On Wednesday, San Francisco Bay saw what may be the greatest comeback in the history of sports in a contest for what is the oldest trophy in the history of competitive sports. No, we aren’t talking about Game 7 in a Stanley Cup Final or a World Series. Wednesday, the American’s mounted a most improbable comeback from an 8 race to 1 deficit against the challengers from New Zealand to keep the America’s Cup where it belongs…in America.
The cup was originally known as the Auld Mug and it was originally awarded 1851 by the British Royal Yacht Squadron as the trophy for winning a for a race around the Isle of Wight. This first race was won by the schooner America, at which time the cup was renamed in honor of the winning craft. The cup was then donated New York Yacht Club (NYYC) under the terms of the “Deed of Gift,” which made the Cup available for perpetual international competition. The Cup was held by the NYYC from 1857, when the syndicate that won the Cup donated it to the club, until 1983 when the Cup was won by the yacht Australia II of the Royal Perth Yacht Club,
Stop and think about that for a minute. From 1851 to 1983 represents a span of 132 years, which is easily the longest winning streak in the history of sports ever. First, think about how old the America’s Cup is. The America’s Cup predates the first professional baseball team by 18 years, Lord Stanley’s Cup by 40 years, and the National Football League by 70. The challenge for the Cup has always been an open competition; any yacht club that meets the requirements specified in the Deed of Gift has the right to challenge the yacht club that holds the Cup. If the challenging club wins the match, it gains stewardship of the cup.
There has only ever been one change to the way the stewardship of the Cup is challenged. From the first defense of the Cup in 1870 through the twentieth in 1967, there was always only one challenger. Beginning with the twenty-first defense in 1970, there were multiple challengers. At this time, the challengers were matched in what was essentially a “play-off” series of races now known as the Louis Vuitton Cup. The purpose of these races was to determine the one yacht club that would have the opportunity to wrest the cup away from the previous winner.
By now, you have to be wondering why the fuck am I telling you all of this. Because I honestly don’t understand why nobody in this country gives a shit about this event. Face it, it’s got everything Americans love.
1) It is something at which we kick ass.
Face it, Americans have two requirements for sports. We have to be better at it than you are, and we have to find a way to make it uniquely our own. This is why we want American Football in the Olympics, we don’t give a shit about soccer, and why we transmogrified the road skills of Formula 1 auto racing into moonshine-fueled hillbillies who can only turn left and die completely awesome fiery deaths. There is no better story of dominance in sports than our dominance of this event. We held on to it for 132 years; the legend was that the first American captain to lose the Cup would have his head replacing it in the NYYC’s trophy case. That didn’t happen when Dennis Conner lost it to the Australians in 1983, but there was semi-serious talk of getting Ronald Reagan to send the U.S. Navy to Perth to take it back.
Another thing that happened in 1983 is the Australians introduced one of the first new bits of technology with their Down Under Cheaty Pants “winged keel.” since then, we Americans have changed everythign we could get our hands on. we scrapped the long-standing 12-meter class for the “International America’s Cup Class,” which was just a nice way of saying we were going to start making hulls out of the same stuff Ryan Braun injected himself with, and that we weren’t beyond outfitting our boat with twin 454-cubic inch Chrysler Hemi engines.
Since that first loss, America won the Cup back in 1987, and successfully defended it three times until losing it to New Zealand in 1995. It bounced around a bunch of non-American until we got it back in 2010. That fifteen-year period marked the longest period our Cup was fingered by a bunch of foreigners EVER. America has only ever lost two defenses of the Cup, which is why what happened yesterday is all that more historic. Not only was it the biggest comeback ever in sports, it would have been the first time the Americans went “one-and-out” on a Cup defense.
2) It involves big-time money.
The people who want you to believe this country was founded in the interest of religious freedom also will conveniently forget to tell you a major component of religion is the collection plate. America is now, has always been, and will always be about money. The people we call “poor” in this country still have a house and two cars, and the people we call “hungry” weigh 300 pounds and have those diabetic leg sores that leak through their socks.
The history and prestige associated with the America’s Cup attracts not only the world’s top sailors and boat designers, but it is a veritable meat market for entrepreneurs and sponsors who piss $100 bills. That is why this event is all about a combination of sailing skill, boat and sail design, and fund-raising and management skills. Early races were run by battleship-sized leviathans owned by guys who kept the gross national product of entire nations in their change purses. It wasn’t until after World War II when most of these guys had spent most of their money on real battleships so they could either help kill off or save the Jews (depending on their political stripe) and the NYYC didn’t get a qualified challenger for the Cup for nearly 20 years that they changed the rules under the “Deed of Gift” to allow the smaller, less expensive 12-meter class yachts to compete.
That still doesn’t help Judge Smails; it’s not even down to “Al Czervik-level” money yet.
3) Americans love technology, and this event is full of it.
It wasn’t that long ago that an America’s Cup yacht looked like something off a bottle of Cutty Sark; now, these new catamarans look more like a marine version of Shuttle Tydirium. Who made that transition? Sure, the Australians helped that progression with that “winged keel” bullshit, and the the New Zealanders played along, as you would expect Australia’s answer to Canada to do. The one time in the modern era the Europeans help the Cup they took sailing back to the dinosaur days with the 30-meter battleships, largely because the nation in Europe with the proudest naval tradition is England, and they focused their technological effort on slower-steeping tea and stronger whip leather. Again, I ask who introduced this advance in technology? The same Americans who brought you acid-wash jeans and cheese in a spray can, that’s who. God Fucking Bless America.
4) It involves things that go really fucking fast and get people killed.
Whether it’s Ndaumakong Suh or NASCAR, Americans love fast-moving lethal stuff. Make no mistake, these boats kick-ass in terms of speed. Sure, they aren’t as flashy as as watching a NASCAR yokel eat a set of piston rings at 225 miles per hour, but then again, NASCAR guys don’t run the risk of being eaten by a shark in pit row. It’s easy to dismiss sailboats as not being dangerous until you remember that whole drowning thing and the fact that even without an engine, these boats travel at twice the speed you were the time you belly-flopped into the hotel pool and spray-crapped your swim trunks.
Jokes aside, people get killed doing this; it happened as recently as the Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco this past spring.
5) This year’s event was so uniquely American, featured the best comeback story ever, was made for television, and was a complete failure.
The 2013 America’s Cup was raced in AC72 wing-sail catamarans. These boats featured carbon-fiber construction combined with new water-foil technology that made these boat faster than the rate at which Taco Bell sickness ejects itself from your body. These boats hit unprecedented speeds, and combining that with the notoriously rough water of San Francisco Bay on a race course deliberately laid out close to shore was the recipe for a spectacle we may never see again.
Do you know why they put the race course in such a dangerous place? To make it awesome to watch. If you hadn’t noticed (and judging by the ratings, you didn’t), this was the first America’s Cup that had stadium seating. They knew these AC72 boats were going to put on a show, and they knew that weren’t dealing with the traditional open ocean. The vistas of these spaceship boats hurtling towards rocks and a crowd reminiscent of a New York Jets game should have been enough to draw TV audiences.
Not to mention, this is an event that happened over a three-week span. I understand how ratings might tank early when the Americans had as much chance of getting a win as the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but when it was clear at 8-3 that the Americans were on the comeback trail, why was the NBC Sports Network not promoting this shit out of this? After all, they paid for the rights, why would they not back up their investment once they knew they had a burgeoning story? After all, Americans love an event.
I’m becoming a big fan of the NBC Sports Network, if for no other reason that I will support anything that brings me more sports and offers competition to the World Wide Bottom Feeder. Ironically, it was live coverage of the 1983 America’s Cup that helped put ESPN on the map. But somebody dropped the ball on this. This was designed to be a made-for-TV event; in fact the America’s Cup people went all in to make this a TV event. From the design and placement of the race course, the use of these lightning-fast catamarans, even the fact that the America’s Cup committee paid NBC Sports Network to air these races and hired sports-tech guru Stan Honey (the guy who invented the technology to super-impose graphics onto live sporting events) to make the nuances more understandable to us land-lubbers. And even after all that, nobody watched.
In my opinion, the big failing here was promotion. I never saw a single advertisement for this event outside of the NBC Sports Network. Television networks buy space on other networks all the time. NBC Sports Network is part of a media leviathan which includes NBC and Comcast. They also have a relationship with Yahoo, which could have put them all over the internet. That’s the most ironic part since all the money for this event came from Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle and the world’s eighth richest man. You would think that the guy who owns a company which powers half the internet would understand the power of on-line marketing.
What it all comes down to is that this will be just another tremendous sporting event of which Americans will be blissfully unaware, and not because of the event. They simply failed to bring in enough viewers to pay the bills because they forgot to promote it.