It’s a Monday in the fall. That means that when I open the sports section of the Washington Post, I am expecting a column from Michael Wilbon, dissecting the latest Redskins game. This morning, I went through a portion of the ritual—-I opened Sports, scanned the page, and found pieces by Mike Wise and Thomas Boswell.
Sorry, fellows, but that ain’t getting it. All I know about Wise is that he once bragged in the Washington Post Magazine about how great a basketball player he once was (dunked at an early age; crushed when he realized he wasn’t going to make the pros). And all I know about Boswell—-aside from the fact that his father was a wonderful man and a poet—-relates to Cal. Cal is amazing! Cal is the greatest thing to ever happen to this region, this watershed, this country, this hemisphere, this world! Cal isn’t even mortal! Cal Cal Cal!
Whatever these guys bring to the table, they’re not Wilbon. Whatever you think of Wilbon, whether you call him a sellout to Michael Jordan, as I have, or a celebrity journalist, this man can do the game story on deadline better than anyone in the business. No overweening prose, no breathless bullshit about athletes giving their all for a sport they cherish, no pettiness—-just straight-up game analysis, good stuff.
It’s a commodity in short supply out there. Sure, nine million cable channels will bring you the highlights of every game, nine million times a day. You’ll see that 49ers tailback weave his way down the field as often as you see that Aflac ad. And you’ll get to hear plenty of morons talk about the games from the studio, adding not a single insight to go with the gelled hair and phony on-set camaraderie. And you’ll get game recaps in the Post and other newspapers. Boring!
Those circumstances explain why the columnist who follows the home team is all the more important—-that columnist enables you to skip all the other chatter. I’m not sure where the hell Wilbon was yesterday—-his last column byline came last Friday. But no team of Post columnists is going to replace him on game day.