It has come to our attention that many of you are wondering what to do with the TVs Shiba Ramen just installed in its stores. The answer is simple, if you consider the singular role television plays in the American restaurant. It is there to satisfy the insatiable American appetite for televised sports, 365-24-7, and in so doing, to encourage the sale of high-margin alcohol.
Alcohol and televised sports are, I cannot stress enough, inseparable corollaries of one another. This may be news to you, progressive Bay Area millennials, but it is about as newsworthy as the fact that the Ford F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the United States by a wide margin. To put it another way, the line between America and ‘Murica is a fine one indeed, and you’d be wise to keep stock of the side on which you are standing. When it comes to sports, you’d be even wiser to appreciate that there might not be a line at all.
As the custodians of our televisions, it is incumbent on you to curate the right programming in service of the intended purpose. Once again, what is the purpose? Say it aloud: To sell alcohol! How do we do it? I can’t hear you in the back, so raise your voices: Sports TV! OK, good, now we’re getting somewhere.
But, you protest, I know nothing of these so-called “sports.” I do not watch them, and know not on what channel I might find them. I may not even know what they are. How am I to discharge my duties?
I understand your predicament, I do, and so I’ll make a confession. I also do not watch sports, with a handful of very limited exceptions, such as when I drink at a bar or when the Ohio State Buckeyes are playing football. In America there are too many sports, too many games, too much noise. There are many, many ways I’d rather spend my time than watching some insignificant game between two teams I don’t care about. But after 40 years living in America, I’ve internalized what matters in sports and when it happens, and from time to time I actually find them quite enjoyable. I also happen to know that sports programming is tagged in green in the cable guide, and that HD sports channels are clustered together in the low 200s (DirecTV) and low 700s (Comcast). With the guidance provided below, you’ll be discharging your TV duties with aplomb in no time.
Let’s start with the big three—football, basketball, and baseball—and then we’ll do a quick rundown of everything else.
Football is America’s national pastime, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The only thing that comes close is Jesus, and even he’ll tell you football is king. Football is a grand spectacle of institutionalized ritual violence, an ancient gladiatorial contest sanitized for the modern American empire, a sleek distillate of dominance and bloodlust, served up in weekly Technicolor from late summer into the depths of winter. Unlike in the Roman Colosseum, today’s gridiron gladiators are far less likely to lose their heads in the arena. At least, that’s what we used to think before we learned decapitation could play out, bloodlessly, on the scale of decades.
Where newsreels of wartime America turned the likes of Patton and MacArthur into the stuff of legend, NFL Films satisfied our need for martial drama in the postwar period, its coaches becoming peacetime field marshals, the gridiron indistinguishable from the battlefield. In the late 1960s, you’d be forgiven for confusing Vince Lombardi with Dwight Eisenhower, Lambeau Field with Omaha Beach. There is something subconsciously and elementally American about two teams slugging it out in the rain and snow and mud of November, all bruises and broken bones. When you’re from the Midwest, like I am, this archetype is as much a part of your constitution as your own DNA. It does not matter that the modern game is all gloss and artificial grass. In Ohio, it will always be three yards and a cloud of dust.
Football comes in two flavors: NFL (pro) and NCAA (college). Perhaps you first heard the acronym “NFL” just recently, when quarterback Colin Kaepernick turned kneeling during the national anthem into a cause celebre, after which Donald Trump saw Kaepernick’s cause and raised him several, blowing a dog whistle to score points with his political base of inexplicably angry white people. [nb: Please do not confuse political points with football points. Whereas the former can be measured in retweets, the latter are quantized in touchdowns, extra points, and field goals.]
The NFL traditionally plays on Sundays, and Mondays (“Monday Night Football”), and now it seems Thursdays (“Thursday Night Football”) too. As suggested above, even Jesus has ceded Sunday to the NFL. It’s that big. The culmination of the NFL season is the Super Bowl, played on America’s holiest day of the year, Super Bowl Sunday. No mean feat of bodily resurrection can upstage the heroics of a great quarterback on that grandest stage or, for that matter, the titillating spectacle of a halftime wardrobe malfunction.
On his deathbed quipped Vespasian, Roman Emperor, the builder of the Colosseum himself, “oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god.” “My dear Caesar,” replied Tom Brady, American Quarterback, without a hint of irony, “I am already become one.” And so we come together on the first Sunday in February, briefly feigning interest in a contest between two teams about whom we likely couldn't care less, to partake in the transubstantiation of Tom Brady: Take these Cool Ranch Doritos and eat them, for they are my body. Take this Wide-Mouth Tall Boy of Bud Light and drink it, for it is my blood. A peculiarly American sacrament, indeed.
NCAA football is traditionally played on Saturdays by amateur “student-athletes.” They are “amateur” in the sense that they do not get paid, even when they generate boatloads of money for the schools they represent [nb: the National Collegiate Athletic Association assures us this setup is virtuous, and in the best interests of all involved, so all is well on that front, nothing to see there]. The college game is thrilling. At its best, college football is superb athletic competition, the amateurism itself amplifying the potential for surprise upsets and dramatic finishes. In the NFL, you can lose almost half your games and still find a way to the Super Bowl. In college, a single loss on the wrong day in late October, and your championship dreams are obliterated. The rivalry games, in some cases played out over a century, evoke martial lust and frontier gunslingling: the Border War, the Holy War, the Civil War, the Iron Bowl, and the Red River Shootout. I was among the 94,339 people at Ohio Stadium at high noon on a slate gray Midwestern Saturday, November 21, 1998, witnessing our beloved Buckeyes torch the Michigan Wolverines and their quarterback, the now-deified Tom Brady. I promise you, it was fucking electric. My one chance in life to storm the field.
Football Guidelines for Viewing: The Bay Area has two NFL teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. The 49ers are terrible, and the Raiders are about to defect to another city for the second time in my lifetime. Last time it was LA, this time it’s Vegas. It’s still a good idea to show their games, just as it’s a good idea to show NFL games generally, especially down the stretch in December and during playoffs in January. The Bay Area also has two big-time college teams, the Stanford Cardinal and the Cal Bears. Stanford has been resurgent in recent years, while Cal dabbles in mediocrity year in and year out. Their prosaically named rivalry game—the Big Game—is almost never a big game, objectively speaking. On a fall Saturday afternoon, cable TV will present you with a surfeit of college football choice, and you must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll rarely go wrong showing USC, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, or Oklahoma. Ohio State and Michigan, obviously. If you’ve somehow settled on Temple vs. Rutgers, I insist you first find something else, and then report directly to me for reeducation.
Like football, basketball comes in pro (NBA) and collegiate flavors. The NBA is characterized by a bloated schedule of 82 games, followed by a whopping two months of playoffs. Like the NFL, the excitement potential of NBA basketball is much diluted in service of maximizing corporate profits. That having been said, there is some superb athleticism on display in the NBA, and its games are (almost) invariably better to watch than baseball (see discussion, infra). The college game is, like in football, significantly less diluted. The college season culminates in a 68-team single-elimination tournament, known as “March Madness” because of its propensity to deliver shocking David-Goliath-type upsets and down-to-the-wire finishes.
Basketball Guidelines for Viewing: The phrase “everybody loves a winner” aptly describes the Bay Area’s relationship with the Golden State Warriors. Nobody gave a shit about them until they were suddenly one of the best teams of all time. For this reason, a Warriors game can take primacy even over the NFL in the television viewing hierarchy. Aside from a handful of marquee early-season matchups, the college game doesn’t hit its stride until mid-winter conference play is well underway, culminating in conference tournaments, then the NCAA Tournament, in March. March Madness games take priority over any other programming, unless they happen to coincide with Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings. The only things taking precedent over those are breathing and eating, basic bodily functions.
You may have heard baseball referred to as America’s “national pastime.” The irony of that name is particularly cruel. As Einstein taught us, the passage of time is a relative phenomenon, and nowhere does it pass more slowly than during a baseball game. Not only does time appear to stand still during a single baseball game, there are 162 games in the American regular season—a game on over 44% of the days of the calendar year, and that’s before you factor in six weeks of pre-season spring training or a month of post-season playoffs.
Baseball Guidelines for Viewing: The Bay Area has two local teams—the Giants and the A’s—and it is always acceptable to default to watching their games in the absence of something more thrilling. Both teams were atrocious last season, so the likelihood of finding a better alternative is high, particularly considering the fair-weather nature of most baseball fans. It is also always acceptable to show the playoffs in October, regardless of the team, where the outcome of individual games actually matters. The rest of the season amounts to an intangible foam of arcane statistics of little interest to all but the most devoted fans. Of course, if a customer asks for a game, there is no reason not to oblige.
A Brief Tour of Everything Else
Soccer. Some people call this sport “football,” possibly because its players use their feet to kick a ball. This nomenclature, of course, is not accurate. We already have a sport called “football,” see supra, sensibly named because its players use their hands to throw, catch, and carry a ball. You are advised to ignore soccer until such time as the United States becomes a dues-paying member of the European Union. Many Americans pretend to care about soccer on a quadrennial basis, during the World Cup. Should such Americans show up at Shiba Ramen during the World Cup, by all means indulge them.
Golf. Golf is challenging and fun to play. I like playing golf, and if I did not have a million other things to do, I would play it far more often than I do. My last round was in 2012 when I was on paternity leave from work. Like me, Donald Trump has a million other things to do, but he still manages to play two rounds a week. Good for him, and I suppose good for the rest of us too. A divot is a lot easier to repair than a breached nuclear arms treaty. In that sense, we should urge Mr. Trump to play seven rounds a week; our national psyche might tend to benefit if he did. Watching golf on television is perhaps more challenging than playing it, in that viewers may feel compelled to gouge out their eyes from boredom. I do not recommend showing golf to our customers, but at 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, there may be no other choice.
Tennis. Sure, put it on, especially if it’s one of the Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open). It’s like watching a duel, although with fuzzy balls instead of bullets, and lasting substantially longer. Like golf, tennis is a good option for 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday.
Hockey. This isn’t Canada. This isn’t Russia. We do not care. Do not show hockey.
The Olympics. Nothing is more heart-warming than this biennial display of international unity, nothing more amazing to watch than Chinese synchronized divers, and nothing that makes as little sense as a sport combining cross-country skiing with target shooting. The Olympics have it all, a real feel-good choice here, so you should definitely go for it.
NASCAR. To the extent there is a line between America and 'Murica, this is it people. Cross it at your own peril.
Poker. For a period of time starting in the mid-aughts, Americans took to watching televised poker, including—inexplicably—televised poker played by celebrities. Because I ditched cable some time ago, I’m not sure if this trend is over. I dearly hope it is. Please do not show poker.