Who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned tournament. Draw up some brackets, rank a bunch of teams and let the best one stand at the end.
I consider myself a football and baseball fan first and foremost. The National Football League is my passion, partly based on playing fantasy football, and partly because the game is such a fantastic television spectacle. When it comes to baseball, I’m simply a baseball guy. Right now my view of the Red Sox is hardly what I’d consider glowing, but the game itself has always been my favorite to play and something that I love to coach. I could spend all day shagging flys, hitting grounders and throwing BP. Actually that sums up last Sunday pretty succinctly.
But when it comes to the playoffs, both of those sports are wanting. They pale in comparison to the spectacle that is the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’ve been glued to the TV just about every night the past week watching playoff pucks, and not just our beloved Stanley Cup champions. Vancouver-LA, Pittsburgh-Philly, New York-Ottawa, and so on. It’s been awesome.
It got me to thinking, what are the best championship tournaments out there. Why don’t we rank them. I’ve only included one that I actually pay attention to so don’t email me saying that the Premier League’s format is the best because I don’t care, and wouldn’t know because I don’t watch soccer.
7. MLB Postseason
I love baseball, but the MLB playoffs are boring. The games are way too long, and baseball already moves at a leisurely pace. Throw in that the announcers for the most important games make you want to throw a fastball through your flat screen and you’ve got a product in need of fixing, or at least tinkering.
This changes greatly if you’re emotionally invested. When the Red Sox are playing I live and die with every pitch, and it just gets worse as the playoffs get deeper and deeper. I’m pretty sure that October 2004 shaved at least 3 years off the end of my life, but having the 86-year drought end made it worthwhile. Hey, I’m still going to live to be 97, that’s pretty good.
But if you’re not emotionally invested it’s hard to tune in and watch. I’m just as likely to watch reruns of “Seinfeld” for the 20th time as last 4 innings of Tampa-Anaheim.
6. NBA Playoffs
Like the NHL they have a best-of-seven format, which is nice, but basketball is so different from hockey because there are so few upsets. Right now we all know that either Chicago or Miami will represent the East in the Finals. No matter how much you love the Celtics, who is the team no one wants to play, the fact of the matter is that they won’t go all the way without a billion things breaking just so. Out west it will be either San Antonio, OKC or the Lakers, it just will.
Having so much of the drama ripped out of the tournament before it even starts hurts the overall product. The other thing that hurts it is that the games slow down so much and become more like skirmishes than basketball games during the playoffs.
5. Frozen Four, NCAA
If you’ve never been to one of these then you don’t really understand how cool they can be. I’ve been to two Frozen Fours in person and never miss the championship game.
It’s not quite as exciting as the basketball tournament, because the best teams almost always win. Because college hockey gets so little coverage, there’s very little familiarity with the teams unless you’re the most diehard of college puckheads.
Still, the most exciting game I’ve ever seen in person was the 2004 Frozen Four championship game at the FleetCenter (that’s what it was called back then). Denver survived a 1-0 game over UMaine. Denver was called for a penalty late and had to skate the final minute-plus shorthanded, and Maine pulled the goalie. It was a shooting gallery for a minute straight, but Denver’s goalie stood on his head and the Pioneers escaped with the trophy. It was awesome.
4. NFL Playoffs
I love the National Football League, and the playoffs are fun, but let’s be honest, they’re not perfect. When the field of 12 postseason teams is set we know going in that only a couple actually have a chance to win it all and that some of those teams don’t really belong there in the first place.
The Super Bowl has been very competitive the past few years, but historically you’re just as likely to get a stinker of a game as you are a classic.
Helping to get it into the top five is the fact that the league is so TV friendly and the games are so watchable. Since so many of us do in fact play fantasy football we have emotional investments in some of the players. During the NFC playoffs I smiled every time Hakeem Nicks made a catch because he’s been so huge for me the past two years in fantasy. Of course I booed him lustily during the Super Bowl.
3. World Series of Poker Main Event
Alright, I’m a poker nerd, and if you’re not you think that I’m crazy for putting the WSOP this high. I’m not, though.
Almost everyone that traverses that field to get to the November Nine is a Cinderella Story. Most of them are amateur players that got wicked lucky several times along the way and dodged countless bad beats to have a shot at both immortality and millions of dollars.
You may not consider this a sport, and it’s probably not, but there’s no greater test of endurance, discipline, and guts than the road through the Main Event. Only 9 of 6,500-plus people make it to the biggest stage, and just one of those wins it all. It also gains points in my rankings because it’s the only one that I, personally, or any of my readers probably ever have an actual chance in participating in. It’s the longest of long shots, but there’s always a chance.
2. March Madness
The NCAA gets so many things wrong, and they’ve even messed up the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by adding those extra teams and screwing up the look of our brackets, but it is one of the best months of sports going.
We love March Madness because of gambling, first and foremost. You may not be betting over-unders and teasing games together every March, but if you’re reading this you’ve at least thrown a 10 spot into an office pool for the pure joy of hoping that this is the year you nail all of the upsets and score all of the Final Four teams. It rarely happens, but the fun is still there annually even if it’s usually the old lady in the far cubicle that picked her winners based on colors and state birds that wins the whole thing.
Pulling for upsets is my favorite part, even though they usually make fill my bracket with more red ink than my ninth grade science tests. Watching the bench riders jump up and down in excitement as prayerful 15-footers swish through the twine is fantastic.
Helping to push this higher up the list is “One Shining Moment,” at the end of the tourney. That horn section, those schmaltzy lyrics, how do you not love it as you watch the highlights? It’s awesome.
- Stanley Cup Playoffs
The format is perfect. It’s a best-of-seven, so the best team should win. That many games between familiar foes breeds contempt, which has been in abundance over the last week. NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan can’t find time for a coffee break because of the never-ending series of dangerous plays during this year’s playoffs, which is a good thing for the hockey fan.
I’m not saying that goonery and thuggery is a good thing, because it’s not, in general. But the underlying reason for the dirty play is just how much this stuff matters to the players. They’re willing to lay everything on the line for a chance to have their names engraved on that cup, which is also the greatest trophy in all of sports.
What’s not to love about the NHL playoffs? You’ve got so many subplots, personal vendettas, hot goalies (a la Tim Thomas last year), horrible goalies (Hello Mr. Bryzgalov and Mr. Luongo), brilliant individual efforts, and best of all, overtime.
There is nothing on earth that compares to the excitement that is overtime playoff hockey. Will it end in 90 seconds, like Game 1 of the Bruins-Capitals series, or go on and on and on and on. I’m a bit sadistic when it comes to these OT’s, the more the better in my eyes. I keep wondering what it would take for the officials to deem that the game must be suspended until the next day. Would it take 6 OTs? 7? 10? One day we’ll find out.
And the celebration at the end is perfection. No matter who wins it, you have to smile when the Cup is handed over to the winning team’s captain and he lifts that thing over his head. The pure joy is unbridled and beautiful. It gets dusty at my house almost every year when I see that thing being handed off to teary-eyed toothless Canadians that have just fulfilled their boyhood dreams.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.