Sunday, September 30, 2007

Big Bert in Britain

The Best American Sports Writing series collects some of the year’s finest North American writing about sports into one hugely entertaining and inspiring volume. I’m into 2006 and, as usual, some are profound—young and determined wrestling champ without arms and legs—and a few ultra-quirky—poaching bass on golf courses. But the writing is always good, the angles often unexpected. I remember a few years ago a piece that explored that form of extreme fighting boys did in backyards: if they fell, they fell onto nails poking up from the ring’s floor. “Sports” gets a wide definition in these anthologies, as it should. Editor Michael Lewis writes:

“At any given time, it seems, there are a surprising number of writers of serious literary ability who are out there beating the bushes and scaring up moving and delightful stories—even when higher literary culture has no particular interest in them. They are doing the important work of explaining us to ourselves. What’s reassuring about great sports writing is what’s reassuring about great sports performances: facing opposition, and often against the odds, someone, at last, did something right.”

Big Bert in Britain. It seemed like a wacky road movie—Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and Bob Hope do Piccadilly Circus—to see Brian Burke, Brad May, and Todd Bertuzzi in the NHL’s first game of the season on Saturday morning. Or maybe I’m thinking of that Monkees movie, Head. Much will be made, no doubt, of the crowd’s extreme pleasure when gloves were dropped and punches attempted. Yes, they stood and the cheering was hooligan loud, Parros on Thornton. But it seemed folks were simply trying to take part in the game according to a script. They boo-ed Chris Pronger, too, in what seemed a parody of North American fans.

Bert, though. He has slimmed and toned and healed. He looks less like a Hummer, now, and more like a stretch limo. His number has shed half its weight, too: he seems dignified and demure in the number 4, whereas he was arrogant and overloaded in 44. We’re told the Ducks want him to play a north-south game, as opposed to the east-west he perfected on the big line here with Naslund and Morrison. I’m worried. North-south is for young gods like Getzlaf and Perry, those with a good, strong compass and quadriceps the size of pumpkins. (Lest we forget what happened to another #4 who loved north-south so much his knees came apart like rotten jack-o-lanterns.) Bertuzzi appeared limber at last this weekend, but how many times can that new long and lean torso survive the physics of Willie Mitchell at the blue line?

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