For those of us accustomed to thinking of sports as a never-ending parade of free entertainment, the pandemic has forced a change in lifestyle.
Instead of spending countless hours a week staring at sports on my television, I’ve learned to spend countless hours a week staring at other stuff on my television.
This is what we in the sportswriting business call “personal growth.”
The days of whine and rosé will end as mainstream sports return. By next week, the Twins will be opening in Chicago, the WNBA will be resuming in Florida and I’ll be following golfers at a socially responsible distance around the TPC Twin Cities during the 3M Open.
Because nobody asked for it, here are the best things I’ve watched during quarantine:
1. “Hamilton”: What a blessing to have “Hamilton” available on video. I saw it on Broadway and in Chicago, and it remains a unicorn. What other production — on the large or small screen or stage — is both exceptional and utterly unique?
2. “The Sopranos”: David Chase’s dark, brilliant look at a mob family trying to live the quintessential suburban life stands up to repeated viewings. It also opened the door for dark, long-form, masterfully written dramas like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad,” which led to the exquisite “Better Call Saul.”
3. “The Wire”: Yes, I am a cliché. I am a white male American sportswriter who loves “The Wire,” Springsteen, Jason Isbell and “Hamilton.” Sue me. (Editor’s note: The views of this writer do not reflect those of management. Don’t sue him, either.)
The characters and writing make “The Wire” entertaining, but more than entertainment, this is a meditation on the failings of modern American cities, encompassing drugs, policing, schools, politics, unemployment and underemployment and the costs of modernization. It’s brilliant and challenging.
4. Music: Yes, I listen to Bruce Springsteen, but Springsteen for me is car-driving music. At home, I’ve looked for more soothing melodies. Steely Dan, Little Feat, Charlie Parker. Elton John’s more meditative stuff. The Jayhawks.
And concert videos. I enjoyed watching video of the Eagles more than I enjoyed them in person. ELO in concert, all these years later. Elvis Costello’s “Spectacle.”
But the best musical offerings I’ve found for quarantining have been documentaries. My two favorites: “Muscle Shoals” and “Standing In The Shadows of Motown.”
5. Non-concert documentaries: “The Black Godfather” and “Quincy” are stories about remarkable people with connections you may not have suspected. I didn’t know much about Clarence Avant, and I didn’t know just how diverse Quincy Jones’ career had been.
6. Tom Hanks: This guy got his break sharing top billing with a dog. A few underappreciated favorites from his later career: “Bridge of Spies,” “That Thing You Do,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
7. Baseball movies: “The Natural” is grandiose and “Major League” is bawdy, but as someone who has spent a lifetime in baseball clubhouses, the two most accurate and entertaining reflections on baseball are “Bull Durham” and “A League of Their Own,” with “Sandlot” getting the child’s view of the game just right.
8. Football movies: Most sports movies fail because they can’t replicate the incessant realism of sporting action. So many of the best sports movies are not those that try to imitate championship-level sports but those that focus on character and storytelling. So “The Longest Yard” is the greatest football movie ever made.
9. Golf movies: “Tin Cup” is the only golf movie you ever need to watch.
10. Books: I’ve read a lot, including The Mueller Report (spoiler alert: Someone you might have voted for might have committed dozens of treasonous felonies) and I’ve avoided most sports books. The exception: Mark Harris’ “The Southpaw” and “Bang The Drum Slowly.” They are a seamhead’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”
11. Golf: I usually don’t have the time or patience to play much golf, but I’ve taken to going to the driving range. Having struggled perpetually as a ball striker, I decided to try out the single-plane swing. Then I watched Bryson DeChambeau use the single-plane swing to dominate the PGA Tour in driving distance. It’s the only time I’ve ever had anything in common with a pro golfer.
12. Playing guitar: Guitar isn’t hard. Unless you want to be really good, and then it’s impossible.
I miss sports, but the shutdown has made me realize that I don’t miss all sports, and certainly not all games. If the choice is Timberwolves-Kings or “Muscle Shoals,” bring on the Swampers.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org