If you had good seats Monday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, you were treated to two hours of solid entertainment. No, not the Bulls and Pistons in the NBA playoffs, but the guy who thought it was hilarious to scream not especially funny insults at Ben Wallace at the top of his lungs.
That Wallace - who is nicknamed "Body" with good reason - could break that guy's face with little more than a hard stare didn't come into play; this was Bizarro Kabuki Theatre, where a pencil-necked geek fancies himself just as rough and tough as a guy who can bench-press Sweden.
Anybody else guessing beer muscles were involved?
And then, all too often, hundreds of these geeks, fueled by alcohol and resentment, get behind the wheels of their cars and drive. It's a scene played out in dozens of arenas and stadiums around the country, not to mention thousands of bars, millions of homes and hotels, maybe a newspaper office or two. Or 10.
Or a baseball clubhouse.
When do you think we all might get serious about alcohol?
Those of us in sports now have a hook on which to pontificate, because St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock died at the wheel of his rental vehicle last week, driving at almost twice the legal limit for alcohol in Missouri when his car slammed into the back of a tow truck. It does not appear that Hancock was unfamiliar with hard living.
The hook is even juicier because Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had been charged in a rather unsavory DUI during spring training, having fallen asleep at the wheel of his car in March, with the car nearly going into an intersection. The Cardinals didn't publicly discipline La Russa. And when details of Hancock's death began leaking out, La Russa admonished reporters for asking Hancock's teammates about his lifestyle.
We got 'im on hypocrisy, boss!
But you know what? I don't care what La Russa said. Nor does it matter that the Cardinals franchise was built on beer, having been financed for four decades by the Busch family, whose name adorns the team's new ballpark just as it did the old one - or that I have never witnessed people so drunk so early in the morning as Cardinals fans during the World Series in 1987.
Because Hancock's death is no different from hundreds of others that occur, anonymously, every day.
Should it matter that Hancock was a reasonably famous athlete, or that his boss tried to protect him? Would it be any less tragic if he was a CPA on the way home from an office party?
For every Pelle Lindbergh, there is an anonymous father. For every Tim Crews, the Cleveland Indians pitcher who was killed, along with teammate Steve Olin, when Crews drove his boat into a dock during spring training in 1993, there is a car full of teenagers on their way from the prom.
Nationally, 16,885 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents in 2005, the last year full statistics were available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of those deaths, 30 percent involved a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater.
Many of us drink too much, and then exercise even more horrible judgment by thinking we can guide a 11/2-to-2-ton vehicle traveling at moderate to high speeds without killing someone - including ourselves.
Me, too. Mostly in college, when booze was one of the four main food groups (with pizza, chips, cereal). I distinctly remember one night, after an on-campus party, when I prayed to God to steer the car across town back to my parents' house. I shudder to think of the lives I could have ruined by being such a jerk.
As a nation, we condemn those who abuse cocaine and other drugs. As sportswriters and fans, we get up on our high horse about steroids, and call Barry Bonds a cheat, and feel smug and superior. And then we go get smashed while watching sporting events sponsored seemingly exclusively by beer and car companies.
Subliminal message much?
Athletes, though, are especially vulnerable to feeling bulletproof. They are almost always bigger and stronger and faster and tougher than everyone else in their universe - save other athletes - with cat-quick reflexes that have saved them time and again. What's another challenge?
So it doesn't matter if the NBA was covering its corporate rear or merely trying to be responsible when it told Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson this weekend that he couldn't bring beer to his postgame news conferences anymore.
One less endorsement for the High Life is fine by me.