Friday, June 10, 2011

40 for 40 – Part 1 of 2

by Joe Ryan

In 2010 ESPN turned 30 years old. Instead of having a surprise party or barhopping like they were 21, the actually did something worthwhile. The funded/helped produce/aired 30 documentaries chronicling some of sport’s untold but fascinating stories. The films are very well done and ESPN allowed the filmmakers to run with their own ideas. They’ve told stories that have shaped sports and how sports has shaped our society. For once, the worldwide leader did something that wasn’t shallow or self serving, and it was nice. My personal favorite was The Two Escobars; a film detailing the relationship between the world’s biggest drug lord and the Columbian National Soccer Team.

We can only hope that ESPN will do it again in 2020 and allow ten more stories to be told. Here’s what I’d like to see documented for the next go round. Obviously, the next decade will shape how we view each of these stories, but I see these five as candidates for 40 for 40.

Close to the Vest – The Build Up of Jim Tressel, the Tear Down of OSU football. Tressel was so beloved in Ohio, but he thought the ends justified the means. The film could delve into whether or not Terrelle Pryor was wrong or the system was wrong. How could Tressel ignore that many infractions for that long? Start by talking about Woody Hayes’ fall from grace. Flash back to Tressel’s trouble at Youngstown State. Dominance over Michigan and the recruitment of Pryor. Basically, turn the SI article into a movie.
Now, if OSU doesn’t miss a beat and continue to make BCS games, maybe this film doesn’t get made.

Bolt of Lightning
– The World’s Fastest Man. I think Usain Bolt’s accomplishments will really come into perspective in the next decade. This guy was making the 7 other Olympians look slow, really slow. He was/is so fun to watch. What does sprinting mean to Jamaica? Accusations of doping, pushing the limits of what is humanly possible. I hope this film is made regardless if he’s still the record holder in 2020.

Pound for Pound – The Manny Pacquiao Story. Now, I don’t think Manny will be too far removed from our memories in 2020. He’ll probably be the president of the Filipinas by then. He has world championships in eight weight divisions, eight! He transcends language and culture. He’s easy to root for. He almost made people care about boxing. Did MMA’s skyrocketing popularity hurt his legacy? Does he care? Imagine if he was a heavyweight.

Big Bats, Blind Eyes – Sammy and Mark Save Baseball. 1999 was the year. MLB was still suffering from a 1994 strike that cancelled much of the 1994 season, including the playoffs. Fans were bitter. But then the magical summer of 1999 where Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both chased the single season homerun record of 61. It lead Sportscenter just about every night. Who’s leading? McGwire hit two! Cubs and Cardinals games were the toughest ticket in the league. But then, the fall out. Accusation of steroid use. Did Bud Selig or anyone else really think they weren’t juicing? Why do we love homeruns so much? Weren’t the pitchers juicing too? Baseball promoted the shit out of these two, but then came down on them when people finally started asking, why is his head so huge? He’s how old? And hit 15 more homeruns than he ever has before?? The homeruns are gone, but the fans are back.

Seattle’s Sound – The Franchise that Raised the Bar for Soccer in America. The Sounders are average 36,000 fans per game when the league average is around 17,000. Not only are the fans there, but they marched in together, and sang in unison for 100 minutes. But how did they get there? The Sonics were taken and the city needed to support another team. How perfect was the fit between soccer-as-a-counterculture (in America) and Seattle’s residents? The management cares; their stadium was designed with a soccer pitch in mind. Other MLS franchises will have to live up to the Sounders the next decade. How far has the league come in 25 years?

That’s all for now. I’ll be back with 5 more sometime next week. Cheers.


  1. They all sound good to me. I wish they did the rise and fall of the WCW because of the NWO. Sure, pro wrestling isn't a real sport, but it's crazy how they destroyed WWF after McMahon had dominated for 20 years. But then they lost it just as quickly.

  2. Great idea Joe. I don't want to spoil next week's, but I think the number one sports story in the past twelve months has been the rise and fall of Tiger. Time will tell if he can regain his top position, but I can't think of anyone that was so highly ranked in any sport that took a hit like he did. He seemed invincible and it all came crashing down on him.

  3. Jeff, I think the WCW (NWO) story would be awesome. Especially if Vince sits down and awswers some questions on camera. We all know it's scripted, but it's still interesting to see the popularity come and go.

    Greg, I did have Tiger in my next five. These weren't intended to be 10-6...I didn't have them ranked in my head.