Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Apogee of Sport

Surprise; I’m not dead! I’ve been absent from the blog for awhile, but I’m still just as involved in swimming as ever. Swimming is building up to the Olympic climax this summer, but I honestly haven’t felt as if I have had any comments to add to the various conversations as of late. Don’t worry, though; I’m coming back soon with my top ten swimmers of 2011. Inspired by Speed Endurance’s Top-51 list, I will compare my top ten with those that Tom Willdridge picked and explain why I disagree with him for almost every place.

In the meantime, I had one particularly neat experience lately that I would like to share. No, I didn’t go to a swim meet and watch up-and-comers or even Olympians compete, like I have before. On New Years Day, I went to an NFL game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, just outside of New York City. I have family in the area, and the Giants have always been my favorite NFL team, but to get the chance to see them play in person was amazing. This game carried special significance: the winner would win the NFC East division and make the playoffs. The loser was going home.

The game was originally scheduled to be played during the afternoon of January 1, one of 16 games around the country on the slate for the day. With the importance of the matchup, NBC moved the game to prime time, making it the final game of the NFL regular season in real time. Swim fans will see some déjà vu in this situation, after NBC moved the Olympic swimming finals in Beijing to the morning to show them live in prime time in America. For fans, a late start could be a bit obnoxious, but I think it made the experience that much more special. NBC acknowledged that everything was on the line.

Growing up, I always watched the Olympics and loved watching the Olympics. While swimming has always been my favorite sport to watch, each period of two weeks every two years I cannot keep my eyes off of the TV. At the center of NBC’s Olympic coverage for each Games, summer and winter, is Bob Costas. Bob Costas sits at the apex of sports media worldwide. When I walked into MetLife Stadium, across the field sat a black tent; indeed, Bob Costas sat in that tent, anchoring NBC’s Football Night in America on that rainy night. The swim geek in the same arena as Bob Costas. Wow.

The stadium itself is a metal maze, and for this game, it was lit up in blue. 80,000 rowdy fans, dressed in blue and waiving white Giants towels, packed the stadium to create an atmosphere unlike any I have witnessed before. When the Cowboys marched out, boos filled the arena, but the home team ran onto the field amid fireworks and some of the loudest noise imaginable. The energy-packed arena exploded when quarterback Eli Manning threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz and when the Giants defense forced a Cowboys stop on third or fourth down and especially when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw an interception. The Giants led 21-0 at halftime, but as the Cowboys crawled back into the game, with the score standing at 21-14 with ten minutes left, every Giants fan, including me, felt a nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach.

Fortunately, the Giants held on to win, 31-14, and make it to the playoffs. As a fan, I loved the result, but the experience was something amazing that I cannot forget. A huge stadium with a roaring crowd. Athletes marching out to fireworks. A long season of hard work coming down to one last chance. Nerves, excitement, exuberance, and crushing defeat. All that sports provides coming down to one last shot.

Where can we find this in swimming? The Olympic Trials. This summer in Omaha, eight athletes will march out in 26 unique finals and put it all on the line. Thousands roaring, with millions more glaring at the TV at home in anxiety. Joy and pride for those who make it, leaving those who don’t in tears. A month later, those select few athletes who make it will test themselves against the world’s best, just as the New York Giants must now do in the NFL playoffs. They seek to win a Super Bowl, but each step brings infinitely more challenges, just like the U.S. Olympic Team will face. This summer will highlight the best swimming and sport in general has to offer. Football gets these moments several times a year, but swimming gets its once every four years. Fellow swim geeks, let’s relish those moments. Bring on 2012.

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