Athlete’s Angle

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized and accepted that watching six hockey games a week and nine hours of football on Sunday is no longer possible. Even though I’ve greatly reduced my sports intake, I’ve been able to keep up with the world of pro sports just fine with the help of the half-hour SportsCenter programs (that play for about 14 hours a day) and some handy apps for my phone. I never have a problem figuring out who’s winning and who’s losing. In fact, I’ve become pretty good at figuring out the story of the game through the box score — a must-have skill for any aspiring fantasy athlete.

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to sit down and watch a few hockey and football games on TV. Within minutes I realized what a stat geek I had become. I was so caught up in tracking scores and standings that I had forgotten about my favourite part about sports: the sheer athleticism.

The big scores, the big hits, the big saves. The big plays are both spectacular and significant. Games are usually decided by two or three big plays, these are the moments that give us a reason to cheer.

I love these plays. I have the utmost appreciation, however, for athletes who can combine both athleticism and smarts to show me something I’ve never seen before.

A quarterback that’s about to get sacked, both his arms are wrapped up by the defensive end, who finds a way to flip the ball to his running back for a two-yard gain. A forward doing a fake drop-pass to help shake a defender. A shortstop fielding a ball and flipping it to the second baseman with his glove. A point guard forcing a bounce pass into the key through two defenders. A goalie who uses his blocker like a glove to cover the puck on a scramble play.

These types of plays don’t necessarily win games the same way goals, home runs, baskets and touchdowns do. They definitely don’t show up on the stat sheet, but they’re great plays nonetheless. It’s athletic innovation.

And it’s why I watch sports. It’s like a brain-teaser problem that you just can’t figure out, then somebody comes along and solves it right in front of your eyes. There’s a strange thrill in watching another person approach the very same problem in a completely different way. This is what pro athletes do for me. I get a thrill watching them use their athletic abilities to make plays in situations where I never thought a play was possible.

The butterfly goalie wasn’t built because people got bored of the stand-up style. Nobody grew up wanting to be a switch hitter. Quarterbacks weren’t coached to throw side-arm. The sky-hook wasn’t always a part of basketball basics. Well, it may not be part of the basics, but you get my point. Nowadays, these techniques and tricks are standard in sport. These are the types of things the quirky, innovative plays lead to. They help open up a whole new realm of possibilities, a new way of thinking the game.

The evolution of sport is happening right in front of us every night. In every single game, somebody tries to show us a new way to solve the same old problem. Unfortunately, it won’t show up in the box score or on SportsCentre. So from now on, I’m going to stop following sports and get back to watching sports.

Check out Athlete’s Angle with Ryan Karhut every Monday at 2 p.m. on 101.5 UMFM.