17 December, 2008

non-spiritual ranting: and the Oscar goes to...

When I was a kid, I used to enjoy watching the Oscars. The Academy Awards show, I guess it’s actually called. I liked seeing all the people from the movies dressed up in street clothes, and trying to remember which movie I had seen them in. I remember Johnny Carson was the host a few times, and he was so classy about his presentation, and I loved getting to see him because normally I didn’t get to stay up late enough to watch his show.

Then there was the presentation of the awards themselves. Just like today, there would be little clips from the movies that had been nominated, and then that moment of tension while the envelope was opened: “and the winner is…”

Somewhere along the way, the presenters were instructed to say something different. Instead of announcing a winner, they were told to say “and the Oscar goes to…” I didn’t notice at first, until one actor brought it up in his acceptance speech, acknowledging all the other nominees and saying that he couldn’t believe he had won if they were also nominated.

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Do you want to know the best movie of 2005? Hands down? Absolutely no contest?


I’ll just say this: if you’ve never seen it, go rent it. Better yet, go buy it, because you’re going to want to keep it. And then get the DVDs of Firefly, which was its TV predecessor. Or come borrow mine. But you have to give it back, because it’s easily on my top 10 list of movies I’ve ever seen.

It may even be the best science fiction movie ever made.

It crosses genres (western meets science fiction), it tells a story of deep and meaningful relationships between people, and what they do and sacrifice for each other. It’s a story about society, and about the nature of the self. Every single one of the characters (okay, maybe not Jayne) is deeply written enough that you could spend hours talking about just that character. The acting is superb. It’s funny, not as in staged gags and humor, but as in the way that people really laugh with each other. It’s sexy in parts, but there is no blatant why-is-this-in-here sex scene. There are tears for the cast and probably for the audience. There are moments of shocking revelation. There’s action and violence, but not the kind of action that takes over the plot of the story.

Okay, enough waxing rhapsodic.

I’ll bet you a nickel you can’t name the “best picture” Oscar winner that year, even though it was just a couple of years ago. [short interlude while the music plays and gives you time to think]

It was a film called Crash, which was a heavy-handed, slap-you-in-the-face-with-the-point movie about racism and the ‘gritty reality’ of urban life. The other nominees included… Munich, a violent, nasty film about terrorism and the horror surrounding it on all sides, Capote, a film about a tortured homosexual writer falling in love with a man who is on death row for the murder of an entire family, and, please God let me forget this movie, Brokeback Mountain, which I’m not going to dignify with any further comment. (you all who are mortally offended at this point because I’ve criticized your favorite movie ever, take a deep breath. The point is that they’re all dark, depressing, twisted films)

It was a growing-up moment for me when I realized that the Oscar didn’t go to the best actor, film, or song, it went to the one that got the most votes from the members of the academy. And there’s sometimes a vast difference between the two. But we shouldn't really blame the Academy. Every community rewards those who affirm their image of themselves, and the Oscars exist for the purpose of self-congratulation.

And you know what? I hardly watch the Oscars any more. We record it every year, and I sometimes fast-forward to see the acceptance speeches for the big awards, but at the end of the day I really just don’t care what “the academy” thinks.

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Well, I’ve had another one of those who’s-the-best growing-up moments this year, in an entirely different arena: college football.

I frankly think there’s something seriously wrong with the inflation of college sports into a farm system for professional sports. I’ve already ranted on that elsewhere.

But if you’re going to play a competitive game, and have a ranking system, then you should have a champion at the end of the season. That’s just logical. Every other sport at every other level does this—except Division I football. I’ve never liked the BCS, not since the beginning. But this year is worse than usual.

There are nine teams (twelve, if you count the teams with two losses) whose players, coaches, and fans have a legitimate, reasonable argument to say that their team is the best in college football. Nine. Boise State, Penn State, Texas Tech, Utah, USC, Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas all could play in the last game of the season and say they deserved to be there. On January 8th, some announcer will hand the coach (probably Bob Stoops) the crystal football, and seven other teams will watch and say, “nice game, but we could have beaten those guys.” (Texas players will say, “we DID beat those guys.”)

And for me, it’s going to be one of those moments like when they hand out the Oscars. “and the crystal football goes to…” Well, that’s nice and all, but they’re not the best team. They’re one of the teams that got enough votes to get into the last game of the year.

And who are the voters? Sportswriters, who are supposed to be neutral, but everyone knows are biased toward the teams they cover and the teams that make news. Boise State doesn’t get any love from this crowd, not even after a couple of spectacular seasons. How many readers are in Boise? And then there’s the coaches’ poll. Does anybody seriously think that coaches of major college football programs are actually watching a whole lot of other teams play and making unbiased, informed votes? I bet Mike Leach probably watches a whole lot of game film, but not a whole lot of Florida Gators game film, seeing as how Texas Tech doesn’t play them very often. So they have to listen to the news same as the rest of us, and see the highlights and the scoreboard.

Which leads to another abomination in this process. Thanksgiving weekend, there were three big games played. Florida-Alabama, Texas-Texas A&M, and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. All with big implications for the last game of the year. And the announcers and commentators were talking about not just wins, but “style points.”

Style points? Excuse me? What is this, figure skating?

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To put another face on this, let’s go to the perspective of an almost unknown person, a woman named Debra, who lives in a tiny, one-stop-sign-no-Dairy-Queen town in the Texas panhandle, which means, in case you’ve never been there, that this woman lives in the middle of nowhere. Her husband is the local football coach, which, let’s just acknowledge, can’t be an easy life. Her kids, of course, are football players. They’re also good students, and attend church regularly, and volunteer in the community.

So one of her kids (Daniel) grows up and gets ready to move away, and he’s recruited to play football at a big school that’s hours and hours away from her home by car. A school that plays big-time college football, where the defensive linemen weigh well over three hundred pounds and can bench-press the team bus and rip phone books in half. Her son plays quarterback, but this school already has one—maybe the most gifted athlete the school has ever had at the position in a hundred years.

So your son sits on the sidelines for a year, and never gets in the game, and that’s okay, because you don’t want him to get killed. But then the amazing athlete leaves school to go play football on Sundays and your kid gets to play, and sure enough, he gets hurt. Hurt bad enough that they take him to the hospital in an ambulance while the game is still going on.

But your kid is tough, and he does his rehab and lift weights and drinks milkshakes and gains weight and goes back out there for another season. And gets hurt again, this time bad enough that for a while the doctors are afraid he might not be able to walk again. Would you let your son go back for a third season?

Well, unbelieveably, she does, and the third year the kid has finally started to really fill out, and he has a good season. A really good season. In fact, people start talking about giving him that funny-looking famous trophy for being the best football player in the country. How would that feel? From wondering if your son is going to walk again to winning the prize for best player in the country in one year?

Well, I’m sorry, dear readers. Daniel “Colt” McCoy did not win the Heisman this year. Why? Because the award is granted by voters, and his team will not be playing in the last game of the season.

Earlier this year, Texas Tech beat Texas, by one play. Michael Crabtree made a great athletic catch and struggled into the end zone. Two guys had a shot at him, and neither one made the tackle. If either one of those guys makes the tackle, we’re not even having this conversation. (if any one of five different plays gets made over the course of the game, the same is true) Instead, Texas is undefeated, all the press coverage is on them, and the debate is about who gets to play them in the last game… and Colt McCoy probably wins the Heisman easily. You know it’s true.

You could make a similar argument for the other two finalists, or for Graham Harrell. If their team had gone undefeated, they get far more attention, they get to wear the mantle of “quarterback of the undisputed #1 team in the country,” and they probably win the Heisman. But it’s more bitter for Colt McCoy, because they lost by one play. One defensive play. One defensive play in October is the difference maker in deciding who is the best quarterback in the country? And how on earth to you explain this rationally to Daniel’s mother? Good luck.

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Okay, I know, I’m ranting.

What I’m wondering is, will I look back on this as the year I quit liking college football?