. The fun of wallowing in the Colts’ misery is starting to wane. We’re still a month away from BC bowing out in the first round of March Madness. And we’re two months away from the NBA and NHL playoffs. Which means we’ve got nothing but the Sox equipment van leaving and the occasional shot of Heidi Watney in a halter top to tide us over until Opening Day. So, naturally, any diversion we can get is welcome. The Winter Games are the sports equivalent of the meal they serve on an airplane. Under normal circumstances you might gag on it. But right now you’ll take it just to break the monotony.
But if TV brought you some more satisfying sport instead … say, an OLN show where hunters try to track down and shoot Roger Clemens, or “Hot Oil Wrestling Night in America” ... you’d drop the Olympics like your partner on a messed-up throw triple toe loop.
On the other, other hand, one of the supposed selling points of the Olympics is that they bring together diverse competitors from all over the globe in the spirit of unity. Which might be fine and dandy for the rest of the world, who go for that sort of thing. But that won’t fly when you’re from Boston and the “rest of the world” is anything beyond 495. To a true Masshole, the world is divided into the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. And anyone from anywhere else is either from a country that kicked our ancestors out, that tried to kill our parents, that wants to kill us, or where they show the Westiminster Dog Show on the Food Network. Sorry, but if a Bostonian wants to reach a hand out to someone from a foreign soil, he’ll start a fight at a Bruins-Canadiens game.
Still, there’s no denying there are some genuinely touching Olympic moments. When Alexandre Bilodeau won the men’s moguls, Canada’s first gold on home soil in three Olympics, and he hugged his brother who has cerebral palsy, well, if you weren’t affected by that you should check to see if your health plan covers a trip to Oz because you have no heart. Still, it seems like every Olympiad the networks play up the human interest angles and tug at your heart strings like Pete Townsend windmilling his way through “Baba O’Reilly” to the point where it seems like everybody is competing on behalf of some relative who’s either stricken or dead. I know this: If anyone in my family ever expresses interest in an Olympic sport, I’m disowning them before that’s my dead carcass they’re dedicating their halfpipe routine to.
Something else the Winter Games bring are the obscure sports you’re never going to see otherwise. Unless you know a good luge run or a biathlon club in the area. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I guess is up to individual tastes. (Personally, I’d prefer the biathlon if they shot at one another.) But that’s why Crayolas come in boxes of 64, I suppose. And as for short track speed skating, if a Masshole wants to watch a bunch of racers screw up the race by wiping each other out on the turns, he can always go to the greyhound track. Oh, wait ...
But after weighing the pros and cons, even a jaded, cynical, lifelong Masshole like me has to admit he’s all in for these Olympics. Over the years there have just been too many great moments, too much drama, too many Franz Klammers and Kristi Yamaguchis and “Do you believe in miracles?!” for me to pass up it up. And while you might not be willing to admit it at work, or in the bar room or on “The Big Show,” you are, too.