Between pyromaniac anti-American riots spreading like an Arizona brushfire through the Middle East and a sizable army of Chicago kids playing state-subsidized hooky from school, it’s been a fairly crap week for old glory and those of us who make a habit of writing about the goings on within her borders. For today at least, I have used up all of the substantive vitriol and bluster that I can manage, and have decided to retreat to my cozy hobbit hole in the world of sports fandom. Old Uncle Karl said that religion was the opiate of the masses, but he clearly had never known the intoxicating joys of owning an NFL Sunday Ticket package or watching the MLB stretch run in September. Forget bread and circuses. Give me a Jumbo Pretzel and the Triple Option and I’m a happy man. So, in an attempt to pacify the screeching demons in my head, I lead you into the perilous realm of George Will’s Sports Machine1, a place where Jack Kemp the quarterback and Jack Kemp the vice presidential nominee meet in an absurd blend of politics and sport.
This is that bizarre pocket of the American experience where Dick Nixon considered naming Vince Lombardi his running mate in 1968 until doing a background check and finding out he was a staunch Democrat2. It is where a young Ronald Reagan honed his ability to bullshit by broadcasting Chicago Cubs games over the airwaves of Iowa without ever seeing a single play3. Only within the confines of Sports Machine territory could you see Pound-for-Pound Boxing Champion and Filipino Congressman Manny Pacquiao play a significant role in getting US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid re-elected. This is not a place for timorous beasties whose faces turn to ash at the mention of George W. Bush in a cardigan, cheering on the Fighting Eli’s with a bullhorn. This is Gerald Ford country, and it is in the spirit of this weird and wonderful place that we juxtapose the leading lights of the 2012 election cycle with their counterparts on the gridiron.
Paul Ryan: It’s no secret that this congressional wunderkind is a P-90X freak who once ran a marathon in 2 hours and 50+ minutes a little over 4 hours, but it doesn’t take too much athletic ability to do a military press or run without stopping for 26.2 miles4. If we’ve learned anything from the likes of Kirby Puckett and Jerome Bettis, it’s that you don’t have to look like Michelangelo’s David to be an all-pro. Hell, Dock Ellis once threw a perfect game on LSD and Ted Williams used to do ads for Chesterfield cigarettes. Fit doesn’t mean fantastic and it is in the spirit of the trim, toned and totally average that Paul Ryan finds his athletic doppelganger in Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. “The Sanchize” isn’t by any means a bad signal caller. It’s just that he’s not a good one either. In three seasons, he has backed the J-E-T-S into two AFC Championship games while chucking almost as many interceptions as touchdowns and consistently ranking in the bottom third of the league in passer rating. That said, he has led the league since 2009 in number of shirtless GQ pictures and is reportedly dating Eva Longoria. Add Tim Tebow’s hunky fundamentalist Christian self coming in for Wildcat packages along with his supporters’ insistence that stats don’t matter and you’ve got yourself a pretty good pigskin proxy for Ryan’s political philosophy.
Joe Biden – The man has a loose cannon for a mouth and frequently indulges in inappropriately placed profanities, while mixing tactical prowess with a seemingly total lack of actual tact. Biden is often described as “blue collar” and is beloved by his supporters while being despised by his opponents. Who else could his sports equivalent be but Rex Ryan? Couldn’t you imagine Rex standing behind President Obama before the signing of the Affordable Care Act and telling him, “this is a big f**king deal” without realizing the mic next to him was hot? And don’t tell me Biden isn’t the guy you’d want to follow around if HBO did a White House edition of Hard Knocks. I mean, I know that Barack is the POTUS and all, but Biden would totally steal a bunch of his screen time with his Delaware blue streak and lack of filter.
Bill Clinton – Is there any doubt that Bill Clinton and Brett Favre are somehow related? They were both arguably the greatest of their generation at their position. Both men were born and raised in the South and wound up having their legacies marred by sex scandals (be grateful President Clinton didn’t have a camera phone while in office). Like Clinton, Favre was a total attention whore who never knew when to hang it up and, hell, both men even burst onto the national scene in the fall of 1992 when Favre started his first of 297 consecutive games and Clinton came from behind to win the Presidency. Every time you think to yourself that you’ve had enough of their baggage and their antics, they do something so incredible that you forget why you were pissed at them in the first place. It’s a nation being sick and tired of Ed Werder giving hourly updates from Hattiesberg, MS only to see Favre in a Vikings uniform a month later gunslinging all over the damn place, chucking underhand spirals and heaving 60-yard hail marys. And it’s Slick Willie hogging the spotlight at the DNC by giving a speech that runs half an hour long, only nobody cares because he’s so good that his ego is eclipsed by his eloquence.
Mitt Romney – Unless the sport we’re talking about it alpine skiing or yachting, I don’t think we can realistically compare Mittens to any modern athlete. As far as I can tell his only connections to sports are his stint as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the fact that he “[has] some friends who are NASCAR team owners”. So, it is only natural that his sports persona is embodied in Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown. Why Brown? Well, for starters, Mike inherited the team from his father, the legendary championship coach and owner Paul Brown, just as Mitt was handed the political mantel from his Governor/Presidential hopeful father George. Both are very good businessmen who show a preternatural ability to make money in ways that are antithetical to their chosen professions. For Brown, this means figuring out that he could make more money with a losing team thanks to the NFL’s playoff revenue sharing system. With Romney, it can be seen in a fiscal policy that identifies $250k households as “middle class” and slashes taxes for the super rich at the expense of vital social programming. Ask the fine fans of the Cincinnati Bengals if they want their country run like their football team and the response you get will be somewhere between abject disgust and a punch in the face.
Barack Obama – Finally, we get down to the Sports Fan in Chief and amateur bracketologist living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He is not a swing from the hip president like Clinton was, nor is he a lovable loser like George W. Bush. Above all, he is pragmatic and he is calculating and he is capable of calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. He is Peyton Manning. Both men are very likeable without being exciting and are meticulous in their preparation for duty. If Peyton spends every night in the film room until everyone else has left, then Barack is reading briefs at 2 AM and doing two years of recon before ordering the strike on Bin Laden’s compound. Each man has been disappointing to his fan base, having placed themselves in a position for greatness, but finding themselves unable to follow through. For Manning it was being at the mercy of the Tom Brady-led Patriots for years and coming up short in the Super Bowl XLII against the Saints. In Barack’s case it was failing to make much use of a Democratically controlled Senate and House during his first two years in office and having a poor record on civil liberties. But, both men have the chance for new life this year and we’re all wondering whether they’ve still got it. Based on the evidence thus far, it looks like there’s still some left in each of their respective tanks.
2Amazingly enough, Lombardi had been so good on the stump when Kennedy went through Wisconsin in 1960, that he actually called in a favor to the President before the 1961 NFL Championship against the NY Giants, asking him to adjust star running back Paul Hornung’s Christmas leave so that he could play in the game. Kennedy came through and granted the former West Point Asst. Coach his request, while Hornung led the Packers to victory. http://www.jsonline.com/packerinsider/lombardi-goes-to-top-131186848.html
3He received the plays via telegraph and then made up the all of the details and “business” for the listeners at home
4Before I get pilloried by the running community for demeaning their fair sport, let me clarify that I am not saying that marathon runners are not athletes. I’m just saying that only the good ones are. I mean, you wouldn’t call a co-worker an great athlete if he notched a triple-double in a pick-up game between accounting and human services at the local Y. It’s in the same spirit that I refuse to describe Paul Ryan as being athletically gifted for running a marathon in the slower time than Will Ferrell. No, seriously, the big man apparently ran the Boston Marathon in 3 hours 56 minutes according to Men’s Health. You can check out a bunch of celebrity times here: http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/celebrity-marathon-times
Categories: US Politics