I am always amazed by the clarity of thought and flawless logic displayed by members of the Institute of Drinking Studies. In a recent post-Avalanche game wrap-up at the Pepsi Center's Blue Sky Grill, we solved several of the world's problems. As is too often the case, however, we could not remember those solutions once sobriety and vision-clouding hangovers set in.
I do know that we addressed Mideast peace, the upcoming election and whether males who claim to like Blue Moon beer are actually guys or perhaps have an extra "X" chromosome floating around. From what I can recall, we came up with a plan to send the U.S. supply of Blue Moon, as well as the entire population of lemon-in-beer, skirt-wearing fans, to the Gaza Strip to provide a buffer between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Howard Dean would go along, too, to provide disturbing motivational speeches and random screeches until somebody put him out of everybody's misery.
But what we talked about most -- a dispute that I know remains unsettled -- is which athletes in competitive sports are the toughest. Although there was very little consensus, we could agree on a few things.
Soccer: It takes little to no skill to kick a ball -- or, more important, to fake a crippling knee injury after being knocked over by a moderate gust of wind.
Professional football: Having been relieved of the responsibility of making passing grades or attending sex parties for potential recruits, pros play only one game a week and devote the rest of their time to planning their eventual crossover to being network analysts, a job that allows them to talk more trash than ever before without the potential of being fined or flagged for "taunting."
Any sort of competition requiring significant aerobic reserve, such as marathon running, biathlons or cross-country skiing, biking or "track": These people enjoy pain, and their only measure of success other than possibly winning an event is to see who can come up with the most twisted, tortured facial expression to show the world how much pain they're inflicting on themselves.
When we started discussing pro baseball and hockey players, our accord ended. This may have been because the only beer Blue Sky stocks is made by Coors Brewing Company, whose only accomplishments have been to articulate every guy's fantasy of having two women, preferably twins, at once and to get an overall rating of "St. Bernard Saliva" at the most recent European Beer Expo.
I was born in Minnesota and have skated since I was two years old. Like every kid I grew up with, I dreamed of playing in the pros or even the Olympics. We were glued to the TV for every Gopher or North Stars game, the sound turned down so that we could listen to the call by Al Shaver, that era's Gary Thorne. The entire state shut down every March for the high school hockey tournament. From an early age, I knew that my ultimate goal upon retirement from medicine would be to continue serving mankind by driving a Zamboni around a hockey rink.
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Before I was even in junior high, I had practices that started before the sun rose. We were often on the road three times a week, sleeping on our equipment so that we would be somewhat human when we showed up at school the next day. I never left the field of play via ambulance in football or baseball, but I did so -- with sirens, mind you -- during a hockey game. I never sensed potential danger to my dentition or other parts of my body during other sporting events, mainly because in those games, players are not allowed to carry sticks or other weapons. But a good hockey player needs not just the grace to speed across the ice fluidly, but the intelligence to know where all his teammates are at all times and the strength to stand toe-to-toe with a foe long enough to pull his jersey over his head and beat the snot out of him.
I love football and baseball, but the skills involved in those sports are nowhere near that required in hockey. Baseball is so easy that even a skinny weenie like Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post could play. Sure, there's some effort involved -- but how much does it take to sit around and spit and scratch yourself until it's your turn to bat and swing blindly at a heater coming down the pipe? The only real danger a baseball player faces is scratching his groin so often and with such intensity that he breaks the skin and a superficial infection takes hold, or looking foolish after rushing the mound and throwing a wild, ineffective punch reminiscent of a junior-high girl's technique.
For me -- and despite the fact that to attend more than one game a year you may have to auction off a functioning portion of your liver (which most members of the institute do not have) for transplant on the black market -- hockey is the ultimate spectator sport for the sheer excitement of the game and the talent of its players. So call the donor hotline and then get out to see the Avs. Hell, even hit the Blue Sky afterward, if you can stomach the beer selection. And keep an eye out for me; I'll be the one driving the Zamboni.