PLAYGROUND NOTES: Looks can be deceiving

J. Michael Moore

Look at this page.

What do you see?

Words and a picture of some guy that seems to have a really goofy and unusually giddy grin on his face?

I admit. It’s not my best side.

In fact, I knew from day one that it was just a little too chummy for my personality. And although it does look like me, I assure you, I DO NOT look that way all the time.

I’d get way too many suspicious looks.

While I, like everyone else, have my particular reasons to be joyous, I do not regularly manifest them into a Jack Nicholson Joker-like smile hooking the ear lobes and stretching off the face for green hair and white face paint.

See, looks can be deceiving, especially in sports.

My picture may represent something that is not my true personality.

On the field, reality might be underneath the canvas.

Go back to the 1920s.

It was a “golden age” for sports and sportswriters didn’t hesitate in pumping up any action into flamboyant compliments, metaphors or Prohibition Era slang.

What’s that old sport? Didn’t know you were getting a history lesson? Well grab the Gin and Tonic, this buggy’s about to get out of control.

In 1924, the Notre Dame football team played Army, going 13-7 in what has been dubbed one of the greatest sporting displays ever witnessed.

There, in New York, a sportswriter named Grantland Rice immortalized four running backs against a “blue-gray October sky.”

See, they too didn’t look the part. None of them weighed over 200 pounds.

To most, they were mere football players – undersized but well coached – but to Rice, and soon the rest of the world, they were “The Four Horsemen.”

It’s really a childish rendering.

Rice in all of his egotistical glow and fanfare compared these four no-names to the equestrians of Revelation.

But people liked it, and rooting for the underdog became even more en vogue.

It was brutal sports journalism.

Rice didn’t write the score until 138-words into the story.

But people read.

You might know Rice from one of his poetry verses.

Yes, poetry.

Don’t ask me, some people like it.

Rice wrote:

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.”

You and I know it better as: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

Rice had some deeper metaphors. He was talking about the game of life. We use the words to cheer up sobbing little-leaguers.

Make of it what you wish.

It’s as beautiful as it is eye-rolling, but it can’t help but make us realize games are a little more than athletic contests taken out on a field or indoors designed to award winning spoils to the most intellectually or physically gifted.

Rice got to the goods.

Looks can be deceiving and they continue to deceive everyday of every week.

When we least expect it, we’re comforted with the sports miracle or frustration that has a different story under its surface.

Lady Toppers – looked weak with no starters above 6-foot-1, but won the Sun Belt Conference, shocked Louisiana Tech and won back the hearts of a city.

Patrick Sparks – looks like a traitor. But we all know he’s doing what’s best for him.

He wouldn’t have come to Western in the first place if he intended on sticking it to Big Red.

That would be waste of basketball eligibility.

Sparks’ flight is no less painful, but we try to accept it because the look on the surface can be deceiving.

Dennis Felton – Big guy talked about how great Western was and left for another school anyway.

That’s the way it looks.

But is it true?

I’ve heard few arguments against his exodus.

As sportswriters, my colleagues and I pride ourselves on digging beyond the shiny coat covering most stories. Even the dirty ones have a little bit of a glimmer, as if to say “Look at my surface, no more story in me! You got it all!”

I’d be out of a job if I trusted that girly voice.

Because it’s not all looks.

Grantland Rice saw heart and passion beneath weak bodies.

Others see scandal and greed below championships.

So for those of you who think journalism and sportswriting is about mud slinging, understand the truth isn’t always squeaky clean.

And for those who think sports is nothing but brawn against stupidity, think about the above analogy.

Looks aren’t fact.

Simply put, I could ramble about the Ugly Duckling – what’s underneath is what counts.

But that wouldn’t be any fun.

The sporting approach is closer to life.

The means are as important as any end.

It’s how you play the game.

J. Michael Moore will take his “looks” to the Talisman as editor this fall. He can be reached at [email protected]