Friday, February 8, 2008

Shenanigans Gimmicks and Tomfoolery

note: this column appears in the January 2008 Kent News

January 7, 2008- There is an old saying: Gimmicks are for people who need gimmicks. I suppose that this time honored philosophy is fairly simple. If you are the best at what you do, you don’t need to use shenanigans to get to the top. You will never find a Beatles Christmas album or a Family Guy season where they trot out celebrities in an attempt to attract viewers. Gimmicks are fun in sports, but they only get you so far, presumably this is why it has been 80 years since the St. Louis Browns sent a 3’7” batter to the plate, or why the NHL has yet to experiment with a 600 pound goalie. So even thoughThe Beatles' Christmas Album” was released in 1970, Family Guy season 6 is advertised on iTunes with the line “The upcoming sixth season will feature guest voice appearances by Paris Hilton, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, among others” and I made up that “adage” about 10 minutes ago, I guess it is still true in sports.

This concept of the best not needing to stray from the norm ranges from the obvious to the obscure, both on and off of the field. For instance, you will rarely find a Red Sox game where they are giving away free souvenirs, whereas you can hardly walk through the gate at McAfee Coliseum (home of the Oakland A’s) without being pelted with free crap. On a similar note, I wouldn’t expect a giant Coke bottle or slide for the mascot in new Yankee Stadium (à la San Francisco’s AT&T Park or Milwaukee’s Miller Park). All of those can be fun, but organizations that don’t need to go out of their way to fill the seats, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or almost any NFL team, will be content to let the fan pay for his or her ticket, and let the game be the attraction.

Same thing goes for the games them selves. I am as big a Boise State Football fan as you will ever meet. I have three Bronco hats and a Jared Zabransky jersey hanging over my desk right now. Having said that, it doesn’t take Pete Carroll or Les Miles to tell you that you will never see USC or LSU run a hook and ladder, statue of liberty and halfback pass in the same season, let alone the same game (and I didn’t even mention blue turf). In fairness, the 2006 Broncos were a hard nosed team that relied on a great offensive line and one of the best running backs in the nation up until the last five minutes of their season, but they were a mid-major running with the big dogs and, at least for a while, they needed trickery to keep up. It was unbelievable to watch, but it also serves as a reminder that they aren’t quite up to speed with the Ohio States of the world.

There is indeed a fine line between creativity and gimmicks. In junior hockey, prodigy Sidney Crosby took heat for lifting the puck onto his stick and stuffing it into the net like a lacrosse player. Likewise a Brazilian soccer player was targeted and injured after running through defenders while bouncing the ball on his head like a seal, but these are talented athletes pushing the limits of their skills, not inferior players trying to keep up.

There are definitely exceptions. From time to time you will see Dice-K “noise makers” at Fenway or the Patriots running a throwback pass, but by and large, the best teams win by being faster and stronger, not by finding ways to fool you. While this leaves plenty of ideas you might like to see on the shelf (NBA Winter Classic anyone?), if teams don’t need gimmicks to win, and owners don’t need them to make money, they will continue to leave them alone. It is too bad.

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