ESPN 30 for 30
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How ESPN changed my life

by Pamela Buchignani

I am not, nor have I ever been, a sports fan.

In elementary school, I was consistently picked last in kick ball and eliminated first in dodge ball. In high school, I cut P.E. class even more often than 1st period Spanish, which I preferred to sleep through. I actually hitchhiked my way to the end of a fitness test 1 mile run. The jocks at school were invariably my arch nemeses.

Sure, I had my stint in pre-teen cheerleading for a Pee-Wee football league – but I never knew what was happening with the game, just which cheer was up next. It wasn’t until my early twenties that a girlfriend took the time, at a sportsbook in Vegas no less, to teach me the rules of football that I even understood word one about the world of sports.

From that point on, while appreciating the basic concepts behind games — the complexities of plays, flags and penalties, time outs and strategically chosen Hail Marys — I never quite grasped why fans got so emotionally involved what happened in sports. The home team loses, and grown men nearly break out in tears. They win, and there’s a riot. Bad mouth the wrong person’s favorite team, and you might get stabbed. Really?

When I watch sports, I’m often equally as thrilled by an amazing play by the opposing team as I am by the one I’m supposed to be rooting for… As it turns out, this does not go over so well in the nosebleed-seats at a Kings game (they need all the help they can get).

The film Seabiscuit – about a winning racehorse that taught an impoverished community there was still hope in the world – seemed to me like utter schlock (and that only had a little bit to do with Tobey Maguire bouncing up and down on a mechanical horse to get those close up shots). It’s just a darn horse, people! When sports fans everywhere were watching the Boston Red Sox enter the 2004 World Series with bated breath, praying to God to lift the Curse of the Bambino, I wanted to tell them to get a life.

That was, until I experienced the ESPN series 30 for 30.

What began as a series of just 30 documentary sports films in honor of ESPN’s 30th Anniversary – many directed by established feature filmmakers like Barry Levinson, John Singleton and Spike Jonze – has now turned into an ongoing franchise for ESPN.

The network that once only aired games and game coverage now proudly joins the ranks of cable networks (HBO, Showtime, AMC) and unconventional entities (hello, Netflix and Hulu) that are producing their own excellent, original programming.

What 30 for 30 has taught me, is that in sports, what audiences are often reacting to is the story behind the game: which players came up from nothing, which teams have been in intense rivalries for decades, which players have been struggling to recover from the downward momentum of just one mistake that cost their team a win literally years before. Knowing so much about the players and the history of the teams, makes people feel involved, like they actually are a part of it. So when their team wins, they win too.

For television fans, it’s akin to your favorite show continuing on throughout your parents’ lives, your life and through your kids’ lives… without getting cancelled, just recast. Except this show is live, and people’s real lives and careers are actually at stake.

Anyone out there struggling to relate to his or her significant other’s sports obsession, needs do nothing more than to watch this amazing series. It looks at sports on such a human level, even outright sports-haters could find something interesting about it. And sports lovers will be hypnotized by the amazing archival footage these films include, as a perk of being made for a network with deep vaults dating back to their humble beginnings in the late 70’s.

You can watch dozens of episodes on Netflix, and ESPN is still making and airing new episodes as I type…

Some favorite episodes to check out:

“The Best That Never Was” – Arguably one of the best things to ever happen to the small Southern town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, is football player Marcus Dupree. Watching footage of him running the ball into the end zone like a tank that could not be stopped is mesmerizing, as is the story of his too-short career.

“Straight Outta L.A.” – Skillfully directed by Ice Cube, this film is told from his perspective while on the rise with N.W.A. It chronicles the Raiders’ 13 seasons in Los Angeles, the team’s relationship with the birth of gangster rap, the beleaguered youth of South Central, and ultimately how the Raiders’ awesomely cooky owner, Al Davis… Well, I’ll let you see for yourself!

“Catching Hell” – The ‘Where’s Waldo’ of fan interference tales. Imagine that your home baseball team (in this case, the Chicago Cubs) is about to win the Championship that would take them to the World Series for the first time in nearly 50 years. A fan (in this case, Steve Bartman) reaches out from his seat to catch a foul ball, preventing a player from catching it. This one, seemingly insignificant event causes such a shift in game momentum that the Cubs lose, and the entire stadium is out for blood.

Pamela Buchignani

About Pamela Buchignani

Pamela Buchignani is a writer, photographer, banjo enthusiast and Director of Original Content, Live Events for Fuse TV. Follow her on Twitter @MsPamelaB.

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