The Perfect Competition for These Wild Times
When Thomas Waerner and his 10 sled dogs pulled into Nome, AK, late Tuesday night, they were entering a very different world than the one they left ten days prior. At that time, Waerner was also one of the only people on Earth experiencing that particular type of pride and joy that comes with dominating a sporting event, the champion of the Iditarod, a competition that’s known as “The Last Great Race.” This year, more than ever, it lived up to that billing. As league after league suspended their seasons and tournaments, the Iditarod carried on—and it was the perfect competition for these crazy times.
The famed dog sled race through the Alaskan wilderness has its origins in a crisis eerily reminiscent of our own. In the winter of 1925, the city of Nome was facing an outbreak of a sickness marked by—what else?—a pronounced cough, fever, and body aches, and the town’s only doctor was out of medicine to treat it. No ships could access the local port; it was iced over, and it was too dangerous to deliver anything by plane. So, a relay of 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs was organized to transport the serum from the southern town of Seward to Nome. Working day and night, they got the treatment to Nome in 5 ½ days and saved the town. Today’s mushers follow a similar path to the one those dog teams ran to keep a pandemic at bay.
The Iditarod has since morphed into the ultimate test of endurance and survival. This year’s competition hinged on a dramatic move that ultimately secured Waerner an insurmountable lead, when the Norwegian led his dogs through the night for a 12-hour run without a break, logging 85-miles. For anyone else, that type of effort would have been Herculean, but in Iditarod terms, it was par for the course. In the past, participants have had to chisel their own hands off of their sleds due to the frost and biting cold. Mushers have yielded axes to chase off an angry moose—and others have swung their axes wildly at nothing but air, hallucinating dangers in the blinding snow. More than anything, the Iditarod is about being alone, “social distancing” on steroids, as mushers run through the Alaskan wilderness for a length roughly equivalent to the distance between Wrigley Field and New Orleans’ Superdome.
After he celebrated his victory, Waerner wasn’t thinking of quarantine, testing kits, or the stock market like the rest of us. He was thinking back to when he was a little kid, in Norway, flipping through mushing magazines. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 11 years old,” he said. “It’s kind of been a part of my history. My whole life, actually.”
Elsewhere, games stopped, and arenas emptied. But as teams of sled dogs outran all of our problems last week, the Iditarod reminded us that when we put our minds to something, we can accomplish just about anything.
TB12 Takes TB
So Tom Brady will be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer after all (Brady is also a cofounder of ROS). There’s so much to say about the move, about Brady’s legacy in Foxborough and how strange it will be to see him take a snap in another uniform, but as he becomes a member of a new organization, let’s first take a moment to remember what the Patriots were like when Brady first entered the quarterback room:
Before Brady, the Pats had only played in one Super Bowl. They lost 46-10.
Before Brady, the Pats considered moving to Hartford, CT, because their stadium was such a dump.
Before Brady, Steve Grogan was the best quarterback the Pats had ever had. The franchise’s best player ever was John Hannah—a left guard.
It’s easy to forget now that Brady took the Patriots from being a laughingstock to one of the marquee franchises in sports. This season, he’s inheriting an organization that has won one Super Bowl in their history and has missed the playoffs for the past 12 seasons.
Brady’s biggest task with his new team will be to resuscitate a perennial losing franchise. It might seem like an impossible task, but he’s done it before.
The Year of Magical Thinking
We’ll preface this section by acknowledging that anything can happen, and that if this past week has proved anything, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye. But bear with us as we fantasize about the fall. Not having sports this spring is tough, but when you think about the jam-packed schedule that we could potentially have in September and October, it’s like entering sports nirvana. For example:
- The Masters, Ryder Cup, and the PGA Championship
- Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont
- US and French Open (on back-to-back weekends, apparently)
- Daytona 500
- The Paris and Boston Marathons
And all that would be in addition to our regularly scheduled programming: The start of football season, the kickoff of the Premier League, and October baseball. Just imagine: flipping back and forth between Brooks Koepka jockeying for a lead at Augusta, a top-10 SEC showdown, a pennant race-defining ballgame, and the Kentucky Derby. We can dream, can’t we?
So Let It Be Written
By Stephen Thompson • NPR
If you thought that former One Direction star and heartthrob Harry Styles was only about pop music, think again. He’s also a diehard Packers fan. Styles describes the origins of his allegiance: “When I was about six years old, I fell off my bike, and cut my knee. And I bled green and gold. And that was it, I just knew.”
By David Walstein • New York Times
The Astros banged on trash cans. Chess masters? They’ve been known to plant buzzers in the soles of their shoes. They have yogurt delivered to them with certain colors corresponding to a secret code. They plant smartphones in bathrooms. Take a deep dive into the wild, crooked world of competitive chess.
By Justin Sayles • The Ringer
We might not have sports, but we still have sports talk radio. An epic news day while everyone is stuck at home means a whole lot of callers—and a pretty epic sports talk day too.
The Next Best Thing
We have to admit that when we first saw footage from NASCAR’s “Replacements 100” race, we thought that we were watching a real race (Seriously, that picture above? It’s a video game. We swear.). In reality, it was the next best thing, an exhibition “eNASCAR” match taking place at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway. Its competitors included racing legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. (he finished eighth) and NFL Pro Bowler Kyle Long, who raced imaginary cars on the iRacing platform, which requires a pedal and steering wheel attachment to a computer.
That race was started on a whim, drivers calling other drivers to organize it themselves. But NASCAR wisely decided to capitalize on iRacing’s technology and its community’s enthusiasm. They’ve organized a series of “invitationals” featuring drivers like Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to ensure that fans can continue to get their racing fix—and stay safe while doing so. Now if we can only get LeBron and Giannis to play each other in NBA 2K….
Virtual NASCAR heads to the Homestead Miami Speedway tonight at 8 PM EST. You can stream the race live on Twitch.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Members of the Brazillian soccer club Gremio take the field at an empty stadium earlier this week wearing masks in protest of having the game take place as scheduled. They removed the masks before kickoff—and won 3-2.
By Brian Phillips • Grantland
If you want to get a better taste of what the Iditarod is like, spend some time with this epic essay. When Brian Phillips decided he wanted to follow the race by plane, he called a local Alaskan bush pilot to get a sense of what he would be in for. The pilot ran through a series of questions about Phillips’ outdoors experience (amounting more or less to zero). “Well,” said the pilot, “I’ll be straight with you. There are a lot of ways to die in Alaska.”
“Spirituality means a lot of different things to different people. For me it’s your deepest purpose. I do want to know the whys of life. I want to know why we’re here. Where we’re going. Trying to find that deeper purpose. To live it through sports in a very authentic way makes so much sense to me. Having these dreams and goals and aspirations, and waking up and putting in the work, and miracles happening, and all this magic that sports creates, and I’m in the middle of it. I get to live that through sports.”