I love watching football, especially on a really big-screen TV. And I love great writing. Sports writing is a challenge. Describing plays and the actions of players is often given over to excessive use of superlatives, and there’s a reason for that.
Great things happen in sports so great phrases are used to describe them. The problem comes in when something happens that is so far beyond the pale that the writer is dumbfounded. He or she has no doubt exhausted every possible phrase to describe the impossible, but here before that writer is a play that goes far beyond the impossible.
How the hell do you describe something even more impossible? Now that’s a serious challenge.
Last night, I was stunned into open-jawed astonishment at the finale of the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings NFL playoff game. It was amazing to watch, and I was happy for the Vikings and their fans, but I knew I was in for a good time in the hours following that victory. Sportswriters were faced with the task of describing that game.
This is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. I could imagine them at their keyboards, reaching deep into their vocabularies, probing their imaginations, searching for phrases. Looking for a hook on which to hang a paragraph.
Late Sunday night, I went looking for articles using Google News and the search word: “Vikings.”
Today, writer Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writing for the ever-frustrated hometown Vikings fanbase, came up with this paragraph, the third in his article:
“But with 10 seconds left on Sunday, needing at least a field goal with no timeouts left and the ball on their own 39-yard line, the Vikings called ‘Seven Heaven.’ And they watched Stefon Diggs leap for a Case Keenum pass, turn the corner and march a fanbase right out of sporting hell.”
Again: “And they watched Stefon Diggs leap for a Case Keenum pass, turn the corner and march a fanbase right out of sporting hell.”
Oooh! Freakin’ brilliant! That perfectly encapsulates the moment…and, more importantly, years of moments. Years of frustrating moments in sports was the hook.
Then there’s Peter King of Sports Illustrated who decided to talk about a moment in the locker room after, and Keenum’s cell phone:
“Ding! … Ding!
“Forty minutes after he ran (levitated?) off the field Sunday, Case Keenum picked up his iPhone in the Vikings’ locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, looked at the screen … Ding! … and just shook his head. Keenum repeated a line he could not stop saying. He said to no one, ‘I can’t believe it.’ That ding sound, the annoying sound when a text message lands in an iPhone, just wouldn’t stop, and Keenum, bemused, tossed the phone onto the wooden seat of his locker.
“’Can’t believe it,’ Keenum said. ‘A hundred and 73 texts.’
“He rose to pose for pictures with Stefon Diggs, his partner in the most stunning moment in Vikings history. Their grins were goofy. ‘Dude, I can’t believe this!’ Keenum said. There are times when people are so happy they appear to be almost in a daze, and that was Keenum, right here, right now, turning back to his locker.
“’I’m not mad about it,’ Keenum said. ‘It’s a good problem to have.’
“Keenum just sat and thought for a few moments, and looked at me.
“’How are you gonna write THIS?’ he said.
And now Keenum knows how King wrote it.
I do love great writing, and on an occasion such as this, I go hunting for what sportswriters say. The best writers seldom let me down. It’s my own personal Seven Heaven.