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Shock Jocks The earth moves often for sports fans in this era of bombastic pronouncements

April 01, 2002
April 01, 2002

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April 1, 2002

Pro Basketball
Baseball

Shock Jocks The earth moves often for sports fans in this era of bombastic pronouncements

The great flood, the Black Death and the World Wars all earned
widespread notice, but none galvanized global attention the way
the Washington Wizards' Feb. 7 defeat of the Sacramento Kings
did. "We just shocked the world tonight," said Wizards forward
Kwame Brown, and the earth quickly endured a string of
astonishing aftershocks, one following another, a catechism of
cataclysm.

This is an article from the April 1, 2002 issue Original Layout

San Diego State won the Mountain West basketball tournament, and
Aztecs forward Randy Holcomb said, "We shocked the world." Holy
Cross led Kansas in the second half of their NCAA tournament
game, and Crusaders guard Ryan Serravalle said, "We shocked the
world." Indiana upset Duke last Thursday night, and Hoosiers
coach Mike Davis said, "We shocked the world."

Ever since New England won the Super Bowl in February--"We
shocked the world," said Patriots Adam Vinatieri, Otis Smith and
Lawyer Milloy--the planet has served as God's speed bag, and we
are constantly concussed by His thunderous right hand.

The human spirit is remarkably resilient, yet how much trauma
can seven continents withstand? After all, each of these "shock"
waves comes when the world really is reeling from an act that
jarred all six billion of its citizens. I speak of the Day When
Everything Changed and Jon Gruden was named coach of the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers. "The Bucs shocked the world," reported The
Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and when we recall the indelible
images from abroad that evening--the pro-Gruden candlelight
vigils in front of Berlin's Reichstag, the anti-Gruden protests
staged at Antarctic substations, the fierce debate on the floor
of the Malawian parliament--we are thunderstruck all over again
by 2/18.

Athletes, and those who cover them, have always had a keen sense
of proportion. The only thing more highly developed than Bobby
Pesavento's passing eye is his sense of history. So when the
Colorado quarterback said, "We shocked the world," after his
team's defeat of Nebraska last November, the world indeed could
not recall an event, recent or distant, that had so strained its
credulity. With the singular exception of that unforgettable
autumn day a few weeks earlier, when--without warning--Auburn beat
Florida. Said Tigers linebacker Phillip Pate after that game, "We
shocked the world."

Time was when only the most hubristic man could hope to impress
the whole human race. "Come the three corners of the world in
arms, and we shall shock them," the Bastard boasted in
Shakespeare's King John. When Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston
in 1964, the new heavyweight champion shouted from the ring, "I
shook up the world! I shook up the world!" But even he was half
winking, and most observers considered Clay--as Jackie Gleason
called him in the next day's New York Post--a "Blabber Mouth."

Four decades later we're all blabbermouths, adrift on a sea of
hyperbole, shouting to be heard. When every event is said to make
our jaws hit the floor with the sound of a fallen anvil, what
will we call a truly surprising moment in sports the next time
one comes along? The Philadelphia Phillies "shocked the world for
a third of a season last year," insists the Philadelphia Daily
News. Olympic speed skater Derek Parra "shocked the world with a
silver medal," says the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Australian
boxer Anthony Mundine "shocked the world with his offensive
mouth," reports the Sydney Daily Telegraph. He did? But I've
never heard of him.

It doesn't matter. We are hype junkies, unwittingly hooked but
nonetheless bingeing on b.s., and even the strongest superlatives
no longer give a buzz. And so events of mild surprise to a few
hundred people are packaged as Pearl Harbor. After Millersville
(Pa.) University defeated Indiana University of Pennsylvania in
Division II football last season, a Marauders linebacker said,
"We shocked the world." When Monte Vista High upset rival Helix
High in San Diego, a Monarchs running back said, "We shocked the
world."

Last fall, around the time of those games, with much of the world
in metaphorical shock of another magnitude, this magazine
implored, "Let's hope, now that sports are in perspective, we
keep them there."

Is it too early to ask how we're doing?

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR