When it comes to sports, football isn’t just the first among equals; football is a little more equal that all the others. But that’s simply a fact of history and victory. It doesn’t preclude me from appreciating – or trying very hard to appreciate – other athletic endeavors. Here’s how the world of organized sports shakes down for me.
Sports I Get
Baseball: Perhaps the finest American athletic tradition. It teaches teamwork while requiring specialization. It is complex, and yet serene to watch. Besides, I found a long time ago that if you let the lads bludgeon things with a big stick and throw hard objects at each other for a good three hours, they’re much more tractable throughout the week.
Basketball: Another proud American innovation, it takes a real athlete to play and to watch. All that running back and forth coupled with following the big ball through the air! Sometimes I have to have a little lie-me-down after taking in a basketball game. But while I understand that the game evolves over time, what’s truly amazing is how the players keep getting taller every year. Eventually that basket will have to be raised when these Brobdingnagians can gently drop the ball in from above. What are we feeding them – and how much of it?
Cross Country: A noble sport, an ancient sport. We have a long tradition of running great distances over rough terrain. For the early Christians, it was a skill perfected when escaping their Roman persecutors. For the Irish, it was a skill perfected when escaping mounted English landlords. For the French, it was a skill perfected when escaping the Germans…over and over and over.
Fencing: A particular favorite of mine, and I might add, a sport at which I am rather proficient. The Church may have a long-standing ban on dueling, but how else am I supposed to stand up to a Freemason? (Before you ask, Jesuits only use pistols at dawn.) I once bested Napoleon III in a friendly fencing match. That’s how I paid for Sacred Heart.
Golf: Scotland’s gift to mankind. In modern play, tartan kilts have been replaced by raffish plaid pants. I suspect that’s why so many of our alumni absolutely love this game – that and the booze after 18 holes. I didn’t even mind when they tore up my farm to build the first of our two golf courses. But I’ve never played the game myself, because when I lean over getting ready to swing, my beard obscures the ball. And then the beard gets tangled with the swinging club – very painful.
Hockey: As I’ve written here before, this one is growing on me quickly. As rough as football, as fast as basketball, with clubs like golf – hockey seems to have it all. Plus it’s an exciting way to spend the winter months so you can all stop carping about the cold and snow and telling me I should have founded the place somewhere else, snotty little brats.
Lacrosse: I’ve also written at length about this sport. I think my favorite Lacrosse victory of the season was against the Orangemen. What a game that was. Go back to the Hague, butter-eaters! The Duke of Parma sends his regards! (The Orangemen are really Dutch, aren’t they – that’s not just a nickname, right?)
Tennis: France’s second greatest gift to mankind (after Our Lady’s University, of course). Endurance, reflexes, and wit are all on display. I’ve watched tennis all day long without ever growing bored. When that was outside, the sunburn was quite scorching. Which is why I am grateful to that fine Mr. Eck for building us a tennis pavilion. As well as a baseball stadium. And a bookstore. And several other things. Were we blackmailing this poor fellow?
Track and Field: What’s not to like about these Ancient Greek holdovers? Running fast for short distances, running with determination for long distances, passing the baton, overcoming hurdles in the path, making the great leap forward, flying over the bar set high – these aren’t just events, they’re metaphors for life. Chucking a spear, hurling a heavy rock, whipping a sharpened metal plate – these aren’t just athletic skills, they’re defensive techniques for tailgating in Ann Arbor or East Lansing. But I’m sorry, I don’t know what the hell pole vaulting stands for. Maybe circumventing parietals if she lives on an upper storey, in which case I forbid it.
Sports I Don’t Understand
Soccer: The field is too big, there’s not enough scoring, and the clock runs the wrong way. But the use of hands and touching are strictly prohibited and penalized. This is a discipline all students should assiduously cultivate.
Softball: I thought this was baseball at first. But then I saw the pitcher rifle a grapefruit at the batter in some sort of vicious hipshot. I guess I could like it, as I do baseball. But it’s such a waste of grapefruit.
Swimming and Diving: I agree that it’s important to be able to swim, especially since we have deep lakes on campus. But unless you’re escaping a sinking ship, why does it matter how fast you swim? Diving into the water is the same: unless your ship is sinking, why is this necessary. And all those spinning twists and turns, all those head-over-heels maneuvers – I’d puke, literally. And let me tell you, with this beard…
Rowing: I repeat, unless your ship is sinking…
Volleyball: I am at a complete and utter loss to comprehend this one. There’s a large net, as one might use for capturing lunatics. There’s a soccer ball, but while you can touch it, you cannot kick it. And everyone moves around like Rockne’s backfield shift, which I thought was outlawed. At least our players actually wear clothes, unlike the ones who prance around on the sand in their underthings (don’t tell me you watch for the athleticism, Zahm and Dillon).
Still, even if I don’t quite catch the nuances and artistry of a game, I respect all our athletes in equal measure. Whatever the Irish are playing on any given day is my favorite sport of the moment. Except badminton. I will never endorse a sport that is played with one of those…you-know-whats.