Ennui Shall Overcome

February 09, 2004

Leafing through the Daily Snooze while flying out of Washington
Dullest en route to Bora Bora, it occurred to me--rhymes with
ennui--that life, by at least one measure, has never been more
boring.

Never before have so many champions in so many sports for so many
consecutive months been so ... so-so. If you're snoring at home,
you know the Devils won the Stanley Cup, then the Spurs won the
NBA title, then the Marlins won the World Series, then the
Patriots won the Super Bowl, proving what science has long
suspected: that yawns really are contagious.

Never before have golf's majors been so ... minor. In the past 12
months, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel
combined to win a Bland Slam. The Tour's leading money winner,
Vijay Singh, remains a watered-down cocktail of anticharisma: one
part misogyny, two parts monotony.

"Every hero becomes a bore," wrote Emerson. But lately, it seems,
every bore becomes a hero. Picasso had his Blue Period, and
sports is now enduring its Mauve Moment.

The tennis stage has long belonged to the Tennisy Williamses. But
when Serena dropped out of the Australian Open and Venus lost in
the third round, we were left with Justine Henin-Hardenne, who
could stand to be a little more caffeinated and a little less
hyphenated.

Men's tennis, already a coldbed of inactivity, became positively
frigid when Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick lost in Oz. Agassi's
fellow semifinalists showed incipient signs of male-pattern
blandness. World No. 1 Roger Federer, alas, couldn't be dullerer.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's scarcely an insult to say
that NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth has had a restrictor plate put
on his personality. Still: "Is not life a hundred times too short
for us to bore ourselves?" asked Nietzsche, which explains why
NASCAR changed its rules for this year, adding a season-ending
drive-off--and why, come to that, no one reads Nietzsche.

Do you even know who the heavyweight champion of the world is?
(Answer: The IBF beltholder is Chris Byrd, and the WBO title is
vacant. Vacant, too, is the expression forever fixed on the face
of Lennox Lewis, who remains the WBC champ.)

Contrast our current annus monotonous with, say, 1986, when our
champions (from the Latin campio) or gladiators actually lived up
to their Roman roots.

In 1986, a not-yet-nuts Mike Tyson became, at 20, the youngest,
most terrifying heavyweight champion in history, as cool and
sockless as Crockett and Tubbs. The Chicago Bears won the Super
Bowl while bending over forward to entertain: Jim McMahon mooned
a helicopter. The villainous New York Mets won a World Series
that was, depending on your allegiance, mostly fluky or mostly
Mookie. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, a Prometheus in
plaid slacks.

But suddenly entire championship teams are engaged in vanilla
warfare. Gladiators? If the '86 world champion Boston Celtics of
Larry Bird and Bill Walton were Maximus, the '04 San Antonio
Spurs are Tedious Maximus. And they're hardly the only team to
put the ring back in bor-ring.

The New Jersey Devils rose to prominence with the neutral-zone
trap, play in a geographical neutral zone in the Meadowlands and
occupy an emotional neutral zone in the hearts of hockey fans. If
the Cowboys were America's Team, the Devils are Switzerland's
Team.

But they scarcely have a monopoly on monotony. Not one of our
champions polarizes people the way the Raiders or Lakers or
Yankees or Fighting Irish do. If the Department of Homeland
Security had to assign a color to our emotional state, it might
well be teal, as worn by last season's identity-free Florida
Marlins, whose pitchers Ugie Urbina and Tim Spooneybarger blurred
in the mind's eye into one prototypical uber-Marlin named Ugie
Spooneybarger.

Teal, too, is the color of the NFC champion Carolina Panthers,
whose Rod (He Hate Me) Smart even inspires indifference. At worst
(after two weeks of unceasing publicity) He Grate Me. And if I'm
not careful--given his record of fathering five children by five
women--He Impregnate Me. But hate? Hardly.

The Patriots were perhaps our last, best hope for polarizing the
nation, with their State of the Union invitations and their
multiple Super Bowl visits. But the team's various public
faces--quarterback Tom Brady, kicker Adam Vinatieri, coach Bill
Belichick--are like three conjugations of the same infinitive:
George Bland, George Blanda, George Blandest.

And so our slump continues. We are living in the opposite of the
Golden Age of Sport. Call it our Beige Age. We need only one
infuriating champion to break the spell: a Steel Curtain, a Big
Red Machine, another bunch of Broad Street Bullies, to cite just
one year--1975--full of riches. (Listening, Lakers?) But until
then, it pains me to say, the worst is still to come.

February, anyone?

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

Never before have so many champions in so many sports for so many
consecutive months been so ... so-so.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)