DOG DAYS AHEAD
When it comes to sports, the month of August is a 31-day, overheated, undernourished clunker. Simply too much of too little, if you ask me. Less variety, fewer big events, and far less drama than any of her 11 sisters in the Gregorian calendar. Far too weak a month to have been named after Augustus Caesar.
Dont think that a month doesnt have a sports personality. April is a fantastic sports month, with the opening of baseball season, the Final Four (both of them!), the Masters, and the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs. February -- 28 days of chill and all -- is a terrific sports month, with the Daytona 500, three big-league All-Star games, and, here in Memphis, our own pro tennis stop at The Racquet Club. But August? Lets take a look at the sorry lineup.
This month, we have the weak sister of golfs four majors: the PGA Championship. On the subject of inanimate personality, this event has absolutely none. No historic (and controversial) golf course, no tradition of the toughest holes in the sport, no beaches, wind, and gorse through which to fight on your way to an ancient and hallowed trophy. The title is even bland. As a gauge of the nations collective shrug over the PGA Championship, you might consider PGA winners have made the cover of Sports Illustrated
exactly three times over the last twenty years (John Daly in 1991 and Tiger Woods twice). Over the same period, Masters winners have been featured 10 times, U.S. Open champs eight.
Major league baseball players have long referred to August as their dog days, a period after the All-Star Game, but before the pennant races really escalate in September. The days are long, tempers run short, and theres the inevitable adjustment period for contenders who have acquired new talent at the July 31 trade deadline. The most passionate of baseball fans merely wants his team to survive August and reach the longer shadows of September.
Among the sleepy choices for August sports entertainment, one enterprise stands above (below?) the others. You know where Im going: preseason football. There is no emptier spectacle in all of sports than NFL games that dont count. Its bad enough that these contests -- every team plays at least four -- are decided by third-string quarterbacks and what amounts to walk-on defensive backs begging for a roster spot. Its borderline offensive that the NFL actually charges admission to these scrimmages-in-uniform. The players dont care. The coaches dont care. The only real intrigue is in hoping your teams stars can avoid injury during their eight plays on the field. If youre that desperate for football in August, there is a solution: the CFL. Find a satellite company that will allow a Canadian channel or two and you can follow the pursuit of the Grey Cup by the likes of the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts north of the border. The NFL should play exactly one preseason game, its exhibition in Canton, Ohio, to celebrate the Hall of Fames newest inductees. As for the rest, Id rather watch reality television.
August does have a few teasers. The U.S. Open tennis championship begins late this month . . . but alas, its final glorious weekend is played in September. College football camps open, and every sportswriter from Portland to Portland has a Top 25 and Heisman pick. Bless the NCAA powers that be for at least one thing: no preseason games. As for the Olympic Games in Athens, Ill be holding my breath with anxiety more than rooting for any individual or team in competition.
Personally, I have a silver lining to the cloudy days of August. My wifes interest in sports can best be described as tolerant. (She LOVES the two days sandwiching baseballs All-Star Game.) She understands there are dates throughout the calendar when a family outing is simply not possible. Heck, she knows there are dates when a family dinner is not possible. Shes a champion in ways no athlete can be measured, and a good fan when called to duty for Sunday trips to AutoZone Park. And she may be the best explanation I have for this months sports lineup. My wifes birthday? August 11th.