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Second To None Contrary to conventional sporting wisdom, February is a sweetheart of a month

Feb. 05, 2001
Feb. 05, 2001

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Feb. 5, 2001

Super Bowl XXXV

Second To None Contrary to conventional sporting wisdom, February is a sweetheart of a month

It's easy to hate February, with its extraneous r that we never
pronounce, its quadrennial leap day that we don't understand and
its groundhog whose shadow does or does not mean six more weeks
of winter--we can never remember which. Who needs February? Not
farmers ("February has no rain/It's neither good for hay nor
grain"). Not Don McLean ("February made me shiver/With every
paper I'd deliver"). And certainly not sports fans, adrift at sea
between the distant shores of Super Bowl and exhibition baseball
games.

This is an article from the Feb. 5, 2001 issue Original Layout

But February is a healthy concept. February takes its name from
the ancient Roman festival Februalia, in which citizens under
Caesar--the Brian Billick of his day--were made to reflect on and
atone for their sins. As it was with the Julian calendar, so it
is with the sports calendar, in which February makes us pay for
the rest of the year's decadence. After the bacchanal of the
Super Bowl we deserve to do penance. So in February we are forced
to endure the Westminster dog show, the XFL and (most
oppressively) a full slate of NBA games.

Yet I love February. TGIF! For without February, sports would
scarcely be worth watching. The three greatest players in our
three favorite games came into this world in February--Michael
Jordan, Babe Ruth and Jim Brown. You say Bill Russell was a
better champion than MJ? Russell was born in February too. Hank
Aaron a better slugger than Ruth? February. Abe Vigoda a finer
actor than Brown? February again.

The month has midwifed all manner of creative genius--inventors
(Thomas Edison and John McEnroe), stylists (Charles Dickens and
Dr. J), Founding Fathers (George Washington and George Halas),
men who described the beauty of the stars (Copernicus, Mel Allen
and Red Barber) and men who proved, in the face of skepticism,
that human life crawled out of the sea (Charles Darwin and Mark
Spitz).

If you're a giant of history, chances are you drew your first
breath in the second month of the year--whether you wrote the
Messiah (Handel) or coached the Messiah (Dean Smith), drove a
Lincoln (Boom Boom Geoffrion) or were Lincoln (Abraham). But
February has far more to offer fans than mere birthdays. There
are wonderful once-a-year extravaganzas like the Daytona 500 and
the NBA All-Star Game, both so entertaining yet so different.
(One is a high-octane gathering of the tattooed, the tank-topped,
the poorly educated; the other is an automobile race.)

No, far from being a monochromatic winter wasteland, February is
filled with color and variety. Every February, Madison Square
Garden is overrun with expensive dogs of every description.
(Pee-yew!) But then the Rangers are forced to vacate, and in
comes the Westminster Kennel Club--a spectacle as old, and
reliably entertaining, as the aforementioned Rangers joke.

"The most serious charge which can be brought against New
England," wrote author and naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch, "is not
Puritanism, but February." How wrong he was, for New England and
February together conceived one of life's great unsung
creations--those little candy hearts manufactured by the good
people at NECCO, the New England Confectionary Company, whose
anachronistic slogans, stamped onto chalky treats, have baffled
third-graders on Valentine's Day for decades: DIG ME. HOT STUFF.
HUBBA HUBBA.

February's games are like those hearts: Quaint, sweet, from
another epoch. They are Jack Lemmon in the Pebble Beach pro-am;
pitchers and catchers reporting to Vero Beach; long-ball artists
playing home run derby in a hokey contrivance called the Big
League Challenge--live, from Las Vegas! In February we warm
ourselves by the electronic hearth, our screens flickering with
Pro Bowlers and pro bowlers. February gave us one timeless short
fellow (Eddie Arcaro, the only jockey to win two Triple Crowns)
and one timeless Longfellow (Henry Wadsworth, who wrote, "Lives
of great men all remind us/We can make our lives sublime/And,
departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time").

So thank you, great men of February, for reminding us of the
latent greatness in every one of us. And thanks to February
itself. For the shortest month tells us, as Longfellow did too,
that time is fleeting: "And our hearts, though stout and
brave/Still, like muffled drums, are beating/Funeral marches to
the grave."

February's advice, then, is to live a little. Go on. It won't
bite. February--with its XFL cheerleaders and its swimsuit
sirens--is a harmless flirt. A few days ago you had no interest in
February. But it grew on you, didn't it? It got in your head.
Suddenly, February is all over you. You like it. Because February
is irresistible. It's whispering in your ear, "Dig Me. Hot Stuff.
Hubba Hubba."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO