Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson

Lots of stuff has been going on in the sports world lately, and the one-man editor’s board of Scratchbomb can’t cover it all. So we’re delighted to welcome Skitch Hanson to our fold. You may know him as the author of the highly popular syndicated sports column “Up The Middle,” the six-time winner of the AP’s Fence Sitter Award for “Writing Least Likely To Offend Anyone”. You may have read his best-selling books “Your Eight Heavenly Visitors: The Afterlife Made Easy!” and “My Saintly Mentor”. You may have seen him on ESPN’s “SportsCranks,” where he’s often seen debating against his “urban”
counterpoint, b-ball pundit Hoops Washington. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

It’s Super Bowl Week, and everyone who’s anyone is in Miami. Since I’m somebody, that’s where I find myself now. My employers at the syndicate have put me up at the Jupiter Best Western, a mere 2 hour drive from Dolphins Stadium. Perks abound for media types like myself. For instance, you know what the breakfast buffet in the hotel has? Those tiny little poppy seed and orange muffins. All you can eat.

I love tiny muffins.

But I am not in south Florida for muffins. I am here for Super Bowl XLI. The Colts versus the Bears. These two teams have never faced each other in a championship game. But there’s an even bigger first that will happen for the first time on February 4th.

A first so big it warrants a one-sentence paragraph.

Possibly even a sentence fragment.

This Sunday, for the first time in the history of the NFL, both Super Bowl teams will be coached by Afro-Americans. Those two coaches are Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts. And typing out their full names and team names has allowed me to fill precious column inches.

Precious, precious column inches.

Tony Dungy: Black

As for me, I don’t see race. When I see blackguy or a Mexican guy or even an Indian guy, I think to myself, “That man is just as good as me”. But surely this Super Bowl is what Martin Luther King meant when he said, “We shall overcome”. I am pretty sure Martin Luther King said that, though he was probably talking about civil rights and not football.

But is football really that different from the struggle for dignity and freedom?

I don’t think so.

No, I really don’t.

Black people in America had to combat hundreds of years of slavery and systematized oppression. Similarly, Tony Dungy’s Colts had to overcome a 15-point deficit at the half of the AFC Championship Game. Their victory emancipated Indy from the shackles of Patriot dominance. And Dungy’s strong leadership could help Peyton Manning receive his proverbial 40 acres and a mule–performing well in a playoff game.

Judging a person before you even know them is called prejudice, and I think it’s wrong no matter who you are and who you are targeting. To me, it’s the worst thing you can do to a person. Except murder, of course. That’s obviously much worse. And most physical trauma is worse, I guess, than the sting of prejudice. So right after murder and violence, prejudice is the worst thing one human can subject another human too.

That’s why someone needs to stand up and speak out, in full voice, against all of this unreasonable prejudice Rex Grossman has been subjected to.

The bottom line is, Grossman led his team to a conference championship. Once you make it to the Super Bowl, you are automatically a good quarterback. I don’t want to hear about “passer rating” and “completion percentage” and other stathead nonsense. Statistics are just numbers nerds create to make themselves feel better about not being able to play sports.

Lovie Smith: Also Black

I look at Rex Grossman and I see a champion. A young man who throws some of the most beautiful passes you’ve ever seen. It’s almost impossible for him to throw anything shorter than an 80-yard bomb. And even if more than half of those vaults get picked off, they always look great. Isn’t that what matters? Yes, that is all that matters, aside from winning the game.

The Bears’ quarterback isn’t African-Americanish. But he has received a lot of disrespect from the national media. Perhaps Lovie Smith’s unique perspective helped Grossman to weather all the prejudice and hatred hurled his way. Perhaps Smith’s example allowed Grossman to love himself for what he is. If “black is beautiful”, then surely “a highly erratic quarterback is beautiful”, too.

It would be foolish to think that two blackist coaches in the Super Bowl have solved all of America’s problems with race. Black people in this country still face many hardships every day. I’m not sure what those hardships are. There’s this one black guy who heads up in the accounts payable office at my newspaper. He seems like he’s doing okay for himself. Drives an Audi.

My point is, if two black African-American coaches can make it to the Super Bowl, can’t we all make it to the Super Bowls in our own lives?

Which reminds me, keep your eyes peeled for “The Super Bowl Of Your Life: The Big Championship Game You Play Right After You Die, Probably,” in book stores this May.

* * *

Speaking of champions, the world lost a great one last week. A true winner in every sense of the word. That winner’s name was Barbaro. He didn’t have a last name because he was a horse.

But if I had to give Barbaro a surname, it would have to be “Champion”. Or maybe “Champion-Horse,” with a hyphen.

Goodnight, sweet prince/horse.

Barbaro faced great odds his entire career. No one thought he would win the Kentucky Derby, but he did. No one thought he would survive the injury he sustained at the Breeder’s Cup. But he held on for several months, until the pain grew too much for this majestic beast. So the doctors decided it was best to send him on to that eternal race in the sky. Over the Rainbow Bridge, up the Licorice Stick Ladder, and down Gingerbread Lane, where he can frolic and run free with Secretariat and Seabiscuit and John Wayne’s horse whose name escapes me.

I just want to make it clear that I don’t believe in euthenasia for people. Relieving the suffering of an animal that can’t express its excruciating pain is one thing. But human life is much too precious to be taken so lightly. Even if that human life is riddled with disease and has lost control of all its bodily functions.

Some people said it was ridiculous that so much attention was lavished on an injured horse. What about all the suffering in the world? The war in Iraq. The genocide in the Sudan, or wherever. Famine in Europe, I remember hearing about somewhere. Aren’t these things more deserving of our compassion and support?

No, they are not, because they are far away.

We can’t help landmine victims in Cambodia, because they’re on the other side of the earth. And everytime you turn around, somebody in some other part of the world is getting into a civil war or drowning in a tsunami. It’s almost like they enjoy tragedy. I mean, who can keep up with all these crazy disasters?

But think about this: An injured horse was able to bring tons of people together on message boards and chat rooms, all of them united for one purpose: to post get-well wishes on message boards and in chat rooms.

If we could harness that energy, I’m sure it would generate an amazing amount of power.

Perhaps even horsepower.

No, just regular power.

* * *

While down here in Miami, I’ve been able to hang out with some amazing fellow writers. I don’t like to name drop, but you know who’s a prince of man? Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. I saw him getting into his rental car in the hotel parking lot, and I said, “Hey, that’s Peter King!” And then I kind of covered my mouth, because I didn’t even know I’d said it out loud. I do that sometimes.

But you know what Peter did? He waved hi to me. Even though he was struggling to get into his car with a coffee in one hand and a just-dry-cleaned suit on a hangar in the other. He took the time to acknowledge my thoughtless outburst.

Class act.

* * *

Once again The Rocket is talking about returning to baseball, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. What with all the steroid nonsense and rookies showboating and hip-hop intro music, baseball needs more classy champions like Roger Clemens.

Hate The Rocket, hate our freedom

Some people say it’s not fair that Roger Clemens gets to pitch for only a third of the season while every other starter has to go through the rigors of a 162-game season. But when you’re The Rocket, you get to make your own rules. This is America, and in America some people really are better than others. If you want everyone to be the same, go to Russia and wait on line for toilet paper and bread.

I mean Soviet Russia, which you can’t go to anymore because it doesn’t exist. Maybe I should have said Cuba or North Korea. But you get my point: if you dislike Clemens’ special treatment, you’re a Communist.

Some people say Clemens must be on performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs, which stands for “performance enhancing drugs”. That’s just nonsense. Just because he’s pushing 50 years old and can still throw 95 mph doesn’t mean he’s cheating. Clemens got to where he is today by having the heart, soul, and arm of a champion. Not the lack of heart and soul of a cheater. He has never been caught cheating, therefore he has never cheated, end of story.

I know that Barry Bonds has never officially been caught cheating either. But we all know he totally cheated and should go to jail for it. Bonds is a completely different situation, which I don’t have the time or space to explain here.

I look forward to the months ahead. Roger releasing a few quotes here and there that will tease the fans and GMs. Roger weighing his free agency options. Roger watching his teams’ playoff chances wax and wane. Roger choosing the team with the best chance of winning the World Series that won’t make him go on road trips. And finally, Roger making his first start of the year on September 29th or so.

Those six annual Roger Clemens starts are now just as much a part of autumn as the leaves changing, or rotten teenagers egging your Honda Civic on Halloween. If you want to take that away from baseball–OUR NATIONAL PASTIME–then you must hate America and want the terrorists to win.

* * *

Some brief thoughts, sports-related and otherwise.

* I’ve been eating a lot of corn bread lately. Everytime I go to a restaurant these days, I wind up with a side of corn bread. When did this happen?

* Once Brett Favre retires from the NFL, a small piece of my soul will die.

* If it were up to me, I’d lock up Terrell Owens and throw away the key. I’m not sure on what charge, but I’d think of something.

* Tracy and Hepburn, move over. Your new competition is Matthew McConnaughey and whoever the girl is starring opposite Matthew McConnaughey.

* If people don’t stop leaving Wayne Gretzky alone, I don’t know what I’ll do.

* The Wife made me watch Gray’s Anatomy. Give it a shot. It’s like ER, but in Seattle and with that Chinese girl from Sideways.

* The Chicago Blackhawks are a team that no one talks about anymore.

* You know who I hate? Tim Robbins. He should get hit by a truck.

* I don’t care what anyone says: pizza is great.

* The last time I talked to my son, I said that Tom Brady would be remembered as the best quarterback of his generation. He said something about wanting to talk about our crippled relationship, and I said John Elway’s stats were better over a longer period of time. He called me “an emotional retard” and slammed the door on his way out of the house. I haven’t seen him since. I’d still go for Brady over Elway.

* You know who should be in a movie again? Gene Wilder. He’s great.