By Eric Thomas
What an awful weekend for sports in Detroit. The Tigers’ season ended in game 6 of the ALCS. The Lions lost in the absolute last second to a Mike Nugent—MIKE NUGENT!—field goal. Even the Red Wings weren’t safe, where they solidified their moment in YouTube history when they gave up a late goal to Coyote goalie Mike Smith.
If this weekend had a spirit-animal, it would be a pale, gaunt, skinny goth girl—with caked on black make-up streaking in semi straight lines down her cheeks, she’s wearing a Cure T-shirt while listening to Morrissey and laying alone on a white shag throw rug in the middle of a rented room, just behind her is a small coffee table with a book about Joy Division, a Siouxsie and the Banshees poster thumbtacked to the wall behind her; tiny thin ribbon scars look like a ladder on her wrists just above newest razor drag from thumb to little finger not deep enough and drying while she grips her knees and rocks in time to “One Day Goodbye will be Farewell.”
It’s depressing. I’m happy you’re still reading this blog.
Oh, and Jim Leyland retired. So there’s that. If that doesn’t depress you, imagine Bobby Valentine wearing a Tigers jersey and that look he always has on his face.
The weekend’s unquestioned nadir, in this blogger’s opinion, came after the Mike Nugent kick at Ford Field. The Tigers game was more consequential, obviously, a regular season game pales when compared to game six of the ALCS—but the kick happened after the grand slam. You sat in your living room, or at Ford Field, dejected, an open wound after Shane Victorino’s slice less than twenty hours ago, blinking at the sight of yet another team that isn’t yours celebrating on the field after a hard fought, well-earned victory; you’re squeezing a stress ball or scratching that spot on your jeans or clearing your throat in a tension-decreasing kind of ritual, wondering why you still watch sports, considering all the collected sadness from the past eighteen hours.
We’re grown people, how do we still feel like this? Yrs truly watched the Lions game in my living room with my hands over my eyes as Nugent walked back the steps. In the hour that followed I was affected by a deep sadness, far more pronounced than I ever should allow. I’m mildly intelligent, considering I’m a Flint-raised high school graduate who never completed community college. I should be able to separate the games from real life, and keep my feelings about sports in a lead lined receptacle so the radiation never leaks. That didn’t happen.
There’s a video online that’s been a reliable laugh for almost ten years now, where a wrestling fan professes his love for the sport. You’ve probably seen it. If not, plug “It’s still real to me” into the search engine of your choice and get ready to be entertained.
The video starts with the camera pointed at three wrestlers sitting on folding chairs, dressed in muted street clothes and clearly in the “serious wrestler” mode that results from some recent scandal or tragedy in the wrestling world—maybe an overdose or an avoidable accident. The wrestlers are sitting on a riser in what looks like a high school gymnasium, looking bored, while a well dressed man to their right is holding a microphone and acting as the emcee for whatever the hell this event is. The emcee says, “Next question. Jeff? Right over there.”
The camera pans to a man in a black T-Shirt and jeans, his hair is the kind of buzz-cut that was likely done with a vacuum cleaner attachment. The emcee got it wrong, because the man’s name is apparently Dave Willis—his name was found out far later, when the video became immediately famous upon upload to the internet, because viewing the video’s content produces an emotion so deep and raw that it’s difficult to name (let’s call it “empathy”?) so the viewer wants to know everything there is to know about the people involved—but he plows ahead without correcting the emcee, because a small detail like his given name is irrelevant in the face of the seeming importance of what he has to say.
Mr Willis is already weepy, face stretched to either ear, lump in his throat. He blubbers for a moment, trying to form whatever it is that he planned to say to the three wrestlers on a riser in this awful high school gym in some Godforsaken part of America. His sadness builds as he struggles to hold back his feelings. “You’re awesome,” he says, the eyes behind his glasses now a disaster of tears. He chokes back a breath of fresh oxygen, throws his head back to the heavens and wails, “IT’S STILL REAL TO ME, DAMMIT!!”
I’ve probably seen that video a minimum of 75,000 times. I find new things to love about it every time. Sometimes it’s the wrestlers, their clear revulsion of this man who’s pouring his heart out to them. Other times, I’m fascinated by the emcee (what did he do right after this? is he a professional wrestling emcee or just an emcee that they found to conduct this ceremony / q&a / ritual-thing?). The punch line is always the same. A man whom I look down on, crying because someone told him his beloved wrestling is a staged piece of entertainment, as scripted as any sitcom, movie or play—and he’s now wailing because he, deep down, still believes that the macho-male soap opera that plays out on low rent cable channels is the capital “T” truth. Hulk Hogan is a real American hero. Ricky Steamboat breathes actual fire. Sergeant Slaughter, after years of loudly supporting the American military, suddenly switched sides to support the Iraqi National Guard around the time of Operation Desert Storm. The crying wrestling fan is easy to make fun of because it’s ridiculous for a person to achieve full maturity and still take silly things like wrestling seriously.
While I never cried about the Lions loss to the Bengals, my thoughts turned to crying wrestling guy. It’s hard for me to judge him anymore. Last weekend was brutal. Immediately following the Mike Nugent kick, I turned off sports for the rest of the day. I watched the Hobbit on HBO. It happens to all of us. We get in too deep and it lets us down. We start believing in winning the world series, a 5-2 start, and when that doesn’t materialize it’s crushing. When the Lions or Tigers get beaten handily, it’s easier to take. The Lions and Tigers let two winnable games get away—making their outcomes that much more unbearable.
Let’s hope next weekend is better. I’m not sure we can take another one like that.