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Sports Illustrated Jinx sinks the Packers

It’s been pretty gloomy around these parts, what with that icky NFC Championship Game on Sunday coming in the middle of a cold snap that makes me long for some global warming, or at least local warming.

Once the disappointment of the Packers’ defeat started to ebb a little bit, I started thinking about finding someone or something to blame for the whole debacle, and fairly quickly came up with Sports Illustrated magazine.

The infamous “Sports Illustrated Jinx” struck again, and this time it was a double whammy, since the Big Guy, Brett Favre, wound up gracing their cover twice in the range of about two months. The first one was for the “Sportsman of the Year” designation; the second was that neat image of his pitching in the snow against Seattle.

I’m not bitter, but if appearing on the cover is enough to send somebody to the showers, what happens when it’s twice in such a short span?

And just for the record, I fully understand that attaching a significance to something like that is yet another example of “selective perception” that human beings employ as a means of trying to make sense of a confusing and often forbidding universe. Essentially, we remember those things that support our underlying hypothesis – in this case a Sports Illustrated “jinx” – and simply ignore all of the other instances when they don’t.

* * * * *

In the course of surfing around the TV dial during NFC Championship huddles, timeouts and commercial breaks, etc., I ran across something that at first blush appeared to be billiards on ESPN, but upon closer examination turned out to be a grotesque abomination of my favorite “sport.”

“Speed Pool” involves players running around the table trying to sink balls as fast as they can, a putrid contrivance that has nothing whatsoever to do with what is still a grand and elegant game when played in some fashion remotely in accordance with normal rules. Comparable mutations in other beloved sports might be something like “Tackle Golf,” or adding a Karaoke round in the final two minutes of each quarter of an NFL game. Thinking those last two whimsical suggestions are any more ridiculous than “Speed Pool” amounts to little more than a distinction without a difference.

I can’t blame Sports Illustrated for this one, or even ESPN, for that matter. The cable TV behemoth has to feed a voracious monster that requires ever-greater mountains of programming, but there are still villains to be fingered in this sad affair.

Atop that list is the world of professional pool, which has never been able to figure out how to market a sport/game that is played by millions of Americans every year. We’re not talking about curling here, though we might as well be given the various professional associations’ tepid abilities in marketing their product. Despite a couple of significant bumps every time Paul Newman makes a movie showcasing “Fast Eddie” Felson, pool has languished for all of my lifetime, never able to even create an effective professional circuit, to say nothing of its inability to solve the riddle of bringing the game to television viewers.

And for those who like irony – and who doesn’t? – it gives me a chuckle that the women’s professional tour has done a far better job at these things. I suspect that if you asked people in a poll to name their favorite professional pool player, the winning name might be “Minnesota Fats,” or slightly more encouraging, maybe Willie Mosconi. There are a number of wonderful players on the men’s circuit these days, but they play at a level of obscurity that is nothing short of embarrassing.

And there has been nothing that has taken place over the last 40 years that would provide any reason to hope that this forlorn situation will improve in my lifetime.

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