PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- In late August, when I was doing research for the New York City chapter of "One Beautiful Season," I dropped by the New York Public Library to look at old newspapers from the 1930s. The game stories were so descriptive, so loaded with juicy adjectives and allegories, that I felt like they were specifically written as time capsules for me to find. This is what it felt like, Kyle. I loved reading the accounts of all the local weekend battles between City College and Long Island at Madison Square Garden, the sideline manners of Nat Holman and Clair Bee, the curious basket-ball styles of the out-of-town teams in for the NIT, and the legendary Game Of The Century.
And the photographs! There were pictures of set shots and toes-apart defense and wide-angle captures of the Garden atmosphere. The common element in those photos was the hat. A solid wall of hats. That was how to be a fan of Our Game back then; you strapped on your suit, straightened your tie, and you had your hat. You'd probably keep it on all game. The cigar smoke, which hangs like a 70-year-old ghost cloud in those pictures, kept most of the women away. And you'd cheer, and yell, and have a few stiff drinks afterward before heading home. The whole evening would probably cost you 75 cents.
The Hat Era is long since over. Ever since John F. Kennedy, "Hatless Jack," stopped sporting the fedora regularly in the early 1960s, it was yesterday's thing to do. (Note that "Mad Men" has carefully reflected this reversed trend in recent seasons.) I came of age at the very beginning of the Ballcap Era. In the early 1980s, I was allowed to wear one in public because I was a kid. It helped if it was lovably two sizes too big (so adults could pull it down gently before giving me candy), or if it was the mesh-back adjustable from my Little League team. If you were over 16 years old back then, and were seen wearing a ballcap in public, you were either a truck driver or like, totally a zero. Adults didn't really wear logo hats outside of their own lawns until Tom Selleck put on a Tigers cap in that TV detective show, and then it was okay. That's the last time you'll see Magnum P.I. and JFK in the same paragraph.
For a long time, jerseys were unthinkable. I remember wearing my polyester Greg Ballard Washington Bullets shirt to school one day in 1986, and I might have well worn a dress. Nowadays, that would have been a throwback, since he was on the Warriors by then. Less than a decade later, it would have been hype, thanks to music videos. Ever since, it's been okay to wear another man's shirt.
TV made the relationship between sports and fans weird. When the sports industry exploded with money, most was funneled in from corporations via ad buys, and passed along to leagues and governing bodies as rights fees. That didn't keep the ticket prices down. Teams had to Stay Big, and invented the three-digit sports ticket. At some point, most working-class folks realized, while sitting in the $35 nosebleed seats with their families of four, that watching the game at home on the big screen was a superior experience to that. And I mean, come on, it was.
So along came the new media, the new generation of chroniclers of Our Game, everybody with their own digital printing press with instant global publishing. And they were all stuck at home, watching the games on television. Anybody could blog from the couch, and a few did. The copycat blogger over was watching the same thing, and so was the next guy who wanted a piece of the action. It was no surprise, then, that conversations gravitated towards announcers, camera angles, commercials, chyrons, and production values. Sportz. Debates became less about pure analysis and more about, "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about, I know more than him." And who knows, my italicized friend, you probably do.
The next time you feel the urge to take part in passive-aggressive Internet grousing about the people on TV, remember that most of them go to only about 30 to 40 games per year. For the most part, you are watching just as much college basketball as they are, if not more. The same media guides, statistics, press conference transcripts and game notes are available to you now, thanks to the new media. And you're seeing hundreds of games through the same filter as they are -- the old.
I can't watch games on TV. I haven't been able to for years. Even the repeated wide-screen viewings of the 19 games from the 2009-10 season that are featured in the book, I couldn't do more than 20 minutes at a time. I had to pause, get up, go outside, play with the cats, do something else. I can't do the passive lean-back experience. This is the why for the new #pixelvision: I made it for me, and I hope others enjoy it. I need the moving pictures to be small, and I need there to be other things nearby, on demand, as close as a press table.
Obviously, the biggest reason for this is that I've gone to 704 college basketball games over the past seven years. I can't claim any superiority about this, mostly because it's so far out there and detached from the common modern experience that most people don't know what I'm talking about anymore. I might as well be wearing a hat and smoking a cigar, calling myself "this reporter."
But this is what we do: we go. It's been like that from the beginning, the book of 100 games that was full of stories: those of players, fans, coaches, media members, hangers-on, my own. And that's been the message all along: go. There's a small Division I college near you, the tickets are cheap and every game is different. if there's no game on a given night, there's always #pixelvision. Whatever you do, circumvent the filter and find your own version of the story of Our Game. The story's there, in the gym, and you can even write about it if you want. Send it in, and we'll do our best to publish it.
The filter is a barrier to understanding, and it's time to break through.
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Tomorrow, Friday, we'll be leaving town again, for the seventh time. After a brief detour up to New Hampshire to leave the cats at the Cat Farm for the winter, and the first chat of Season 7 at 4 pm Eastern, we'll go west for game number one, Cornell at Albany. We'll stick around for Saturday's contest between Vermont and Siena, two teams that figured prominently in that book.
Next week, after the day off, we'll hit the Midwest. Oakland at Ohio on Monday, Akron at Dayton on Tuesday, and then down to Eastern Kentucky to see the OVC's Colonels play SIU Edwardsville. Then, visits to Lipscomb, Toledo, Miami and Harrisonburg, Virginia as we head into the Multi-Team Event portion of the year. All told, it'll be 16 games in 14 days, and all before Thanksgiving, a real good start.
In years past, the schedule would be written all the way to March. This time, we float in space. If you'd like to keep up out on the road, please do! The site gets better and better when you're part of it. I can't wait to see all of you again, to drive all night, to bang out blog posts in truck stop cafeterias, and return to our beloved headquarters in Hoops Nation's capital of Indianapolis, the CPIA. It's been a long summer, too long too long, and another wonderful winter begins tomorrow. It's time to go.