“At the crack of the bat, he was off…” Even if you’ve never watched a single baseball game the phrase “crack of the bat” is evocative enough that you can probably imagine the sound and be relatively close to what everyone else hears. Which is odd because if you’ve ever been to a baseball game you know that it’s a unique sound — the bat, the type of pitch, and where the batter hits the ball on the bat all make a difference to the tone and depth of crack that rings when the bat strikes the ball.
In football, I love the “thump of the ball” that sound when a player really drives through the ball and unleashes a venomous shot. And there again there are different sounds: a keeper’s kick sounds more hollow than a low, driven shot, from 40 yards.
I watch a lot of football and admittedly almost entirely on television. In a sense, I’m spoiled rotten. Most people in England have a hard time seeing any 3pm Saturday kickoff unless they attend the matches in person. Meanwhile, I see every important play from every conceivable angle, multiple times, and with at least two people commenting reflexively on whether the call was right, the shot was good, and which of the guys on the pitch was a hero or the devil.
In America, all televised games are “produced” in this way: there must be commentary at all times, there must be instant replay, there must be some guy yelling “boom” as he scribbles yellow lines on the screen. As sports fans we want to believe that the product is the game but ever increasingly the product is less the actual game and more the commentary on the game and the manner in which the game is presented to us.
The Superbowl is the best example of this event as product model. I’ve watched every Superbowl since about age 7. I remember Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, and Tony Dorsett in Superbowl XII and while they were the ones who were up front and got a lot of the praise, it was actually the Dallas defense that won that game — a lesson I would hold onto my entire life.
But I can’t for the life of me remember the half-time show or any of the commercials from Superbowl XII. In fact, I didn’t start noticing the importance of the commercials in the Superbowl until the media hype around the commercials in the Superbowl told me that the commercials in the Superbowl were something I should watch out for. I think the first memory of Superbowl commercials was watching the game with a guy named John and his group of friends. My memories of that day are that we had habenero chili cheese dip and he told me to shut up when the commercials came on. Naturally, the only thing I remember from that game is the Budweiser commercial with the frogs who say “bud”… “bud”… “bud”… “weis”…”ER”.
I can’t tell you the winners of the last 10 Superbowls, but I bet you I can recall at least 5 memorable commercials that were launched during those games — or a nipple-slip, or the fact that the Rolling Stones are sucking the life out of music.
Producing commercials for the Superbowl are so important that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Budweiser has a team dedicated to Superbowl commercials who work 365 days a year, just on that spot. That’s all they do. As soon as the last one is out of the chute, they are hard at work analyzing ratings and determining if their commercial hit the spots they wanted to hit or not. For them, the game is a commercial delivery system and nothing else.
There was a moment yesterday while I has preparing my By the Numbers column for Arseblog News that I had the Juventus-Cesena match on in the background. There I was, digging into data about Arsenal’s season when suddenly I could hear the thump of the ball, the sound of the crowd, and players yelling at each other in Italian. All the commentary had fallen away and all that was left was the game: no replays, no guy telling me what to think of di Natale, and no one telling me who the ball was being played from and to. Just the thump of the ball, the players straining against one another, and the sound of the crowd surging with the game.
Fox couldn’t let this somewhat unadulterated experience of the game continue and immediately broke in with one of their studio pundits who started describing what we were already seeing. But it was too late.
The moment of clarity had slipped between the cracks of our hypercritical world and showed me how much I missed those simple sounds. In that moment I remembered how much of our experience of these games is mediated by the commentators, camera men, instant-replay, and presentation of the “facts” during and after the game. And yes, I include this blog in that criticism.
But the reality is that I just miss the thump of the ball.
—Sorry for the technical difficulties, we now return you to your regularly scheduled blogram–