Monday, August 23, 2010

How I want to write

I love great sportswriting. This is not surprising, given that I enjoy both sports and writing. Today I got to looking up two of my favorite examples of sportswriting, both of which have been tied to recent events in the news. One is about Brett Favre, who you may know, and the other is the great Red Smith's column about Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" pennant-winning homer. Thomson died recently, and Smith's piece is considered one of the best examples of sportswriting ever. I thought I'd post a bit of both, something you can read in just a minute or two, because re-reading these excerpts stirs my show-and-tell impulse. 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

First, the Favre article, written by Jeff Macgregor in 2006, as the uncertainty about how long he would play swirled about Green Bay. Looking back now, it seems silly that we might have thought it would have ended way back then, but the fact that this drama is still playing on only keeps the message fresh. It's a sensational, fresh take on the old idea the "athletes die twice." The writer poignantly implores readers to root for Favre to be able to keep playing, because him facing the end of our career mirrors with uncomfortable similarity the struggles people face as they age and fade. It's powerful, moving, sobering, beautiful, gallant. It's quite possibly the best story I've read in my 10 years as a Sports Illustrated survivor. I mean, it opened with a Dylan Thomas quote, one I used in my book: "Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright. Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Yes, Favre is 12-2 all-time against my 49ers, and Number Four has dealt them a ridiculous four playoff defeats, so we've had our differences. Plus there was his last-gasp touchdown pass vs. San Francisco last fall that made me lose my cool yet again. But still, every time I read part of this story, I kind of root for him. Well, not quite, but I do tolerate him just fine. And I can hardly look away when he plays. Here's the link the full story (quite long), and then the last two paragraphs of the story below:

"There will come a time when Brett Favre can no longer play. This is not that time. But at the end of this season--or the next or the next or the next--he will step away at last, having earned the peace of an endless off-season. The cold and the snow will overtake Green Bay, and the stadium at this edge of the world will stand empty behind us, the last thing we see in the rear-view mirror as we cross that river, the light at last failing in the trees.

"But until that moment, Brett Favre will be throwing, in a way, for us all. Throwing hope forward, in a single clean step or with a motion as rushed and awkward as man falling out of the tub, as hurried and off-balance as the rest of us. Banking on the past while trying to read a second or two into his future, drilling clean arcs on our behalf into the weakening light and the rising odds, every stand he makes in the pocket another little long shot fired against the infinite and inevitable. Every throw a moment for hope, a defiant line, bright in the air, against chaos and diminishment and the final goodbye."

Red Smith's Classic

Maybe the best sportswriter writing about probably the game's biggest home run ever, the New York Giants' Bobby Thomson off the Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca to win the 1951 NL pennant, completing a massive Giants comeback down the stretch. Just about as good as it gets. Here's the link to the full story, and then his sublime lede (yes, that's how we journalists spell it) and ending:

"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again." 

And the end: 

"The second pitch -- well, when Thomson reached first base he turned and looked toward the left-field stands. Then he started jumping straight up in the air, again and again. Then he trotted around the bases, taking his time. 

"Ralph Branca turned and started for the clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen." 

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