I was playing poker Friday night and one of the TVs at the casino was tuned to ESPN2. By the way, I know there hasn’t been any actual “tuning” involved when choosing a channel for decades, but I’m old enough to remember when that phrase meant something.
Anyway, ESPN2 was showing all sorts of goofy events as part of its annual switch to its alter ego, The Ocho. The joke goes back to the 2004 Ben Stiller comedy, “Dodgeball,” in which the championship was shown on the fictional ESPN8. The real TV network didn’t run with the concept for another 13 years, but since 2017, it has dedicated a day or two — at the time of year when there’s very little live sports action to cover — to presenting some very minor league games with a straight face.
I’ve never watched any of it for more than a few minutes, but during a poker session that lasted six hours, I was happy to have something to pay attention to other than the action on the felt when I wasn’t in a hand.
One of the events that caught the attention of everyone at my table was the Pillow Fight Championship, in which two people get into a ring and do what siblings have done on their parents’ mattresses for generations — try to smack the opponent in the head with bedding.
The graphics said several of the participants had more than a decade of MMA experience. I guess that’s what you do when you retire from real contact sports because you’re tired of being kicked in the ear. You choose something where the only danger is getting hit with the zipper inside the pillowcase. On the upside, though, maybe you get hired as The Ocho’s color analyst next year.
During all the overhand shots and spinning swings, one of the semi-finalists got knocked out of the ring, which I would have bet was impossible in a pillow fight. How do you live that down with your family and friends, especially after it’s been shown in slow-motion replays?
First prize was $5,000. With travel and hotel expenses — not to mention a lot of drinks the winners bought for their buddies — they probably ended up with less cash than those of us who didn’t even take part!
Other events Friday night on The Ocho included a paper airplane competition, belt sander races, stone skipping, dog surfing, and stein holding (in which entrants had to hold big mugs of beer at arm’s length without bending their elbows or sloshing any suds). I’m guessing that everyone involved was just happy to get some TV time, like contestants in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest who are not named Joey Chestnut.
Oh, and of course, there was a Cornhole Championship. I can recall a time when the game was called Bean Bag Toss and only appeared at school carnivals. Then its popularity grew to bars and backyard parties, and now gets occasional TV coverage late at night on channels like Fox Sports 2 — although it has a long way to go before it becomes the next pickleball.
Watching the cornholers (which seems an inappropriate name to call anyone), I wondered whether they had to stretch before competing. Is it more or less rigorous than taking a birthday party full of nine-year-olds to play miniature golf? What is the calisthenics regimen needed to be able to take one step forward and hurl a bean bag across the room?
“Hey, Bob, you look like you’re in pain. What happened?”
“Dude, I threw out my shoulder this weekend playing cornhole. And they didn’t even show it on SportsCenter!”