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Some things have a way of shocking you when they have no business doing so. A tyrannical figure of popular culture, bowing at the altar of truths unspoken for years, decades even, on his (always “his”) way out to pasture; an airline bumping your flight up two minutes, giving you reason to engage in cognitive dissonance between “What difference does that make?” and “Time in travel is everything”; a disgraced senator riding near-hilariously antiquated fantasies to a too-slim loss of his seat and, as far as everyone is concerned, his relevance.
While the mountains that moved to make some recent changes refused to rattle in the English Premier League to the extent that they once did for the likes of Claudio Ranieri and company, the stars keep dressing themselves up and shivering just enough for a once-beleaguered and tormented club. With its 4-0 win over Swansea City on Wednesday, Manchester City established a new record for consecutive league wins. At the center of this triumphant firestorm is one Pep Guardiola, the ex-“Next-Greatest Manager Ever” and a man of footy demons both external and internal.
For all the talk about sports being an escape from reality, the reason so many of us enjoy them is the same reason many people enjoy video games or trash television: they are just close enough to life itself that, for the time we spend indulging in them, we feel apart of something. Better yet, that something isn’t necessarily happening to us, like missing a green light or getting unexpectedly charged an exorbitant gratuity, so we can be as attached or unattached as we want.
Going a step further, sometimes sports can function as a perfect facsimile for life, really. Excessive hope leading to monumental disappointment; lowered expectations giving way to delightful surprises; and beauty presenting itself as madness, or vice versa. At various points over the last eighteen months or so, Leicester City F.C. has embodied all of these. Yet now, only one distinction matters to the team and its fans: champions of England.
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When he was 21 years old, a Minnesotan under the pseudonym Bob Dylan recorded his breakthrough album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. On it, he displayed a full cultural fluency with American traditional folk music and the lifestyles of those who inspired and created it, though his brand came with a unique twist upon which he would expand with subsequent releases. Many music critics believe that his three-album run of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde from 1964-’66 is among the finest eras of creative output produced at the hand of any single artist. His antagonistic attitude toward the media and the fans who turned against him fueled the rage which would revolutionize popular music over the course of the 1960s and ’70s. Some may disagree with his sensibilities and style, but it is impossible to discredit his impact.
By the time he was the same age, Bobby Fischer had recorded the only perfect score in the history of the U.S. National Chess Championship, striding into an impressive prime. A stunning rise in the chess world would see him become an American hero upon beating the Soviet Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972. He was already hinting at the unhinged tendencies which would eventually force his withdrawal from the public eye at the height of the Cold War before re-emerging as a hate-spewing shell of his former self.
Fans of Liverpool F.C. hope to see a similar prime from an exceptionally polarizing new signing. Mario Balotelli is equal parts Bob Dylan and Bobby Fischer, brilliant and maddening in complementary doses.
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With Saturday’s 6-3 home victory over league-leading Arsenal, the Manchester City Football Club now sits at third in the Barclays Premier League table, with 32 points. City, as the team is colloquially called by admirers and detractors alike, is in exceptional form as of late: earlier in the week, the team defeated defending UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munich in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in Bavaria. Even more surprising than all of this, however, may be the state of Manchester City’s biggest and closest rivals, Manchester United. By far the most successful team in Premier League history, United is under the direction of a manager not named Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time since 1986, and the team is firmly in the middle of the table, a full ten points behind its cross-town rivals. People are already calling for the head of Ferguson’s successor on a plate, and the tide in Manchester is facing a Lakers/Clippers-like shift for the first time ever.
This is getting ugly.
I mean, things have been worse, but to give you an idea of how I feel about my picks recently, I google image searched “ashamed” to find this picture to lead off the column.
Last week as I attempted to bring my hypothetical picks back to hypothetical glory, I instead dug myself deeper into the pits of poor pickdom. Has my time in London finally caught up with me? Is my removal from American culture seeping through? Would I be better serving the world if I started hypothetically picking the Premiere League?
This is just a bad stretch. All gamblers go through them, and I must pass this God-given test to prove my hypothetical worthiness.