Monday, February 2, 2009

FROM MY SEAT: February -- the Month That Sports Forgot

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2009 at 4:00 AM

It's a good thing February is the shortest month of the year, for it is certainly the coldest, most barren page on the sports calendar. The month that gave us both Washington and Lincoln is one of only two without any professional football or baseball (regular season or playoffs). Wait, you say, one of the best Super Bowls ever played was on the first of this frigid month. And that came merely hours after Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played another epic tennis match for the Australian Open title. Both teasers, I say, that make the next four weeks even chillier for a sports fan.

Two of the biggest events of the month happen to be exhibition games. And there is nothing more over-inflated and less competitive -- less sporting, you might say - than the NFL Pro Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game. The last time there was a big hit in football's year-end luau, it was between agents elbowing one another for elevator space, that winter's top free agent merely a signature away. And as for defense in the NBA's midseason showcase, you may as well look for angel wings on Rod Blagojevich.

The NBA's regular season, of course, is in full flight this month, All-Star Weekend merely serving as an interruption to the 82-game trek for playoff position. Snowbirds will negotiate their cable dial for National Hockey League action, wondering if the Atlanta Thrashers will ever have the kind of cross-continent rivalry with the Calgary Flames (a franchise born in Atlanta more than 30 years ago) that might stir interest among sports fans south of the Mason Dixon. (Damn right that's a stretch, folks. Just like the viability of a 30-team NHL.)

The Daytona 500 is February's star child, and for millions of race fans, Super Bowl XLIII will merely be this month's second-most significant event. But I've always found NASCAR's signature day hopelessly misplaced, the equivalent of playing a Super Bowl on Labor Day weekend, then determining a "champion" by playing four months of football to all but erase the memory of the big opener. There was a time when NASCAR needed the kind of season-opening splash the Daytona 500 provided, to fund the rest of the overlooked race season. No more. Despite what it would do to frigid February, the Daytona 500 needs to be a fall event, NASCAR's climactic Chase for the Cup ending on the track where the sport's legends are made.

Now, here in Memphis, we have the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Cellular South Cup, an all too rare week -- outside tennis' four Grand Slam events -- when men and women gather and play before the same fans, on the same courts. When Borg, McEnroe, Connors, and Agassi were winning championships, The Racquet Club of Memphis even drew some national attention during a month when it's hard for the entire nation to pay attention to anything beyond Groundhog Day. As splendidly as they'll play, the men at this year's Memphis event will be competing to merely be in the conversation about successors to the game's twin titans, Federer and Nadal.

The sports deck is simply stacked against the second month of the year. You won't see any NFL football or major-league baseball in March either, but the third month has an event so grand that it has actually adopted the month's name in its three-week mad dash to crown an NCAA basketball champion. Where's the February madness, people?

So cheer a little louder for the Tigers and Grizzlies this month. Among home games, I'd highlight the Tigers' tilt with longtime rival Southern Miss. Our NBA outfit actually plays an opponent it should beat: the Oklahoma City Thunder. Alas, February still can't win: these games are played on the same date, the last day of the month.

Perhaps the lesson for us all comes on February 14th, when we're reminded of what and who is really important, where our hearts need to be when they're not pounding through our chests with the game on the line. A box of chocolate and a rose can go a long way, even in the shortest of months.

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