God knows I'd rather not fill my space concocting some kind of consumer guide, especially in this dire economic climate, but the fact remains that some of us will spend the next week scrambling for last-minute gifts, and I happen to be a shame-faced consumer of all manner of sports culture. Disclaimer and all, I feel dirty as hell. Disgusting, even.
(Have you seen the “Dear Santa” letters this year? One kid asked for a “DS cord.” He already has a DS. He just wants to accessorize. How's he going to live without that cord? What are we gonna do? What the hell are we gonna do!?!)
As a matter of fact, let's do the best we can to not buy any of the things on this list. Consider them last resorts. Better yet, break out the magic markers. Make a card or something by hand. It's the thought that counts, plus the ability to live with yourself.
You should start by scratching out a card for our sports-loving relatives. You can approximate D-Mac, right? Maybe? Er, maybe not.
You can at least draw a football? It's just a brown oval.
Wait — what? That's supposed to be a football? Lying there on the ground, it ... doesn't look like a football.
Let's not panic. We've all got a little spare change. We can still pull this one out. There's always “The Official Boy Named Sooie Self-Loathing Holiday Consumer Guide”:
• “A Fan's Notes,” by Frederick Exley. Exley's cosmic depression takes the form of a drunken, mellifluous rant on life and the New York Giants, a holy day obsession that forms the center of his epic spiral. Buy it for that sullen cousin with the soul of a poet and the sensory interests of a Neanderthal. Oh, Frank Gifford! What happened?
• “About Three Bricks Shy of a Load,” by Roy Blount Jr. The Southern humorist's hilarious account of the Pittsburgh Steelers' first rumblings of dominance during the last half of the '70s. In 30 short chapters, Blount writes the funniest sports book of all time. He even makes fellow Southerner and insufferable cohost of Fox NFL Sunday Terry Bradshaw funny.
• “The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football,” by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey. Henry is justly a legend in these parts for his many years covering the Hogs, and this is an indispensable part of any Natural State library. Packed with firsthand reporting and stunning photographs, it covers all the major eras of Razorback football during the last century, from John C. Futrall to Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz to Ken Hatfield, Jack Crowe to Danny Ford.
• “NFL Films Super Bowl Collection I-XL.” That grainy footage! Those jazzy scores! Ed and Steven Sabol, the father-son team responsible for this boxed set, applied cutting edge documentary techniques to sports footage and called themselves “NFL Films” even before they were the official documenters of the professional gridiron. Best when saved for the doldrums of the off-season, they're the closest you can come to the game without taking the field.
• “Semi-Tough,” director Michael Ritchie. Based on the book by legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins (no relation) and directed by legendary sports moviemaker Ritchie (“The Bad News Bears”), this one seems to have fallen through a very large crack. Kris Kristofferson and Burt Reynolds direct their rugged charm on the excesses and emptiness of pro football stardom in the '70s. You'll wonder why you've never seen it. Heard of it, even.
• “The Summer Game,” by Roger Angell. E.B. White's stepson wrote the most beautiful book ever about baseball very early in his career, compiled from his regular essays for The New Yorker magazine. He still files the occasional report for that otherwise somewhat stuffy and calcified weekly, but these pieces from the '60s are among the best ever written.
• “Free Darko presents the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats and Stars in Today's Game,” by Bethlehem Shoals, Dr. Lawyer Indianchief, Silverbird 5000, Brown Recluse Esq. and Big Baby Belafonte. I have to admit that I've not even seen this book, much less read it, but as a faithful reader of freedarko.com, I can wholeheartedly endorse the trenchant analysis, ridiculous premises and madcap humor of the web's best NBA bloggers.
• “God Save the Fan,” by Will Leitch. Speaking of bloggers, Leitch quit a while back, but the work he did at Deadspin over a few short years paved the way for ball-scratching basement-dwellers the world over. Here is his manifesto of sorts on the democratizing power of fan-driven sports analysis. Buzz Bissinger most definitely does not approve.
• “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James. Simply the greatest sports movie of all time. Watch it again.
“Crying Fist,” directed by Ryu Seung-wan. Though this film has never been officially released, you can find South Korea's greatest sports movie ever on eBay for a reasonable price plus a rather unreasonable shipping fee. (Make sure to confirm English subtitles.) You won't get it in time for the holidays, but trust me on this weird, heart-rending and ultimately inspiring movie about a down-and-out, over-the-hill, multi-hyphenate kickboxer and his collision course against an equally unlikely combatant, a young repentant reprobate with nothing to lose and everything to gain. It's like Rocky vs. Rocky. You'll root for them both.