My Favorite “Non-Athletic” Sporting Events

The NCAA Selection Show is one of my favorite sports moments of the year, even though there is not one single moment of athletic play involved.

Earlier this evening, as I do every year, I tuned into CBS at 6 p.m. eastern time to watch the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show.  Wrapping up what is always an incredibly entertaining week of conference championship basketball, the sporting world is typically chomping at the bits for the tournament to begin to watch more great basketball, and perhaps equally as important, to fill out their brackets. 

Each year I sit at the edge of my seat eagerly anticipating the announcements of the now 68-school field that is to comprise the tournament.  Perhaps even more than the announcement of the #1 seeds, I’ve always enjoyed the satellite feeds of the smaller schools that have won their respective conference tournaments as they await their names to be called in front of practically their entire student body.  There’s always that one great scene in which the small school that won the Northeast Appalachian Valley Conference (yes, I know, that is a made-up conference) is announced as the 16th seed and opening-round matchup against Duke, Kansas, or North Carolina.  Filled with pure elation as they have represented their school proudly and enabled the tiny institution to enjoy a moment in the national spotlight, the team, comprised of incredibly un-athletic and unimposing figures, erupts with joy, completely oblivious to the tall task, and probable slaughtering, that lies ahead of them.  It’s that moment of pure joy from the smallest of gyms that I’ve always appreciated. 

Small schools such as Belmont University (shown above) are typically seen celebrating en masse their announcement as one of the participants in the NCAA College Basketball Tournament.

Conversely, there is always a few feeds that highlight much more somber gatherings of what are typically bigger programs that had undergone fairly mediocre seasons that are praying their names are called as one of the last at-large bids to make the tournament.  During these shots, I’m always impressed with the ability of the coaches to temper their players’ overwhelming grief and frustration at being snubbed the opportunity to compete for a national championship. 

As I was sitting on the couch this year, I got to thinking that I was currently watching one of my favorite sports moments of the year, however, there was not one feat of athleticism taking place.  I then began to think of what are some of my other “non-athletic sports moments” that I enjoy.  I was able to identify four others which I will describe in no particular order. 

NFL Draft 

The NFL Draft is one of my favorite sporting events of the year.

Amidst the chaos frustration and confusion surrounding the NFL labor dispute, the one fortunate that I can point to is that the NFL Draft, perhaps my favorite sporting event of the year will still take place this year.  Held annually during the last weekend of April, the seven-round draft allows each NFL franchise to replenish their roster and offers a wonderful sense of hope and optimism to fans of each team as they look to next season.  While the “next season” aspect of the NFL draft is in doubt, those that know me can attest to the fact that the draft captivates me as it is a time in which those fans that are rabid over both college and professional football are able to for once mesh their experiences and knowledge in assessing the plethora of fine young athletes attempting to make it in the NFL. 

There are always some interesting characters that attend the draft.

The most-recent version of the NFL Draft takes place over the span of three days with the first and second rounds taking place on Thursday and Friday night respectively, with rounds three and seven occurring on Saturday afternoon.  Prior to this recent format, the draft used to take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and for the true “couch gurus” like myself, the 12+ hours of draft coverage was pure bliss.  There is nothing I enjoy more than to gather with my father and close friends as we watch the draft and ponder which position a team should go after and whether a particular player’s skill-set will translate well in the professional ranks. 

Bottom line, the NFL Draft is a thrilling and exhilarating mental exercise and one of the best aspects of sports. 

Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics 

The 2008 opening ceremonies in Beijing culminated in a brilliant firework display for the world to see.

Every two years, countries throughout the world descend upon a particular city to compete in various athletic competitions in the name of sportsmanship and goodwill.  For the host city and to a broader extent the host nation, the opening ceremonies are an opportunity to display the culture and rich traditions cherished by that country.  With the continuing of remarkable technological innovation, the opening ceremonies have become truly grandiose scenes of cinematic and artistic beauty for all to enjoy.  This was most apparent during the awe-inspiring 2008 opening ceremonies held in Beijing, China. 

Inside the "Bird's Nest" in Beijing during the 2008 opening ceremonies.

However, in addition to the marvelous cultural display, I’ve always enjoyed the parade of nations.  Whether it is a somber, yet inspiring moment as a particular war-torn or weather-ravaged nation makes its way through the stadium, or a country’s unique outfit, each country and even each competitor possesses its own unique and fascinating story. 

College Football Awards Ceremony 

Unlike the Heisman Trophy Award which typically only showcases skill-players, the College Football Awards show represents all players and allows for men such as Gabe Carimi (OT from Wisconsin) to showcase their accomplishments.

Though the Heisman Award is the College Football’s most prestigious, the finalists for the award are most often running backs and quarterbacks.  As such, the award show, though showcasing some of the finest players in the entire country, lacks a full display of what football is all about.  As such, I have always enjoyed the College Football Awards Show shown annually on ESPN which involves the awards for each position. 

Typically the award-winners compete for programs that are among the nation’s finest and in the room it is not uncommon for competitors of some of the year’s biggest bowl games, even the national championship game, to be finalists for the same awards.  This has often led to very entertaining tension that the ESPN College Gameday tries to both downplay (perhaps for their own safety) yet hype up in order to create public intrigue. 

Either way, my favorite moments are when a gigantic 6’6” 330 lb. behemoth is announced as winning a particular award (usually the Lombardi, Nagurski, or Rimington), gets up to the stage in his nice suit, and suddenly bursts into tears thanking his “mommy.”  In my eyes, there is not a more honest and wholesome moment in all of sports.

MMA Weigh-Ins (particularly the UFC) 

The tension and animosity exhibited between Anderson Silva (left) and Chael Sonnen (right) during their weigh-in staredown only further added to the enormous hype and fanfare of their middleweight championship match at UFC 117.

Even as a youngster growing up, I would manage to stay up late to catch a lot of the top boxing matches in the late 1980s and 1990s.  I think it is the love of the “big fight” and its accompanying fanfare that has carried over to my enjoyment of mixed martial arts.  As much as I enjoy watching a regional promotion, as their fights are incredibly action-packed, I absolutely love tuning into the weigh-ins of a big fight card for the UFC.  In fact, I will come forward and tell you all that I have managed to watch every weigh-in (either live or replay via internet) of every UFC event since UFC 52 back in April 2005.  Additionally, I have had the opportunity to attend two separate UFC weigh-ins in person:  UFC 101 in Philadelphia and UFC 111 in Newark, NJ. 

First, let me address the obvious issue some of you might have:  yes, I have taken 20 minutes of my time for each of these events to tune into watch guys strip down to their underwear in order to make their respective weight limits and then watch them pose to the crowd.  I assure you first that the enjoyment stems from the interaction between the fighters and nothing beyond that.  Further, there are times when studying the physique of the various fighters will help you come to a conclusion as to which fighter you believe will be victorious the next day.  Whether it is that a fighter that shows up out of shape, too muscular, or looking too depleted attempting to cut the weight, the weigh-ins are a very telling part of the entire pre-fight process. 

Lastly, there is nothing better than an intense staredown between two top fighters in one of the cards main event fights.  The energy that the staredown creates in the arena is palpable and really can get the fans pumped for the next evening’s fights.

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