The NHL Winter Classic represents the biggest con in professional sports. Years from now, when the fad inevitably passes, psychologists will study the phenomenon as an alarming example of mass hypnosis.
Just strip away the emotion from the 3-2 Flyers loss to the Rangers and look at the situation objectively. Yesterday, a hockey game unfolded in a building totally unsuited for the sport, in weather conditions far from ideal, in front of thousands of fans who had no idea what they were watching. Welcome to the Winter Classic, an event designed only for the chic and the sheep.
The Classic does have a purpose. It is superb at selling redesigned jerseys, T-shirts and anything else worthy of a special logo and a bloated price tag. And it finally answered the age-old question of what happens to Citizens Bank Park in the winter. Money happens. Lots and lots of money.
The problem is not what the event actually was designed to be, a chance to honor a cool sport in a unique way. The gathering of former Flyer greats was easily the best part of the festivities. Seeing Bernie Parent, at 66, take one final bow was terrific, as was the return of Bobby Clarke, Bob “The Hound” Kelly and the other heroes of our last championship hockey teams.
The real issue is a recurring theme in sports these days: pure, unadulterated greed. Somehow, in the guise of returning hockey to its frozen-pond roots, the NHL has turned the Winter Classic into a new way to exploit its most loyal fans. Is there any other logical explanation for the requirement that season-ticket holders buy an outdoor Phantoms game at inflated prices? The Phantoms don’t even play here anymore, and we didn’t care about them when they did.
Fans who scored tickets for yesterday’s contest no doubt shared a common thought as they squinted at the distant rink: I paid how much for this? At least the first Classic was waged with snowflakes in the Buffalo air, adding an outdoor flavor to the event. Yesterday, it was just cold and windy. Ho hum.
I know, I know. Where’s my sense of adventure? I understand the appeal of something different, something daring. My skepticism is not with the idea of playing a hockey game outdoors. If it’ll get more people to pay attention to the NHL, fine. But the key word here, as usual, is pay.
In the end, a pro sports league found another way to charge more money, cram in more people and market more merchandise. A cool thing for the fans to do at the end of the holidays? They seemed to think so. But the event was not about them. It was only about their money.
Goodbye to another bad pick
Bill Conlin, the best baseball writer ever, stands accused by seven people, including his own niece, of unimaginable sexual assaults when they were children. Even merely writing those words is difficult because I have known and admired Conlin for the past 40 years.
The first instinct when this hideous issue hits so close to home is to block it out, to deny the possibility. But then account piles upon account and it becomes impossible to ignore anymore. If these allegations are true, then Conlin is not a Hall of Fame writer or a quirky acquaintance. He is a monster.
When I brought this story up for discussion on my WIP radio show, the best I could summon was an air of total disbelief. For this tepid posture, I was lambasted because I have been so loud and defiant about the alleged abuses involving Jerry Sandusky and Penn State.
I would love to offer a defense for this apparent contradiction, but what’s the point? At the time of the Conlin bombshell, I was a human being before I was a talk-show host or a columnist. It wasn’t just that I wanted to give Conlin the benefit of the doubt; it was also that I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that maybe we don’t really know anyone anymore.
Now that the allegations have sunk in, I feel the same revulsion for Conlin that I did for Sandusky. My admiration for Conlin’s brilliant writing career is gone now, replaced by a horror that defies words.
Birds brass in line for silent film
It may be a brand-new year, but it’s the same old Eagles. The Moral Victory Tour 2011 rolled out of town Sunday after another incredible run. The Birds won their last four games, escaped a losing season and established themselves as the most dangerous NFL team not in the playoffs.
If you totally blocked out reality, this was another successful season for the biggest bunch of truth-spinners in sports. Oh, sure, they all lamented another lost opportunity for a franchise that has failed to win a title in 52 years, but not with any real conviction. Hey, they finished strong. Wait till next year.
If you read this space regularly, you already know all of this because I predicted it in my column on Dec. 6. The Eagles went from 5-8 to 8-8 four years ago and tried to sell this same insulting message. They are not just perennial also-rans, they are predictable ones.
The saddest part of the whole fiasco is that they think we’re all as delusional as they are. They think we don’t realize the last four wins came against four awful quarterbacks. They think we haven’t noticed that they only played well when the games didn’t matter.
Moral victories are for losers. Philadelphia sports fans are not losers. They deserve much better than the 2011 Eagles.
—Angelo Cataldi is the host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
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