Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Great sports storytelling - writing by Posnanski, Price, Wickersham and Phillips & videos on Devon Walker and Steve Gleason with Pearl Jam

Great storytelling can often come in many different sizes and flavors, with a few stories to note here covering multiple types of sports writing and two excellent video segments.

The two most recent pieces of sports writing to mention were both for ESPN properties with one a feature from the Oct 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine and one posted to Grantland on Oct 3. For Grantland was "The Dad-Rock Prometheus" by Brian Phillips and in it he provided a fascinating take take on Peyton Manning and how his particular brand of excellence of the old school exacting craft variety rather than youthful throw caution to the winds approach. Particularly cool from the piece was the section by Phillips below...

"I keep thinking about old astronauts. I mean the early-space-program guys, the 1960s-Apollo-program guys, the all-American nerds with rectangular haircuts. What a supremely weird group of normal people. You can get a quick sense of that from Apollo 13 if you've seen it, all those home-life scenes set in the America of cookie-cutter ranch houses and Radio Flyer wagons and Jell-O salads. Those guys were practicing weightlessness by day and then going home to drink a beer and mow the lawn and probably watch Archie Manning play football on TV. You think of transcendence in that era as coming strictly through the counterculture, but this was a group of straight-up Eisenhower-legacy Air Force vets literally working to leave the Earth. And their imaginations were on fire with it, as how could they not be, but day to day it was mostly a matter of technical detail — getting the math right, testing every last ball bearing in the engine. They were engineers, not poets, at least right up to the moment when they actually found themselves in space."

The ESPN The Magazine story I found really solid recently was by Seth Wickersham with "The Hail Mary in Santa Clara" on the San Francisco 49ers new stadium, its driving force in owner Jed York and his family history through former team owner (and York's beloved uncle) Eddie DeBartolo. It's one of those great stories that becomes great in part by being much more than expected with a fascinating narrative coming out of a piece on stadium building by someone who might be overlooked with York born into a position of power.

Two additional great pieces of sports writing to note here were "The Heart of Los Angeles" by Joe Posnanski and "U.S. Open victory the pinnacle of Nadal's unbelievable comeback year" by S.L. Price. Posnanski's piece was a beautifully written 4,000+ word essay (originally done for his SI blog) on on Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and Price provided for Sports Illustrated a great recap of Rafael Nadal's championship match.

The videos to note here also fall under the category of great storytelling on sports with ESPN segments on Steve Gleason with Pearl Jam and on Devon Walker. The 36-year-old Gleason played with the New Orleans Saints and now afflicted with ALS and Walker is the Tulane athlete paralyzed during a football game last season and whom previously I've posted on and linked to writing about. It was really excellent and inspiring work in both stories.