I was on my second half hour of watching the American Cornhole League on ESPN when a mixture of shame and – unbelievably – conviction washed over me. Some dude had just thrown a “four bagger” and did it to close out a match! My audible “Woah!” hung in the air like a rodeo clown karate kicking a pinata full of bedazzled face masks into a crowd — both unnecessary and necessary at the same time.
Why do we love and watch sports? If you are one of the people that answered that with “I don’t, and don’t care if they return” feel free to continue reading whatever self-help book or holistic beaded leather-making class you currently bore others with.
“No. I don’t want a yak skin satchel with Yosemite Falls beaded into the side. Nobody does Gregory.” — Everyone
It seems in the last 15-years a prevailing wind of anti-sportsmatism is pushing the sails of the SS Stodgy Sanctimony to the detriment of all things fun.
The nerds are not only steering the ship these days – they have a formidable fleet manned by geeks, intellectuals, weirdos, and dorks. You know, those people creating and moving society forward in all the “right directions” as the common sporto or jock sniffer becomes a shunned relic — forced into the man caves of society.
But why? Why has there always been this strange tug-of-war between the two factions? Did the exclusion or uneasy participation in sports as a youngster preclude the capacity to howl aloud when a wide receiver makes a one handed catch in the end zone? Or tosses 4 bean bags into a hole while wearing an Armour Hot Dogs jersey and sweating profusely while doing so?
I have my Masters degree in Sporto, but with a minor in Nerdery. I can just as easily watch a Discovery Channel documentary on the Large Hadron Collider. However, until particle accelerators have physicists willing to take a charge or unselfishly locate the open shooter on the wing, I’ll stick to watching senseless competition.
And let’s be frank – that is why I watch. Sports competition is human drama played out in real time.
The voice of Jim McKay on a Saturday morning: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports; The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat — the human drama of athletic competition.”
I know some of you just heard the horns in your head and saw the ski jumper going a** over teakettle. Those words had me watching events like log rolling and the Grand National steeplechase. Hell, I recall watching competitive Simon Says on TV as a kid. Could there be a more glorious amalgamation of Sporto and Nerdery degrees than an event of skill and following instructions?! Sure, the Sporto could stand on one leg longer, but Simon didn’t say — so sit down!
If it means something to the participants, it’s worth a watch for me. That’s what it means to be a true sports voyeur. A winner, a loser, disappointment, exaltation. Human emotions that we used to revel in because they played out in a sports setting. Nothing life or death. Just pure sport.
It’s about learning how to deal with adversity. Your little league team lost. Your favorite football team losses the Super Bowl. You didn’t make the Jr. Varsity swim squad. Whatever. We would use these moments as tools, now we….never mind. That’s a different column.
Yet I digress back to senseless sports adoration.
I’m not ashamed to admit that my friends and I used to play competitive Wacky Wall Walkers. Feel free to repeat that in your head. Remember those sticky things that came in a cereal box or you bought at Sprouse-Reitz? Little colored octopi, that when alone occupied a few hours for a kid, as they’d splat against a wall, then slowly crawl down. It was definitely an alone and grounded bedroom sport.
But then en masse we created the greatest Wacky Wall Walker League in North America.
For some reason John Romito had a closet full of them, probably from his short stint as an employee at that store (But that is a different column, one involving employee theft and popcorn smuggling).
His Father’s day job and house in close vicinity to Manteca High made for the perfect playing field. The wood paneled kitchen provided a champions backdrop, one that saw action on the level of the Kentucky Derby or the San Joaquin County Fair racetrack for those local degenerate gamblers.
The rules were simple enough – there was a knot high in the wood grain that denoted the starting gate. Fling your wall walker from behind the table to above the knot and the race began.
Or so we thought. Getting your walker to the wall early was an advantage and many false starts were called. Two falsies in a row was disqualification. There was nearly a foot space above the knot – plenty of room to land your racer – but people loved to toss a line straddler…
There was one move – a move so brazen and notorious – only those with serious WWL heart would attempt.
Ever thrown a wall walker against a wall? The harder you splat that bad boy, the longer that initial wall separation and subsequent roll down would start.
The Limpy: A soft toss above the starting knot – one that barely grabs and begins an instantaneous roll.
Rick Asbell swears he invented The Limpy. I call BS. A man of that strength and shrewd nature assuredly saw it happen by accident. More than likely Robert Nicewonger, a player I consider the most underrated walker tosser ever. He was a man much more concerned with the shady underbelly and gambling element of the league (one that would ultimately see the league’s demise.)
There was danger in The Limpy though. If you didn’t catch enough wall - Splat! Right to the ground. Immediate disqualification from that race. One that required a consensus that you were indeed attempting a Limpy. Lotsa Limpy Liars in the seedy world of wall walkers.
The Limpy also required a newer walker, as the gooey nature of the move dictated. Any WWL pro knew the real game.
Hair and Lint.
It was the bane of the walker, knowing that no matter what you did, your Octupus was gonna gather scum. This made it less sticky but created a speed demon coming down the wall - if only it could hold on. There was a finish line a foot from the floor that had to be crossed. This prevented last second floor plungers from claiming victory (and you could catch it, and mitigate the amount of scum collected by landing on the linoleum).
You had to crawl across the line!
We became meticulous in our amounts of scum. Vince Romito insisted his mother’s sewing room had the perfect lint. He wouldn’t share with anyone. His team of “juiced” Octupi competed in an era when we were all cheating, so his record of 4 Daytime Championships goes without an asterisk.
People came in and out, placing wagers on crowd favorites – some wanting into the league. We had to start a minor league in the living room. Losers.
All the while, John Romito controlled the league with his box of unused sticky athletes ready for purchase. Making money on both ends like true ownership. Much like sports of today, it wasn’t pretty when these athletes would age out.
I remember when Pat Mayer’s great racer “Stephen Von Tumbler” became matted in lint, because he’d fallen into the couch as we played Tecmo Bowl. Nothing sadder than an old walker covered in lint and hair (and lollipop shards), falling to his early retirement, against a woodgrain backdrop. He didn’t receive the hero’s sendoff he deserved. Instead he ended up in a garbage can full of empty Keystone lights and Jack-in-the-Box taco wrappers.
We were three weeks into this league, just months away from it taking a nationwide foothold, when the unthinkable happened…
At 10:20 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, while close to 20 competitors, spectators, and various 16 year old hoodlums watched - John Romito’s dad came home early. The league, the box of walkers, the world records, the camaraderie, and sportsmanship were done — just like this column.
Keep sports and competition alive — it’ll keep you young until the end.
“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do”