August: A Sports Fan's Longest Month

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The month of August can be tough for a sports fan. Baseball season is in “dog-days” mode, the pennant races not quite what they’ll be in September. Football season is oh-so-close, but NFL preseason games are the sorriest excuse for professional sports known to man. Aside from team sports (and I won’t forget the Little League World Series), we have . . . the PGA Championship (congrats to Rory McIlroy), the stepchild among golf’s majors.

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The London Olympics helped this year, though the saturation of coverage by NBC drowned me like a lame water-polo goalie. (Bless water polo. Honestly, it’s my favorite summer-Olympics sport to watch.) Here we are, still three weeks of August left before college football season kicks off. How barren is August for a sports fan? If I were ranking months by the quality of sports available, it would look like this:

1) October — All I need is the World Series. For the rest of you, NFL and college football in full flight.

2) June — FESJC, U.S. Open golf, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup final ... and baseball.

3) May — Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, NBA/NHL playoffs ... and baseball.

4) January — NFL playoffs, college football’s major bowls.

5) April — Baseball’s Opening Day, the Masters.

6) March — Madness.

7) July — Wimbledon, the British Open ... and baseball.

8) September — Football season starts, U.S. Open tennis, baseball pennant races.

9) December — NFL playoff drive, Liberty Bowl.

10) November — NBA season opens, college football’s rivalry games.

11) February — Super Bowl (belongs in January) and Daytona 500.

12 August — Here we are.

I’ve come to believe there’s a cosmic factor to the August sports blues, for the 11th of the month happens to be my beloved wife’s birthday. For at least one month, my attention shifts where it should.

• Last week’s column was devoted to the five Memphis Grizzlies finalists in my “Face of the Franchise” series (daily via Twitter). Two candidates — Tony Allen and Shane Battier — had credentials built largely on the spirit they helped inspire as role players for playoff teams. Two others — Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay — qualified with stellar play over five-plus years, their numbers near the top of the franchise’s alltime charts.

The fifth candidate is the Face of the Franchise, in large part because he embodies much of the qualities the other four delivered. Zach Randolph has been an All-Star, All-NBA (third team), and among the NBA’s scoring and rebounding leaders. Just as important, he’s been the muscle (if not face) behind the “Grit and Grind” mantra Allen coined during the 2011 playoff run. Z-Bo is as much Memphis now as he is Grizzly. The guy publicly supports a pit-bull rescue mission, for crying out loud. Perfect metaphor for Randolph’s career path and performance over three seasons here.

• Sports greatness is entirely too subjective. Was Johnny Unitas really a better quarterback than Joe Montana? Could Muhammad Ali — boxing’s “GOAT” — have beaten Joe Louis?

But there’s nothing subjective about a clock, or a footrace. Which makes Usain Bolt one of the defining athletes of this young century. The memory I’ll carry with me from the 2012 London Olympics will be watching — beyond question — the fastest human being ever to lace up a pair of track shoes. Two-time Olympic champion in both sprints? And the world-record holder in each? That reads like cheap fiction. Bolt will surely be the athlete of the year. Come 2099, he’ll be a candidate for Athlete of the Century.

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