Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The WNBA is trying hard but just can't get our attention

“Hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?”

 Lyric from: Comfortably Numb on the album The Wall
                                                          Written by: David Gilmour, Roger Waters
                                                           Performed by: Pink Floyd

The WNBA began play in the summer of 1997 after being approved by the NBA Board of Governors just 15 months earlier.
On September 27, 2011 at 8 PM Eastern Time a WNBA Eastern Conference Finals Playoff game tipped off between the Atlanta Dream and the Indiana Fever. After winning Game 1 of the best of 3 series, Indiana lost by 20 points in Game 2 to Atlanta and was looking to finish strong at home at Conseco Fieldhouse on this night in the deciding Game 3. 
The preceding paragraph is, give or take a few words, how my cable provider described the programming airing in the 8 PM Eastern timeslot on ESPN2 on September 27, 2011. I couldn’t have written that description on my own since I hadn’t noticed that the WNBA Playoffs were happening.
And so 14 years after the WNBA burst on the scene to a resounding “We Got Next”, I’m wondering was anybody listening, or am I the only person that experiences selective hearing on occasion.
Over the last week I have enjoyed talking about a full range of sports topics with my fellow sports loving friends. Not one of them mentioned the WNBA Playoffs to me. And clearly I wasn’t informed enough to introduce the subject matter into the conversations.  
A brief perusal of my friends’ Facebook status updates just now did not expose a single person who may have been watching the game, rooting for their favorite team or at all interested in the game’s outcome.
I just watched about five minutes of the game to get a sense of how many people were there at Conseco Fieldhouse in person to root for the home team. Gosh, it looks like a modest crowd of about 8,000. I wonder if “modest” was the right word to use. Apparently, that number is right in line with last year's average home game attendance for the Indiana Fever according to the WNBA published attendance stats. 
The Fever's star player, Tamika Catchings, announced at the top of the broadcast that she had decided to play in this game after being injured in Game 2. Though I’m sure it was an announcement no less critical to the Fever’s prospect of winning than the news that Rajon Rondo would play in Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals after his frightening elbow injury, it certainly felt less dramatic. And Rondo’s return was not even to a deciding game in that Heat vs. Celtics series.
A remote control fueled trip around the onscreen guide in search of other sports programming airing this evening reveals that this WNBA playoff game faces some tough timeslot competition of its own with the NFL Network replaying the Patriots vs. Bills matchup from Week 3 and NBA TV replaying the 1994 Western Conference Semifinals Game 7 featuring the Rockets against the Suns. I wonder if “tough” was the right word to use. But hey, it’s Barkley versus Olajuwon-the Rockets go on to win their first NBA Championship that year. And that Bills vs. Patriots game was an instant classic. The Bills, NFL also-rans in recent years, beat the belles of the NFL ball as Prince Brady throws 4 interceptions. As a result, the Bills take the division lead at 3-0. 
Given that WNBA average viewership hovered around 250,000 on ESPN2 in 2010, my guess is that this league's games are no strangers to losing a few remote control face offs.
Last December the University of Connecticut’s Women’s Basketball team had its 90-game winning streak snapped in a 71-59 loss to Stanford. The streak and its conclusion went almost unnoticed. Real work takes a back seat to Bracketology in offices all across America each March but, we catch the Women’s College Basketball Championship game simply as an afterthought.  And while we wait with bated breath to hear the announcement of the NBA Draft’s #1 pick, most of us have no clue when the WNBA Draft happens much less who was the most recent #1 pick.
Why the discrepancy in interest levels?
Occam’s Razor is often understatedly defined as "the simplest answer is usually the correct one”. As a woman with three nieces who writes a blog that has “Lady” as the first word in the title, I am not inclined to speak that answer let alone write it here.
But since most of you weren’t there in person, won't likely hear it from your friends and didn’t watch at home tonight I am here to report that the Atlanta Dream beat the Indiana Fever by a score of 83-67 to advance to their second straight WNBA Finals.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions might do a switcheroo

“They’ve got a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose.”

Lyric from: Deacon Blues on the album Aja
                                                                                                                Written by: Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
                                                                                                                Performed by: Steely Dan

For a long, long, long, LONG time now the Detroit Lions have been the name and the face of the losers in the NFL. Years and years of high profile, offensive first round picks from the likes of Joey Harrington, to Charles Rogers, to Kevin Jones to Roy Williams to Mike Williams left us all so jaded that we ceremonially presumed the failures of Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford as well. And that’s just since 2002. In the first round of the 1989 draft the Lions selected a beast, a man lionized by NFL.com as the #1 most elusive running back of all time, Barry Sanders.

Football junkies have almost held a collective opinion regarding Sanders’ early exit from the game-the man didn’t see the point, why risk the continued wear and tear for a team that would never turn it around. Who are we to trust that the Lions could ever rise from the ashes of perennial losers when one of the most famous Lions of all times couldn’t bring himself to believe that.

Last season the Lions almost won their season opener and when it comes to the Lions, almost does count. It was a big deal. A last second touchdown that was erased upon official review cost them the victory. But we thought that we had caught a glimpse of something, that maybe we had caught a glimpse of a new possibility for Lions football. Someone once said to me that winning and losing are contagious. You win one game and you’re infected with the drive to keep winning and the same can be said of losing. So while almost winning their season opener last year was a big deal, it wasn’t a big enough deal to make winning infectious. Until maybe, it was. Maybe just a whole season later.
The Detroit Lions head into their week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys undefeated, having started a season 3-0 for the first time since 1980.
The Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s most valuable franchise. Cowboys Stadium is the most expensive stadium in the country at just over a billion dollars to construct. The Dallas Cowboys blue star logo is one of the best known professional sports logos in the world. Finally, the team’s owner is just as famous if not more famous than most of the players he employs.
#Winning,  right?


And here we arrive at one of the great mysteries of the 21st century. How can a team whose coach we barely know, whose high paid quarterback always gives you a chance to lose, that has won just two playoff games since 1996 be considered a winner? I don’t know.
My dear friend Hulesy Britt, a long-suffering Cowboys fan, said to me last week, “Listen, at this point, when you talk to a new fan, who’s new to loving the NFL about the most recent glory years of the Cowboys-back when we won our last championships with the Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer teams-it’s gotta be a feeling similar to the one I had back when I first became a Cowboys fan and people would talk to me about the old Baltimore Colts. It feels like a completely different era.”
Listen, I’m a yogi. I’ve been practicing yoga for seven years and in yogic practice much is made of the concept that many times our beliefs about ourselves don’t always reflect the truth. These beliefs are so powerful however that true or not, they can dramatically define your perceptions, intentions and your actions/inactions. Talk to any Cowboys fan (with maybe the exception of my friend Britt) and you will find a proof point for how powerful a singular belief can be. Catch an interview with Jerry Jones on talk radio and let his words be your second proof point.
The Dallas Cowboys, aka America’s Team, are winners mostly because they believe they are and they tell us they are.
And so this coming Sunday the winners and losers face off. You’ll have to forgive me for mentally fast forwarding past this evening’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and the Redskins. I am all about next week. And as much as I hate to admit it, the Detroit Lions will have to beat the Dallas Cowboys to prove to me that they are infected with winning. Do the Lions finally believe?
What we know for sure though is that win or lose, the Cowboys will still believe that they are winners-whether it’s true or not.