A thought for sports freaks on this most optimistic of days: if you imbibed a tad too much Veuve Cliquot last evening – or 40-ounce Molsons, or Boone’s Farm cinnamon-apple, or antifreeze – but still feel the need in your fragile state to watch televised sports this afternoon, I hereby offer an antidote to endless bowl games featuring teams whose marching-band blaring brass sections (and endlessly hammering bass drums) (and eleven hundred commercials for pick-up trucks that get minus-seven miles to the gallon) may not strike the soothing tones you need right now.
So: a suggested alternative: Try watching the hockey game between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings in Chicago, on NBC. It’s going to be played outdoors, at one o’clock, on a rink laid onto Wrigley Field, backdropped by the majestic Second City skyline. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be loud. Fighter jets will fly overhead during the singing of “O, Canada,” the best national anthem on the continent. It’s the NHL’s second annual Winter Classic, and other than the name – how can something be classic in its second year? — it’s the first really brilliant thing the NHL has done in decades. Maybe ever. A great sport spawned on frozen ponds in northern Saskatchewan has returned to its roots: to the frozen outdoors, where the ice surface will be imperfect – and the athletes, under national-TV surveillance, watched by a sold-put stadium, will be skating and hitting as if they were in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
Now, I’ll grant you this: hockey on television is difficult to watch if you haven’t spent much time watching the sport live, where you can be close enough to the rink to feel the boards shake, to hear the oomph of the body checks, to wince when someone’s stick slaps a puck at 1000 miles per hour (I exaggerate; it’s really 936 mph). On TV, if you don’t know where to look for the puck, the sport is virtually indecipherable. But in a strange way, judging from last year’s telecast, having the game in the wide, stadium outdoors actually makes it more intimate. If nothing else, it’s a way to avoid commercials: hockey is the only sport that refuses to insert TV timeouts. It deserves our support for that alone.