The Obscure Guy is Me

by John Furgele (Your Trusted 228)

I’ve been an avid sports fan since 1976.  I don’t proclaim to be great at anything, but as far as knowledge of sports goes, I would rate myself better than excellent.  I remember specific moments from specific games; often obscure games.  In fact, when I was cutting the lawn the other afternoon, I realized that I am a man of the obscure; a man that likes the obscure. Let’s check it out.

I liked the USFL.  I actually thought the quality of play was good, and to this day, I still struggle to understand why spring football can’t work in the United States. Of course, that was the problem with the USFL.  For three seasons (1983 thru 1985) they played in the spring and then, the owners, led by Donald Trump decided that it was best to move to the fall, a move that never happened as the league folded before that came to fruition.  They did sue—successfully—but received only $3.87 for their pain and suffering.  I’m not good with money, but that probably wasn’t enough to reunite.  We all know that the league had solid players with many of them going on to successful NFL careers.

I thought the XFL could have made it.  Yes, that’s right.  The league got off to a rough start.  The play was bad, the founder was loud and the product was too over the top.  But, by the end of the season, the play was better but the problem was that the fans had already checked out.  I always wonder what would have happened of the league lost their shock value and tried to cultivate both its product and its play. They told us the league would be a game-changer before they played games.  That is usually a recipe for disaster.

I like the Canadian Football League, aka the CFL.  There is a spring-summer football league up north.  It features nine teams, three downs, 12 players a side and a 110-yard field.  At first, it sounds strange to hear 3rd and 5 from the 52, but if you give the league a chance, you’ll get used to it.  I grew up in the Buffalo, NY suburbs and there, we could watch CFL games on CBC and CTV as they provided a nice summer diversion during the baseball season.  Their big game is the Grey Cup which is usually contested on the last Sunday in November.  I will likely never attend a Super Bowl, but at least I can say I saw a Grey Cup Game live and in person, back in 2001, when Calgary upset Winnipeg, 27-19.

I like MLS—Major League Soccer.  For the most part, there are two kinds of sports people:  those who like soccer and believe non-likers are not intelligent enough to appreciate it; and those who think soccer is boring, for wimps and a game for other countries to play.  I do believe that over the last 15 years, both sides have softened and MLS is gaining more and more respect across the sports landscape.

Most Americans like the World Cup; when the United States plays, it garners attention from all sports fans, not just the soccer purists.  But, that’s part of the problem, too.  For soccer to really gain a foothold, MLS needs to get more play in the USA sports landscape.  When you tune in to sports talk radio, it’s the same stuff every day to the point of boredom.  If you turn on ESPN, Fox, Sirius XM, you are bound to hear talk about the NBA, Lebron, football, Colin Kapernick and anything steamy like the recent Hugh Freeze saga.  The networks and hosts refuse to educate themselves on MLS; refuse to categorize it as the fifth major sport despite the continued growth of the league that debuted in 1996.  Do we need to spend hours talking about DC United and NYCFC?  No, but a few minutes per week?  Will that “kill” the ratings?

ESPN Radio used to be “all-sports radio,” before they spent billions on the NBA and the NFL.  They have Barry Melrose to analyze hockey and there was a time where he could be heard on their radio programs, but those days are long gone and since ESPN no longer broadcasts NHL games, it won’t be returning anytime soon.  But, they do broadcast MLS games, as does Fox, but it would be beneath Colin Cowherd to mention anything MLS.  He prefers to talk about Russell Westbrook’s fake triple-doubles. Why not bring your soccer expert for a few minutes to talk soccer both here and for that sake, around the globe.

I like harness racing.  When I tell people that, I usually get two responses.  The first is that it’s a sport for old people and even though I am nearing 50, they say I’m too young to follow a sport where horses pull chubby guys in a bike or sulky.  The second is that they tell me the sport is rigged because they see guys pulling back in the stretch, allowing them to get passed at the wire.  They fail to realize that when a driver pulls back, he is lightening the load that the horse has to carry; in essence, making it things easier for the trotter/pacer to run.  For some reason, harness racing gets mocked even though the horses race much more frequently than their thoroughbred counterparts.  Don’t get me wrong, I like thoroughbred racing too, but that sport is not as obscure as harness racing and this list is centered on the obscure.

There was a time where harness racing drew crowds of 40,000 and up to their tracks, but things like off track betting, cable TV and now the Smartphone took them away with the sport now relying heavily on casinos and slots to help it move forward.  There was also a time where ESPN—The Worldwide Leader—showed harness racing on its airwaves, back when ESPN only cared about sports. Those were the good old days of ESPN before Stephen A. Smith, before covering politics and before not only covering O.J. Simpson’s Nevada parole hearing, but bringing in a panel of experts to analyze what’s next for the man acquitted of double murder back in 1995.  I honestly wonder if sports fans would watch harness racing over stuff like O.J, Kapernick and Stephen A. Smith.  I believe they would and if you go to You Tube and search under Harness racing, you’ll see ESPN covering the big events and covering them well. ESPN certainly knows how to cover sports/games—it’s the non-sports stuff that makes many pause.

I like AAA baseball and even independent league baseball games.  I would love to see a Buffalo Bisons-Rochester Red Wings game on TV as well as seeing the Omaha Storm Chasers take on the New Orleans Baby Cakes.  I would also like to watch the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League; the Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am League and the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association.  I often wonder why the MSG Network can’t strike a deal with the Ducks and Boulders to show some of their games.  Instead, we get “The Best of the NY Islanders, the Devils and the Knicks;” three teams that didn’t sniff the playoffs in 2016-17.  We also get movies, old-timers tennis and replays from tennis exhibitions from 2014.  That’s what happens when you have all your hands in the winter sports basket.  I know it’s expensive to produce games, but why show “Rudy,” when Boulders-Ottawa Champions is available?

I like FCS football.  It can be very tough explaining college football divisions (ask my girlfriend) to people.  In basketball and other sports, it’s easy.  We have Division I, II and III, but in football, we have four divisions; the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Football Championship Subdivision, Division II and Division III.  In the old days, it was 1-A, 1-AA, II and III, a classification system that I still believe is easier. That said, why are there four football divisions and only three basketball divisions even though there are three times the basketball teams as there are football teams?  Villanova plays FCS football in a stadium that seats 10,000 people while Michigan plays FBS football in an 113,000 seat stadium.  In basketball, they are equals, but in football, it’s not even close and when a FCS team beats a FBS like Appalachian State did to Michigan in 2007, it is big, big news.

But FCS football has a grassroots feel to it; the way football used to be before superconferences, outrageous TV fees and corruption took over.  When football went big time, the Ohio States moved forward while schools like Colgate, Holy Cross, Delaware, Villanova and a Youngstown State decided to stay where they were at.  Did they miss out?  Perhaps, but to me, if you don’t watch a few FCS games in the fall, you’re missing out because, like AAA baseball, it’s simply good.

Is this list too obscure or not obscure enough?  That’s for you to decide.  But, I know who I am, a man that prefers a Marist-Stetson football game over Syracuse-Boston College, so don’t even bother telling me I need help; I already know.  I don’t think I’m alone here, but then again, I’m not sure either.



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