“They can’t be serious!”
I’d said this to no one in particular that very first time.
Moments before, I’d accidentally dropped the TV remote. The thing must’ve flopped on the floor at some crazy-ass angle and flipped the channel to something else. I’d been laughing at a Saturday afternoon Three Stooges Marathon. Now, at the very top of the hour, an announcer, Jim McKay tells me I am about to enjoy “…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Since WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS showed Slovenian ski-jumper Vinko Bogataj careening almost violently out of control and off that ski jump — experiencing “the agony of defeat” for the very first time in 1970, I’ve never missed a chance to watch him do it again. And again. I guess, out of some kind of cosmic guilt, I root for Vinko, as he shoots down the giant ramp once again. This millionth time or so, Vinko’s fate is no different.
What is different — is what follows. Wiping my eyes with both fists to make sure this was no dream–or that I wasn’t still watching The Stooges, I looked on as three ostensibly sober individuals engaged in activity that might have also been done by three half-drunk, married guys on a Guys Night Out gone off-rail.
As near as I could figure out, three guys dressed in funny looking pants were playing a game that took the common household act of sweeping (yes, with a broom) and married it to another innocuous task: shoving a large rock, (Jim called it “a stone”) down a long sheet of ice. While one person on the team aimed the rock and gave it an initial shove, two other people, armed with brooms, got out in front of the rock (barely) and escorted it down the ice to a landing spot in the vicinity of a bulls-eye.
“Curling,” Jim called it. He also said it was indigenous to Canada …and that it was an Olympic sport!”
“They can’t be serious.” I said again, this time more incredulous than before. This time I was talking back, directly to Jim McKay, though I don’t think he’d heard me.
Again and again I watched the Canadians slide stone after stone down the icy lane. As I did so, I made some assessments. I was pretty sure they didn’t ‘curl’ in the Southeastern Conference. There probably was no such thing as Crimson Tide Curling. There were no helmets. cheerleaders, sideline reporters, smack talk or blood-letting. There was no ambulance standing by in case someone-broke a fibula. More than likely there would be no one writhing in pain after getting hit in the head with that big rock—though one could hope.
To be sure, this curling thing wasn’t the perfect pastime for Americans, particularly Southern Americans. Curling needed some enhancements. Nevertheless, maybe I’d found something. The activity I saw on TV — this thing called “curling” — had a certain appeal. For instance, there was little or no sweating involved. It didn’t appear that you had to have Herculean strength. You could shove the stone — send it on its way — while blindfolded and dressed in a three piece suit. An accomplished curler could do it while holding a Pall Mall in one hand and firmly gripping a PBR in the other, I surmised. You could probably curl while drunk. In fact, alcohol might actually help matters.
Of course, if curling was ever going to be taken seriously, especially in the South there would have to be some adjustments just like we’d done with fishing, wrestling and driving a car. Certainly there would need to be a name change, a more testosterone-charged appellation. Maybe ‘Stone Sliding’ or “Pushing the Rock”. Male curlers would become ‘Stone-masters’ — and wear masks like in pro wrestling. Female curlers, ‘Stone-mavens’, would wear skimpy, revealing outfits. A sponsor like Redman or a janitorial supply company that sold mops, brooms and squeegees would be ideal, it seemed to me. Adding cash prizes, a season long point scoring system would be a must. A cheating scandal, a sex scandal — or at least the rumor of such — and a reality TV program such as the Real Housewives of Curling would add spice, I theorized. Lastly, curling needed referees. Under current rules, curlers police themselves. Obviously, no self-respecting sporting endeavor can expect to be taken seriously unless there are officials to blame.
But still, despite the needed improvements, I’d definitely found something. Being an experienced evaluator of these kind of things, it was readily apparent you didn’t need to be terribly athletic to be on a curling team. Barney Fife could curl. That hapless 1970 Wide World of Sports ski jumper Vinko Bogataj could curl. So could Larry, Moe and Curley (or is that Larry, Moe and Curling?). Hell, even I could curl. The only thing that would be better than to discover a no sweat, no muss, no fuss Olympic sport would be finding out that Halle Berry liked curling and had a special affinity for guys who curled. Again, one could hope.
On that now long ago Saturday afternoon, Jim McKay had introduced me to what was “my kind of sport.” If horse racing was the “Sport of Kings,” certainly curling was the “Sport of Accountants and Programmers and Insurance Agents.” It was a sport for the common man, especially if that common man was someone like me, who had barely enough athletic ability to climb up on a doctor’s examining room table. Or to click “I like” on a Facebook page.
Best of all Jim McKay said they did it in the Olympics.
One theory of psychology suggests that sports fans live vicariously through their heroes, they subconsciously put themselves in the shoes and jerseys of people whose names are “MANNING” and “MONTANA” and “AARON” and the like. The sales of official game day jerseys support this fact, psychologists say. I am skeptical though, at least when it comes to me. While I love college football (I follow Georgia Tech football as if it were a religion). However, I have NO desire to even imagine being actually hit by some big, burly mean-tempered Alabama linebacker as I run the ball through the offensive line. I get the heebee-geebees just writing about it.
But even I could curl. I can even daydream about Olympic curling.
When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin, I’ll be watching. At least I’ll be watching some of the events. There’s zero chance I’ll watch Olympic Ice Dancing unless they change the rules and dress the contestants in flammable suits and require them to jump over a bed of flames. I’ll be watching curling though, and living vicariously through the curlers on ice. As I imagine sliding, and sweeping my way to an inevitable, clumsy pratfall down the ice, I can just hear JimMcKay say:
“He can’t be serious.”