Monday, August 14, 2006

"In America we ask Yakov to save tennis. In Soviet Russia, we have no Yakov. HAHAHA!"

An open letter to Yakov Smirnoff

Dear Mr. Smirnoff,

I hope that this letter finds you well. I know that the summer months are a little slower for you, as you only do 8 pm shows. With any luck, that means you’re well rested and looking forward to the fall as you add more shows, building up to your huge Christmas season. I haven’t been able to make it down to Branson, but I hope to soon.

I am writing with regard to the Springfield Lasers. I’ve written before about this important topic, asking you to be a celebrity fan for World Team Tennis. I asked you to be a fan to save the game and to show support for the local team. Now I’m asking you to be a Lasers fan to help save America.

The message your show gives to audience members is desperately needed in this country. Patriotic wonder, emotional motivation, inner happiness, a celebration of the spirit of life, and Russian kick dancers are in short supply but great demand throughout the country. Not enough people have access to your show and insight. What a country to be without necessary Yakov access.

By becoming a celebrity fan, you would invite more people to listen to you, to hear your message and lessons. It would start small, with ESPN attention. That would launch a fit of nostalgia, reminiscent of what ALF received when he started doing commercials again. That nostalgia and ESPN’s relationship with ABC and Disney could launch you into a more varied media presentation of your show. More people could hear you, laugh with you and learn from you.

I think that this is potentially the next great step in your already great career. I know you’ve had a wonderful life in Branson. But I think the time has come to re-emerge on the national stage. Help out America, support the Springfield Lasers and re-enter the American consciousness. Please contact me, as I am available to help with this important project.

Fondest wishes,
John Weaver
Fringe Sports Central

FSC Announces Letter Writing Campaign to Save World Team Tennis

World Team Tennis is in trouble. Not from financial ruin – it’s been in continual existence for 20 years and clearly its business model works. No, WTT is in trouble because of obscurity. As in the league is firmly nestled in it. Every major tennis player in the last decades has passed through WTT, and yet no one seems to know or care about it, even tennis fans. What’s frustrating is that WTT is much more approachable for the common sports fan. The sport is based on franchises. Unlike straight-up tennis, there are hometown teams to root for.

FSC is big into celebrity fans. We have previously written to Yakov Smirnoff asking him to buy season tickets to the Springfield Lasers, his local WTT franchise, a mere 40 miles from his home in Branson, Missouri. Yakov supporting the Lasers could be mutually beneficial to both the celebrity and the team. You can’t tell me that ESPN wouldn’t love to show footage of Yakov courtside for a WTT match, particularly with him supporting the local team. This pairing makes so much sense.

Now Fringe Sports Central is getting more ambitious. We’re calling on everyone to write to Yakov or other celebrities, asking them to support World Team Tennis. Be creative. Be convincing. Be persistent. I recommend B-level or below. See if ALF is doing anything. Maybe Eugene Levy. As an enticement, any email that is sent to a celebrity and is also cced to FSC will be published in this space, possibly with some editorial comments.

As part of this campaign, FSC is pledging to write at least one letter to Yakov every other week, imploring him to become the most visible Springfield Lasers fan. Those letters will be published right here, as will any news regarding his status as a WTT fan. Happy letter writing.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

So Good It Threatens to Put Us Out of Business

I like what FSC does. I think we add something to the larger conversation, whether it’s overanalysis of random, obscure and unknown sports or humor or a closer look at communities of fringe sports fans. However, if you’re looking for raw information on minor or smaller pro leagues then you need look no further than Our Sports Central. No site or person anywhere pays greater attention and respect to those leagues than OSC.

It’s almost embarrassing how much detailed coverage OSC gives to minor and smaller pro leagues. Seriously, I’m almost scared to write about the site because people might stop coming here. It’s that good. FSC has been using it as a resource for quite some time.

I can’t emphasize enough how much raw information they keep track of and make available to visitors. Look at the main page. In successive order, there are articles from local newspapers on teams, team press releases, the newest teams in minor and smaller pro leagues, the most popular team websites, and a scarily complete list of every minor and smaller pro league in North America: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and other. That last one is basically National Pro Fastpitch (pro softball) and World Team Tennis.

If you have any interest in minor leagues or smaller pro leagues, check out OSC. It’s the best. But please come back here after, if only because they don’t write about cornhole and unicycling.

Friday, August 11, 2006

arenafootball2 Playoffs Continue, Media Turns to Meaningless NFL Exhibition Games

As every sports fan in America ignores rising pennant races in baseball to watch NFL exhibition games played largely by guys from second tier Division I-A schools, Fringe Sports Central wants to call your attention to arenafootball2 playoff games played largely by guys from second tier Division II and III schools. The schedule has been out for a while, and FSC now brings you its overanalysis of those match-ups. Basically, this is a misguided effort at predicting the games.

Memphis (e)Xplorers at Green Bay Blizzard – Memphis is ranked higher on scoring offense than Green Bay (4th v. 11th) and defense (1st v. 4th). The defense is almost a laughable comparison. That axiom “Defense wins championships” is as applicable to games in the af2 as Leviticus is to the common law in Tehran. Offense wins everything in the af2. Memphis takes this, 44-38.

Manchester Wolves at Florida Firecats – I’ve used a very detailed statistical overanalysis to determine the outcome of this game: one team is from New Hampshire, another is from Florida (you have no idea how many man hours of research got outsourced to India finding that information). Wolves win, 52-40.

Arkansas Twisters at Tulsa Talons – In the af2, when in doubt, bet on the team that rushes less. Tulsa rushed for 25.2 yards a game, which sounds bad until you find out that Arkansas rushed for (and I’m not making this up) 7.4 yards a game. They literally rushed the ball less than 5 times a game on average. I bet their RBs cry themselves to sleep at night. Arkansas, 38-30.

Bakersfield Blitz at Spokane Shock – I like Spokane a lot in this game. Their turnover margin was almost 3 times greater than Bakersfield’s in the regular season. Spokane, 49-35.

A couple things to look for:
  • Let’s all hope that Arkansas doesn’t attempt a single rush. Not one. And I want plenty of pictures from local media of their running backs looking despondent.
  • Second or third tier celebrity sightings. This is my new thing in all sports. I want every sport – now matter how fringe – to get celebrity fans. And there should be rules. The more fringe the sport, the more obscure the celebrity. I think af2 and Doug E. Doug are a great match.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Play Airhockey Against Kazakhstan’s Best

Engadget recently featured the coolest thing to happen to fringe sports in a while: Airhockey Over a Distance. Admittedly, the name sucks, no way around that. But it’s fixable. It’s the technology that’s cool. This device let’s you play airhockey against someone on the other side of the planet.

With the technology, you play on half an airhockey table, facing a large television screen showing your opponent in Kazakhstan (or wherever), who is playing on an identical table with a screen showing you. As Mental_Floss describes it, the table is “hooked up with sensors and a fancy puck ejecting system that can track how fast you and your opponent are slapping the puck, and at what angles, to simulate face-to-face play.” This turns every internet cafe or T1 line into Silicon Valley’s version of ESPNZone’s game area.

Normally I find souped up pucks highly suspicious (anyone remember FoxTrax?), but this sounds too cool not to be a good thing. Think of the game potential. Airhockey leagues could sprout up all over the world without any regard for geographic lines, like a league based on people who like to play while drinking beer (ok, that’s a pretty big league). Its members could populate every pub on earth. The game would no longer be confined to buddies who get together at the local bar or arcade. Anyone can play against anyone else. We might be able to answer that timeless question: who really is the best airhockey player in the world? Admit it – you’ve always wanted to know.

I also like the odds of a pro league sprouting up because of this. Why? First, everyone knows and likes airhockey already. This isn’t a hard sport to sell on first impression. Second, and more importantly, no travel costs. Everyone just plays down the street. It’s basically got the ABA’s business model: low travel costs mean that you don’t actually have to make that much money in each home game/event.

Not particularly relevant but entirely worth mentioning: Engadget’s coverage of video games that pit you against your hamster shows that the future of fringe sports could involve one-on-one man v. pet events. Word to the wise – if a rodent can beat you at Halo 2, you need to find a new hobby because you suck at your current one.

FSC Toots Its Own Horn and Then Brags About Web Mentions

FSC has started to gather quite a following in the last few weeks, largely because of references from other sites and publications, all of which, I promise you, are of high quality. In an effort to share the love, here are the sites that have been kind enough to help us along (as well as smart enough to know quality overanalysis of under-reported sports when they see them):

The Sports Frog
Free Darko
Dave’s Football Blog
World Finger Jousting Association
Pate LIVE!
Sports Column Blog

To all the above mentioned organizations of intelligence and breeding, we thank you. If there are any that FSC missed, please let us know.

Fringe Sports Central Wins Mental_Floss Magazine’s “Most Ridiculous Sports Contest”

Describing it as being explained “to an almost frightening degree,” Mental_Floss Magazine named FSC’s Team Bobbing the winner of its “Most Ridiculous Sports Contest.” All we ask is that amateur team bobbing leagues pop up all over the country. And if Mark Cuban or Donald Trump want to fund our professional team bobbing league… well, you know where to find us.

Gentlemen, Please Let Go of Your Eels: Conger Cuddling Banned

A little piece of my soul just died. For more than 30 years spectators have come to Lyme Regis, a small English fishing village, this time of year, every year, to watch two teams of fishermen stand on wooden platforms in the harbor and engage in a true test of sportsmanship. Standing tall and strong, like Finnian heroes of yore (except English), these pillars of humanity have flung a dead giant eel at one another, attempting to knock the other team off. It's a sport they call conger cuddling. But this year, no eel shall be tossed.

Why, you might ask? An animal rights activist has threatened to bring negative publicity to the event, which has been a boon to local tourism and usually raises about $5,600 for Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat crews (I’m not making that up). I’m all for animal rights. Inhumane treatment of animals is cruel. I always demand my money back if I see a movie that doesn’t inform me that no animals were harmed in the making of that movie (ok, that I made up).

But the eel is DEAD! It’s like that old Robin Williams routine: “Why are you acting like an asshole trying to decide whether to get the red wine or white wine with the fish? The fish is dead, it doesn’t care!” The eel is dead. Let the fishermen toss it. As local resident, and spokesman for Lyme Regis lifeboat crews, Andrew Kaye put it: “It’s a dead conger [eel], for Pete’s sake. I shouldn’t think the conger could care one way or another.”

It’s a shame, really. This has all the telltale signs of a great fringe sport. Its fans are very devoted and have formed a tightly knit community. And the name can't be beat - conger cuddling is fantastic, and its the double entendre possibilities leave me speechless. The rules are fairly simple – two teams try to knock one another off wooden platforms by swinging a 25-pound eel. But that’s where the sport sucks you in – simple to learn, hard to master. Check out Mental_Floss for a great picture.

The irony, of course, is that the banning of this sport has been great publicity for the town and the event. If they rescheduled it for next week they’d draw twice the spectators they've had in the past. The town should do just that, animal rights activists be damned. That’s what I hope for anyway. Until then, my soul mourns.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Grab Your Crotch and Point Your Lance – Unicycling News and Results

In the wake of Floyd Landis ruining two-wheeled biking for everyone else comes the final results of Unicon XIII, the thirteenth World Unicycling Championship. FSC has reported on a few of the events in the past, but until the other day the results from some of the most important events had been missing. Among those were the results from unicycle hockey, which was won by the Swiss Power Team (good name for a gold medal team), and unicycle basketball, which was won – again – by the Swiss Power Team (which apparently is quite the power team indeed).

But the unicycling event that everyone cares the most about, FSC included, is the mountain unicycling downhill event (Muni). Honestly, I was a little disappointed that John Foss – the greatest American unicyclist and arguably the best in the world too – didn’t win. He didn’t do badly, by any means. He finished third, about 5 and a half seconds out of first. The winner? Roger Davies, from the UK, who had a ridiculously good Unicon, not only winning the Muni but also the marathon as well. And yes, by marathon I mean 26+ miles (the unicycle one is technically a little longer than the standard marathon). Davies managed to finish it in 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Really, though, the marathon results are somewhat diminished by the fact that very few Kenyans own unicycles. Come back in ten years and the top rider is from Nairobi, winning the race in less time than it takes to listen to an old Toto album.

Even though Unicon XIII is over, that doesn’t mean you can’t take the lessons of Unicon with you the whole year through. It’s like Christmas – you just need to remember the Unicon spirit and live it each and everyday. A few recommendations:

  • A video featuring some cool Muni moves and some cooler Muni falls. Check out the way a lot of riders appear to grab their crotches. It’s unclear to me if they’re actually grabbing the unicycle seat in an effort to improve their balance or if they are legitimately attempting to shield their cojones from a Muni-induced accident.
  • A gallery of unicycle jousting pictures. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Fair enough. But look at these pictures and tell me you’re not a little interested in trying it out. You can’t tell me that. And if nothing else, check out the last picture in the gallery – nothing like a unicycle lance to the groin for some cheap, guaranteed laughs.
  • Seriously, you’ve got to check out the Unicyclist Forum. It’s filled with the friendliest people in the world, all of whom are incredibly dedicated to their sport and are more than happy to answer questions, help out and attract new fans. Ideally, every fringe sport community would be like the unicycling community there.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Hooker’s Extra Tooth

It should be pointed out that fringe sports are not for the feint of heart. They might be random and obscure, but they can also beat the hell out of participants. If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of these stories and studies.

Although its credibility as a sport is highly suspect, juggling has a surprisingly high rate of injury. Over 70% of jugglers are injured doing it. This, to me, is amazing. Do you think that old jugglers walk with a limp or noticeable lack of mobility, like old NFL players? Maybe the guys who juggle really big things – like bowling balls or moose skulls – end up with a lot of concussions. Can you imagine trying to hold a conversation with an overly concussed, octogenarian retired juggler? That’s gotta be somewhere around the 5th or 6th level of hell.

Not as surprising, however, is the fear of injuries in competitive eating. Some doctors hypothesize that too much eating could lead to a torn esophagus. Food could leak out of the tear and cause infection. This, however, is predicated on the assumption that over eating competitively could lead to vomiting eventually. Competitive eaters, however, insist vomiting is rare. Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, though, admitted to having to make numerous trips to the bathroom after devouring 11 pounds of cheesecake in 10 minutes. But come on, seriously – after consuming 11 pounds of cheesecake in any time frame shorter than a year and a half, bathroom breaks are the least of your worries.

Rugby, though, easily wins the award (fictitious, though it may be) for most dangerous, injury prone fringe sport. Rugby produces some messed up players, and it produces a lot of them. However, my favorite is the hooker with the extra tooth. Shane Millard, a hooker (it’s a rugby position, pervert) for the Widnes Vikings, had an opponent’s broken tooth stuck in his head after a game. Doctors had to douse it with saline solution in order to remove it.

Millard’s injury, believe it or not, is not unique, nor even the most severe example of players depositing teeth into the bank of another player’s skin. Jaime Ainscough found St. Helens center Martin Gleeson’s tooth embedded in his arm several weeks after a game. By that point it was so badly infected he was in danger of losing the arm. However, because rugby players are tougher than any other human beings on the planet, he returned to play by the end of the season. In Spanish that’s called “cajones muy grandes.”

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Some Players Actually Choose Playing in the af2 Playoffs Over the NFL. Seriously.

I love a sport where throwing 7 touchdowns needs to be prefaced with “the QB had a slow start,” but in which there aren’t enough rushing yards to warrant a mention in any newspaper. Ladies and gentlemen – the first round of the af2 playoffs. There were a couple upsets, but fortunately none of them involved the home team in New Hampshire.

FSC predicted wins for the Manchester Wolves, Central Valley Coyotes, Memphis (e)Xplorers, and Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz. How’d I do? 2 and 2.

The Wolves did indeed defeat the Wilke-Barre/Sranton Pioneers (possibly the most geographically confused team in sports since the Montreal Expos played 20 of their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico), 55-47. The owner of the aforementioned slow start was Manchester’s QB, Steve Bellisari, who still managed to pass for 7 touchdowns. He is, though, 5-0 as the starter. Are we about to see a Brady-esque waltz for a New England football team through the playoffs? I hope so. By the way, let’s hear it for Tony Stallings, a recently cut CFL guy who signed on with the Wolves two games ago. His agent told him that there would be NFL teams interested, but he ignored that advice to play in Manchester… wow. That’s like graduating from Georgetown University and choosing to work as a subway artist at Subway instead of taking that job offer at the White House. Way to become the poster child for bad career decisions, Tony.

The Coyotes, however, fell to the sixth seeded Bakersfield Blitz, 45-37. The culprit? According to one release, it was Central Valley quarterback Scott Rislov, who only passed for 4 touchdowns after setting an AFL and af2 single season record of 106 touchdown passes. However, I’d like to believe it was the unique strategy of the Bakersfield fans who traveled to the game. They decided to confuse the Coyotes by chanting “Beat Fresno!” Either that or no one told them that the Coyotes are actually from Central Valley.

I was dead on with my prediction of the (e)Xplorers-Louisville Fire game being the bore of the weekend. The final score was 83-61, setting new af2 postseason records for most points by a team and combined points. The sparkplug for the victory was eight (EIGHT?!) touchdowns by a 5’8’’, 155-pound receiver Kevin Prentiss. Another reason to love af2 – it’s a full contact sport in which a guy whose bulked up, media guide numbers (I got money that says Prentiss is only 155-pound soaking wet with a pocket full of quarters) make him no bigger than the average 10-grader.

In the best game of the first round, the Arkansas Twisters bounced the Dawgz (ugh, stupid name) 47-43. It came down to one play.

This sets up the second round of the playoffs next weekend. FSC will have more predictions and overanalysis later in the week. By the way, kudos to all the local media in all the markets playing this weekend. It was very thorough. Further, GREAT job to Our Sports Central, a fantastic resource for all things minor league. I’ll have more about them later in the week too.