Six-Syllable Samoan Superstar

Posted in The sporting life on August 19th, 2002 by bill
These are truly the dog days for the non-baseball-loving sports fan. The NBA season is but a gleam in David Stern’s eye at this point, and that leaves us with the NFL preseason, which has to be the single most pointless exercise in all of professional athletics. Here’s what you get in a typical preseason game: The starters play for a series or two, taking it easy so as not to risk injury. Then the second-stringers play out the half, giving us a chance to see exactly why they’re second-stringers. In the second half we get the third-stringers, followed by some guys picked out of the crowd who have always wanted to play pro football. That’s not my idea of entertainment. I suppose that the preseason games must be useful for the teams themselves in some way, or they wouldn’t bother to play them, but those few dedicated fans who actually watch are left with a lot of time to twiddle their thumbs and get nervous. And Raiders fans have been getting very nervous, because their team has been stuggling in the preseason, to put it mildly. The offense has been inconsistent, the defense has been porous, and kicker Sebastian Janikowski has looked like the jumpy Janikowski of old, missing field goals left and right, literally. But your thinking fan reminds him or herself that preseason is meaningless and concentrates on the positive. The biggest bright spot for the Raiders this preseason has been my new favorite football player: second-year quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. Why am I so high on this kid? • I was a big fan of his dad, Manu Tuiasosopo, who played tackle for the Seahawks and 49ers. He was a big man with a big name, which I taught myself to pronounce over the course of several NFL seasons (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s six syllables: Too-ee-ah-soh-soh-poh). • The Tuiasosopos are of Samoan extraction, and Samoans in the NFL have typically played on the line because they are, generally speaking, quite large people. It’s cool to see Manu’s son come up playing not just a skill position, but the #1 skill position, quarterback. • In high school, Marques not only played offense and defense (playing at safety, he once returned a fumble recovery 95 yards for a touchdown), but was a standout on the basketball and baseball teams as well. He was even drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1997, but chose instead to play football at Washington, where he was the first quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 200 yards in the same game. • Marques is mobile, durable, has a strong arm. So far, he has completed 75% of his NFL passes. (OK, so he’s 3 for 4. It still augurs good things for the future.) He plays the game with an enthusiasm that puts me in mind of Brett Favre — the kind of guy who gets pounded into the turf, then jumps up and congratulates the defender on a nice hit. Marques probably won’t see much playing time this year unless the current starter — dependable, 98-year-old Rich Gannon — gets hurt. And I’m not saying I’m rooting for that to happen, because Marques could use another year of seasoning, but it would be interesting to see him get a chance to play before Jerry Rice and Tim Brown hang it up. Also, I’m eager to see what sportscasters are going to do when they have to say “Tuiasosopo” in every other sentence. Raiders’ play-by-play man Greg Papa is a consummate pro and will be able to handle it; but the league’s lesser lights are going to tie themselves in knots. And before you ask — yes, that is my idea of entertainment.

Sex and Sports, and Sex Again

Posted in The sporting life on August 5th, 2002 by bill
That got your attention, didn’t it? I’m not above using the occasional cheap ploy to grab eyeballs. These are competitive times we live in. Also, I’ve had sex on the brain a lot this last week — more than usual, I mean. Something about this time of year, when the weather turns crisp, gets me all keyed up. I think that’s how I ended up planted in front of the TV on Saturday afternoon, watching Anna Kournikova play tennis. She wasn’t alone, of course. There was also an opponent: similarly blond, statuesque, and ponytailed Jelena Dokic. Both players wore short skirts, glistened with sweat, and grunted animalistically every time they struck the ball. I enjoyed watching this so much that I am now going to punish myself by making several embarrassing admissions: • My interest in tennis as a sport is approximately zero. It’s never been clear to me what’s supposed to be so thrilling about watching two people bat a little green ball back and forth, over and over and over again. There can be exciting moments toward the end of a close contest, but I don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire tennis match in my life. • And that includes this one. I watched most of the second set, during which Kournikova had several chances to close out the match, all of which she squandered. I was interested for a while, then very interested, then suddenly lost interest right around when Kournikova choked in the second-set tiebreaker. I read the next day that Dokic had come back to win the third set and the match. • I was surprised to find myself reflexively rooting for Kournikova. At one point, I yelled out something to the effect of “Come on, Anna!” and did a double take, looking around the room to see who had said that. I wish I could say there was some reason for this — some reason other than the fact that she’s so damn gorgeous — but I’d be lying. Before this match, I had never really seen what the big deal was about Anna. I thought she was just another of the good-looking, not especially talented women who can often be found on the pages of magazines like Maxim. But on the court, it was a while different deal: Kournikova wasn’t just beautiful, she radiated a golden glow that made it seem as if the sun shined only for and on her. You don’t see that every day. So where am I going with this? I’m not sure. I’m not thinking very clearly, which will tend to happen when sex comes into the equation. What I do know is this: Kournikova has so beguiled the male population of planet Earth that, even though she’s not a very good player, she’s become the biggest draw in women’s tennis. She eclipses even the Williams sisters, who are not only sexy in a powerful, Amazonian, too-much-woman-for-you, buddy kind of way, but also the most dominant players in the game. This has annoyed a lot of people, especially a lot of women, and I have to admit they have a point. It’s unfair, sexist, and wrong. But men don't have a monopoly on mixing sports and sex. One of my female co-workers this week, upon picking up the sports section, had this insightful comment on A’s third baseman Eric Chavez: “Look at that ass!” And while I know several women who are knowledgeable, die-hard football fans, I also know several who watch football games because they like the pants they players wear. Which leads me to ask, do they wear those tight pants because they’re comfortable? It seems unlikely. You gotta give the people what they want. Note to self: In future columns, fewer words, more pictures of Anna Kournikova.