The Good, The Bad and The ‘Burgh

Justin May 7, 2010 0

It’s been a strange week here at SCP Central. On Tuesday evening, I saw Mike Tyson on a New York City street corner. At one point, I was about 6 inches from him. Silly me. I thought that would be my closest brush with celebrity for a while. Little did I know that, just hours later, I would end up locked in a mini-internet feud with “Pushing Tin” star John Cusack.

As one-time contributor Dave from Brighton pointed out in an email, Twitter is like a phone book for the world. It allows us to interact with people we would otherwise never have access to. And while that’s cool in theory, it doesn’t always leave you satisfied.  Now, despite what he and a near record number of commenters may have taken away from my posting, I have no ill will towards John Cusack. In fact, I was hoping he would dig what I was doing and maybe even play along. My mistake was thinking he’s the characters he plays in the movies. The guy from High Fidelity would’ve gotten the joke.  The weirdo from Being John Malkovich would have embraced the chance to rib his own persona. But John Cusack is not those people. He’s just a guy.

Taking to a much further extreme, this is the same experience the people of Pittsburgh are having with Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he’s great on TV. But that doesn’t mean he’s everything you hope for. It’s the focus of this week’s anchor article in a very hit and miss issue of Sports Illustrated.

On to the review.

Sports Illustrated . May 10, 2010.

Ben Roethlisberger, Football, Pittsburgh Steelers

PREGAME:

I’m usually a big fan of “They said it”.  The sports world is populated by gruff old men, clueless youngsters and dime store comedians who let loose with great one liners.  This feature generally sticks to lighthearted fair. Not so this week, though.  The selected quote is from Vice President Joe Biden, who’s generally no stranger to malapropisms and funny outbursts. This was not one of them.

U.S. vice president, consoling the families of the victims of a West Virginia coal mine explosion: “They were fathers, grandfathers, sons, nephews, husbands and fiancés. They loved hunting, fishing, riding horses and four-wheelers. They hated the way Coach [Rich] Rodriguez left West Virginia for Michigan.”

Vice President Biden was trying to bring a smile to the face of hundreds of mourners by injecting a small dose of humor into an otherwise somber and appropriate eulogy. But, in my opinion, Sports Illustrated has presented it as “Look what this boob said.”  Next time, stick to Lou Piniella saying something stupid about Ipods. Leave the more serious fare to those who get it.

THE ARTICLES

Simply Super by Tim Layden

It is completely socially acceptable to say “I only watch Nascar for the crashes.”  And yet, I feel like the statement I’m about to make will rub a number of people the wrong way.

The only reason I watched the Kentucky Derby last week was because the track looked really muddy and I was hoping the horses would fall down in a massive domino effect pileup. They didn’t and I was left disappointed.  Horse are big and ornery and they smell terrible, not regal or majestic. I do not see the appeal.

As for this article, I didn’t read it and I don’t care.

Alone At the Top by Michael Farber

This seems like the third or fourth Crosby profile we’ve had in SI in the last few months. The last one came at the end of the Olympics, which was only a couple of months ago. Not much has changed with Sid since then.  So, why do we need another article about him?

I will give Michael Farber some credit for linguistic gymnastics. I was especially taken by two lines.

Like a vain man’s 39th birthday, the conference final is an annual event for the Penguins.

What a great turn of phrase. But it’s only prelude to this masterpiece:

In his bedroom hung not only a poster of Mario Lemieux but also one of Canadiens captain Kirk Muller. (“When my daughters heard that,” says Muller, now a Montreal assistant coach, “it raised their opinion of Dad.”) Sidney’s room was also decorated with Canadiens-themed wallpaper. The only thing that has changed is that now Crosby wallpapers Canadiens.

Very impressive, indeed.

I’ll make one more note on Crosby. This piece touches on the ongoing Crosby-Ovechkin feud, and seemingly says Crosby’s all steak but Ovechkin’s all sizzle.  But for a sport which is constantly trying to break into the mainstream, maybe it’s important to make note of this. While Crosby has  been the subject of countless Sports Illustrated articles, it’s Ovechkin who was profiled in the New York Times Magazine. Don’t be so quick to turn your back on sizzle.

Carlos Pena’s Funhouse by Ben Reiter

Carlos Pena has had a fascinating career. He started his career strong, then fell off the face of the Earth while bouncing from organization to organization. Then, he was resurrected in Tampa. He’s the perfect subject for an SI profile.  But this article gets some bonus points for this quote.

“This core group is going to still be together, me and Carlos are the only two guys that are going to be leaving,” notes Crawford, perhaps giving away more than he should. “We definitely feel like this is a special year for us, and we would like to do something good.”

I think that’s the most direct comment I’ve ever read from an impending free agent. Carl Crawford knows he’s going to be priced out of Tampa and he makes no bones about it. There are no empty platitudes about hoping to work something out. In a strange way, it’s kind of refreshing.

Last Stand by Boston? by Ian Thomsen

The Celtics are getting old.  This article didn’t do much for me, but it does give me a chance to play one of my favorite soundbytes of all time.

Better Than Ever by Chris Mannix

The good news this week is that Sports Illustrated isn’t forcing a soccer article down our throats. The bad news, they’ve filled the gap with a horse racing piece and a boxing piece. There was a time when these two sports were topped by only baseball in the minds of the American public. But that time, happily, has long since passed. Floyd Mayweather Jr beat Shane Mosely. He has a complicated family life.  He wants to fight Manny Pacquiao. That’s all well and good. It doesn’t mean he’s likable.

The Hangover by Jack McCallum

Sports Illustrated handled this article about Roethlisberger’s fall from grace perfectly.  First of all, assigning Jack McCallum to the story was a great plan. He’s an old pro who reached prominence at the same time as colleagues like Peter King and Rick Reilly. But unlike those two, he hasn’t become a caricature of himself.  The obvious choice for this piece would have been King, but that would have turned it into an article about how Roethlisberger’s off field problems will effect his on-field performance. It would have focused on how his teammates are dealing with the situation and would have ended with them ultimately welcoming him back into the fold. It would have probably also included the line of reasoning that the most important thing for Roethlisberger to do would be regain the trust of his offensive linemen, because in Peter King’s worldview, everything begins and ends on the field.

McCallum is an NBA writer. He doesn’t have the NFL access that someone like King does, and so he was forced to write about the greater societal issues that Roethlisberger’s behavior have wrought. He was also forced to do some fantastic reporting. After reading this article, you get the impression he spent a good amount of time actually speaking face to face with the locals in Pittsburgh and Milledgeville.

A piece on whether or not Roethlisberger will eventually be able to regain his all pro status on the field would have been kind of interesting. A piece about his fall from grace outside of the sport was absolutely fascinating.

POINT AFTER

I’m being punished. Ever since I pointed out that the only point after columnist I truly enjoy reading consistently is Chris Sheridan, he has been absent from the backpage.  Phil Taylor writes about Tennesee state high school policy that prevents students on merit based scholarships from taking part in Varsity athletics. The players he profiles say they don’t really care that much. Why should we?

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