everything i know about football in a nutshell


I know that I don’t like the game. It strikes me as only slightly more boring than golf or baseball but in a different, more intolerable way.

I also know that I loved sitting in the bleachers in Edmonton sometime in the eighties, wrapped in a wool blanket, sipping from a thermos. I LOVED that this boring game brought people together in frigid temps, and not a soul complaining. I have no idea who was playing. The Edmonton team and somebody else I suppose. Who cares? The blanket, the thermos, the frosty-air-happy-vibe is what I remember.

I know that in high school I made the mistake of attending a pep rally and was hit in the head by a football.

And I know what an excellent plan was hatched when I used to hang out with semi-athletic friends who liked to play frisbee and soccer and who one afternoon decided on an impromtu game of football and used me as a decoy to score a touchdown (all I had to do was stand beside the goal post, receive the ball and take one step to my left—the theory being that the other team wouldn’t be watching me because by then they’d figured out I was useless). Brilliant strategy except for the part where I didn’t understand my role and stood there with the ball wondering what do I do with it again??

I know (or at least have heard) that a typical football game lasts about three hours, during which time there are only about 11 minutes of actual play.

I know that in England football is called American football because in England football is soccer.

And I know that if I was forced to watch football it would be CFL games only. (I know about the difference in downs but I don’t understand or care.) I’m a sucker for the cold, and hearty souls. (It occurs to me that part of what I don’t like about certain sports is that they’re played in warm weather and who wants to run around in the heat? That and the fact that I just don’t like sports.)

But who didn’t love seeing that snow last night?? And the no-whinging attitude of players and fans. Took me straight back to those Edmonton bleachers. Oh, sure, it might have been freezing and unpleasant at the time but that’s the stuff sweet Canadian memories are made of.

Also… that the Argos won doesn’t hurt.

(sorry, Calgary, you know I’ve always loved you… and I promise to stop saying the word Edmonton in your presence… and of course Toronto)



this is not a review: ‘the utility of boredom’, by andrew forbes

Here is my entire lifelong experience of baseball:

In gym class, being the last person to be chosen for the team, always.

Nieces and nephew who played baseball.  (Oh, did they? I only recall attending one game and being totally confused by everything including why all the parents were yelling.)

Children of nieces and nephew who currently play baseball.  (If they’re happy I’m happy for them… yawn.. It’s still not my favourite outing but I bring my camera these days and that makes it better. Here’s a pic I took at a recent game. I call it: things I’d rather be doing than watching baseball.)

The World Series, 1992(Even I contributed to that decibel level.)

The one Jays’ game I’ve attended.  (We had excellent seats apparently but it didn’t help the tedium. Have blocked out the details. Nothing to report.)

Two friends and one house painter who rhapsodize about the religion of baseball. (The earnestness of their comments has stayed with me for years and keeps me oddly curious about the WHY of whatever is the game’s draw.)

And then into my life falls The Utility of Boredom, a collection of essays, which (to my complete surprise), explain so much, not the least being that boredom is integral  to the game—it’s an actual thing,  like the space between notes played on a piano, that part of the beauty of baseball is that there is time for climbing trees. The theory is Forbes’… the analogies, mine.

Forbes’ style is casual, anecdotal, written with a wide knowledge and deep passion for the game yet readable on different levels, depending where you are on the baseball knowledge continuum. For neophyte me, it was all pleasure of discovery and details that will forever stick, like how baseball is made for radio in a way that doesn’t work as perfectly for other sports, how the rhythm of it allows you to have a game on in the background as you go about your day and you don’t miss a thing.

I like that image.

It’s an oddly comforting book. And I’m not even sure why I’m choosing this word, but it’s the right word. I enjoyed the reading, enjoyed having my eyes opened to the ‘comforts’ this game seems to offer its fans.

In ‘Sanctuary’, the opening essay, Andrew Forbes explains his own introduction to baseball and that feeling of safety and the-world-suddenly-makes-sense  vibe inside a ballpark. ‘Jim Eisenreich’s Eyes’ is about finding a morality trigger from a baseball card. ‘Ballparks of America’ is a surprisingly beautiful tribute not to the stadiums and their legends but to the towns and the people that define them, delivered in bite-sized morsels.


“In Sanford, Maine, a woman tells you what the mill closures have done to the town and how there are no tourist dollars because Sanford is so far inland. Orchard Beach catches all the tourists. But Sanford has its little ballpark proudly bearing a ‘Babe Ruth was here’ plaque…”

“In Seattle, from your seat high up in the Safeco Field stands, you can see Mt. Rainier as well as Felix Hernandez. Both are astonishing…”

“In Los Angeles they beat a man into a coma for wearing a Giants jersey…”

I very much doubt I’ll ever be a seamhead (baseball fan) or even enjoy watching a game, but neither will I ever again doubt the sincerity with which those who love the game love it. Also, I believe it’s important to understand The Other… and though sports remains a weird thing to me, The Utility of Boredom has gone a long way to explaining its appeal on a deeper level.

“Boredom, in the baseball sense, is a synonym for lackadaisical; it’s the only proper response to all that green grass and blue sky. Slouchy in the Viera stands, the beery patrons were in no hurry to shake the peanut shells from their hair and return to real life. They wanted to sprawl over those sticky plastic seats for which they’d paid. And the players—the unknown pitcher on the mound palming the ball mindlessly, the batter stepping in, stepping out, stepping back in, adjusting his cup, a batting glove, his helmet—were happy to oblige.

“This is where good radio announcers truly shine: filling the space. I once heard Vin Scully…. describing a cloud over Dodger Stadium and it was the most riveting and moving 30 seconds of the the entire broadcast. It’s for this reason too that baseball became a game of such minute statistical detail: that folks at microphones should have something to say when there was nothing to discuss and nothing happening on the field.”

So glad I stumbled upon this.

I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

Nor bored for even a moment.

(&, honestly, no one could be more surprised about that than me.)




every party needs a pooper, that’s why you invited *me*…

Here’s the thing.

The Blue Jays.


How great. I mean, it’s really great. I get that. Even though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t give much of a rat’s back-end about sports.

I do, however, like happy people, I like the excitement, the joie de vivre all over the place (on game days), the way revellers make room for traffic. I love us. We deserve this, the winning, the mad happiness. Who wouldn’t love it?

They say this kind of thing brings people together. On game days. And the economy gets a boost. Liquor and beer stores, junk food purveyors. Hotels, TV networks, airlines. You know, the people who need a boost.

Oh, and Rogers Communications. Owners of the Blue Jays dynasty. Apparently their shares have gone up rather noticeably during this period of frenzied winning/not winning/winning. The TSX, on the other hand, went down during the same period. But let us not concern ourselves with negatives.

The Jays are winning!

And we are being brought together as a community.

On game days.

However, in between and especially after the game days are over … it is, sadly, business as usual. That’s to say the homeless (‘boosted’ too by all the Blue Jay excitement) will still be homeless. Children will go to school hungry. If they go at all. Women will be beaten by spouses, some of them sports *stars* high-on-winning  adrenaline, some just assholes, others on welfare, most somewhere in the middle. Old people will still die alone and prisons will continue to fill and the rest of us will still hate and judge and hate some more. No matter how big, how grand or how much money is thrown at sporting events, no matter how exciting or how often we are told these things bring people together… there are no games that have brought the world, or even a city, or even a community, together in a way that sticks beyond the game days. As far as I know, no Olympics or World Series has erased persecution, corruption or any manner of ‘isms’. After the winning, a handful of men will wander off into the horizon with truckloads of gold while the rest of us are scraping cold pizza off our couches. Nothing will be any different. Aboriginal communities will still have undrinkable water and mould on their paper thin walls and the oceans will still be clogged with the debris of our need to turn away, to be distracted by something more pleasant than reality, like the easy god of sports and winning. (Remind me…winning for the sake of what again?)

Oh yeah. Because winning is fun.


I get that. I do.

It just seems so trivial. The players and owners, I understand why they want to win. (And it’s not for the joie de vivre.) But what do we get?

(I know that certain players and individuals contribute privately to various organizations with their time and money… it’s not about individuals. This really is about the owners, the corporate aspect of sports.)

So I was thinking, what if we got something too… what if the corporate aspect, the people that make the ten trillion dollars from our love of the game celebrated each win by donating some of their gold to the community. To feed those kids or build some housing or offer opportunities to people who’d otherwise have none. There are agencies in every city that would gratefully accept a few thousand bucks. A few hundred  thousand, for every game won during playoffs… well, that could change  a city.

Now that would be worth cheering for, winning  for, no?

“Big Sports” (and it’s always ‘male sporting events’) are a powerful vehicle. By adding this element we lose none of the fun. All we do is add ‘goodness’. It stuns me that we don’t demand it.


Just an idea.

From your neighbourhood party pooper.


(p.s. go jays.)

bikeless in ontario

I’ve been thinking about bikes more than usual lately. I haven’t had one in over a year and everywhere I look it seems there are places to cycle or things to gather and bring home in a basket between handlebars. I love my old car and where it takes me that I would never go by pedal power alone but there are just so many places between walkable and driveable that perfectly suit two wheels.

And maybe because I’ve been thinking about them, I happen to see more of them, and not just the usual sort either. The other day I saw a tricycle built for two; this large three-wheeler with two seats and two sets of handle-bars, one behind the other. The couple driving were seniors and it was just the most wonderful thing.

I saw a teen-aged lad on a unicycle a few weeks ago. I wanted so much to stop (my car) and take a picture but I felt it might unsettle him and I didn’t like how that possibility played out in my mind. (How does one even stop a unicycle?)

And there’s a guy, maybe in his fifties, maybe older, who rides/pedals/powers a bike that has steps rather than pedals. Like a step machine in a gym. It’s a standing bike that the rider/pedlar powers by stepping one foot at a time, so that one’s whole body moves up and down. I love this thing. The idea of standing instead of sitting seems vastly more comfortable and, given how much sitting we already do, maybe better for the hip joints.

I think about hip joints more and more every year.

The bikes I’ve had in the past are not the bike I want now. For instance, I do not want the red and white tricycle I loved at age six or seven or eight, which I drove at top speeds, fancying myself the envy of both peers and adults. I’m no longer interested in speed or style.

The one after that was green and huge and originally belonged to my much older and much, much taller sister. I don’t remember ever being able to sit on the seat and pedal at the same time.

Then there was the gift of a brand new golden three speed during my teen years. I rode it but never loved it. I didn’t like the colour and instead of a funky banana seat it had the standard issue kind, seriously uncomfortable. And only three speeds? It served me well though. Spent lots of time riding along country roads looking for places to steal fruit and trees under which to read. It had a utilitarian pack above the rear wheel which I could stuff with peaches and paperbacks.

When I moved to Toronto I bought a rust-coloured bike at Canadian Tire, called it Rusty. When I moved to Edmonton, I took Rusty with me. We had some good times and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there without her. But then I moved to England and left Rusty behind. Sold her, gave her away, I can’t remember and if you don’t mind I’d rather not talk about it… [sniff]

In England I had a big black Oxford bike that I rode through a field to get to Waitrose, and down a cobbled hill to get to the corner shop.

Back in Toronto I had a bike that I can barely remember and when I first moved to the town where I now live I had a ten-speed that was entirely wrong. Ergonomically wrong. For me anyway. For one thing it required me to sit hunched forward, grasping those twisted-under handlebars, which I don’t like. I like normal handlebars and to sit upright like old schoolmarms.

The last bike I had,  a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law, was sky blue and had the right kind of handlebars. I got a wicker basket for it and quite liked it, but the dear old thing was ancient and eventually toast.

All of this to say: I’m in the market for an addition to my list.

Suggestions, anyone?

Makes, models, testimonials welcome…

WikiCommons knows bikes.



bordering on the curious


You may find this surprising, but I can go months and months without ever seeing a border collie. Shocking, I know. And then last week I saw at least a dozen—two of them right in my own neighbourhood. The first, a beautiful long haired black and white running loose down the sidewalk while his human rode a small motorbike on the street in what would be the bike lane if city planners actually planned things. The dog was smiling and his coat was gorgeous in the sunlight and I wanted to take a picture but didn’t think fast enough or, rather, they were moving too fast. They stopped at the corner store just as I, in my car, was turning to go the other way. My instinct was to turn back, jump out, say hello!, tell them how they were a lovely sight and what a great dog and how I’d be smiling for minutes and minutes afterwards. Possibly longer.

But I was late going where I was going so I didn’t.

The very next day I saw another, or maybe the same one. This time walking on a lead held by a human on foot.  Not as exciting, but still… Curious, this border collie ‘invasion’, I thought.

Even more curious coming as it did just a day before we went to the sheep dog trials outside Woodville. (You’re forgiven if you don’t know what the blazes I’m talking about.)

Sheep dog = border collie

Trial = an event that originated in the UK for lonely shepherds to get together with other lonely shepherds, talk shop and compare herding techniques via their faithful pups (originally a chap’s thing, though now it seems there are as many women as men shepherds)


It’s the opposite of animal cruelty, if you’re worried about using animals as entertainment. These are all working dogs, this is what they do every day, and what they love to do—herding is an instinct. The farmer trains the dog to understand directional commands via a high-pitched whistle and so controls the herding process, i.e. the direction they move and which of them are penned or separated from the others (for say, medical attention, milking, or any number of reasons).

How it works—the dog tears across a gigantic field to a group of sheep that spectators can’t even see clearly, herds them back through various fences then runs out to get a second lot, brings them back and deals with any bolters. Then they have to separate them out, five here, a couple there, and finally, get three in a small pen.

It’s a brilliant, old-fashioned system, one that creates an amazing relationship between farmer and dog, lovely to behold. (You can tell these dogs are loved, to the point they even have their own little splash pools, pseudo ponds, for regular ‘swim breaks’ whenever they like—even if that happens to be in the middle of herding.)

All of this has zip to do with pedigree or appearance. The dogs are of various ages, they might be unattractive, have three legs (there’s actually a famous three-legged one), it’s all about heart and bond between farmer and dog and how much the dog likes his job. Having said that, these are probably among the happiest pups in the world—there’s not one unpleasant or worrisome note to the whole event. In fact, you get the feeling that if humans hadn’t invented trials, border collies would have.

Anyway, a lovely day, made even nicer with a picnic on the grass under a large umbrella, where, I’ll admit, I casually entertained a few thoughts of leaving it all to buy a whistle and start making some serious feta.

The point of this post, in case you’re wondering, has escaped me.

—Oh to have a wee border collie to herd the random thoughts that bounce round my brain…


the big picture

At last. Some excellent coverage of the Paralymic Games over at The Boston Globe. Amazing photos—exciting, gorgeous, inspirational—as coverage of this, or any, major sporting event should be. (And the quality is great—full screen pics with cut lines; the following copies don’t do them justice.)



God forbid we should have any coverage (to speak of) in Canada.

As I may have mentioned… CTV is useless. The “highlights” I’ve been able to see are tiny, annoying snippets, showing virtually nothing (the skiing coverage, for instance, didn’t even feature one complete run); and there’s little, if any, commentary about the events themselves, the training, the equipment, the athletes—their stories, determination, the extreme athleticism (the way they do in the ‘other’ Olympics, sometimes—you’ll forgive me—ad nauseum). Furthermore, good luck figuring out when the “highlights” will be on.

As for the major dailies in Toronto (not sure about the rest of the country) none featured the Opening Ceremonies on their Saturday front pages (choosing instead to focus on K’Naan, Savard and Bre-X). And, but for today’s Globe and Mail, the coverage throughout has been embarrassingly scant, often taking second and third place to other, everyday sports news. (Tell me again, these are OLYMPIC GAMES… and they’re in in THIS country, right??)

Clearly, they do NOT have The Big Picture. And we wonder why newspapers are dying… It makes a person want to fan the flames.

To the brains at The Boston Globethank you so very much for taking note of a major event that for some reason much of our own media has all but entirely missed.

Thanks too, to Matt Galloway, whose comments on CBC’s Metro Morning today, brought this site to my attention.

a slap in the face

Given the general hoopla dedicated to the Vancouver Olympics, Part One, I had this stupid idea— that is, I assumed —Part Two, the Paralympics, might also get some attention.

Not that I expected it would get as much of course. Good lord no. Afterall I understand that it’s hard for small-minded marketers to find the same promotional ‘qualities’ in visually impaired, armless, or wheelchair bound athletes. (Though why that is, I can’t quite fathom. One would think—if one were thinking—that not only are these men and women of the Paralympics extraordinary athletes in top physical condition—moreso even than the Part One Olympians when you consider things like cross country skiing without poles or downhill without sight—but their clothing and equipment must also be absolutely top of the line.)

Seems to me lots of marketing opps missed here.

But then, could be we’re dealing with teeny, blinkered brains in the corporate and marketing arenas where sponsors prefer spokes-models of a certain size and limb count.

Small brains seem also to reign pretty mightily over at CTV where, I discovered I will NOT be able to watch the Paralympic opening ceremonies tonight. That’s right, the official Canadian broadcaster for the Vancouver Olympics feels that the latest episode of Medium, an American TV series, is more important.

The opening ceremonies are on TOMORROW (of course, what a great idea!) after the games have actually begun.

Well, here’s news for the CTV Einsteins who came up with that plan—I’m a funny person, I like to watch opening ceremonies at the OPENING. (FYI: that means BEFORE the event gets rolling.) I might be alone in this, I don’t know. 

What I do know is that it’s a huge oversight that the Paralympics are consistently treated like some second class show  but when the show is being held in our own country, you’d think we might just deem it worthy enough to treat it with a little more  respect and dignity. And maybe, therefore, allow ourselves to be more broadly introduced to this incredible event.

Of course that would require intelligence and a certain kind of balls that apparently don’t exist in the CTV boardrooms where this decision was made.

To say that not airing the opening ceremonies is a slap in the face, not only to the athletes, but to viewers eager to share in the excitement, is an understatement. I’m puzzled to say the least. Embarrassed because I thought we were better than that. And more than slightly disgusted.

I never thought I’d say this, but God bless the internet.

Fortunately Part Two of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics can be seen here, live. Including the opening ceremonies.

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