The Thrill of Curling, The Agony of Obscurity

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 13 years ago, when he developed a fascination with the sport of curling.

In the past few weeks, I made an astonishing discovery, one that I never thought would ever happen in a million years: Curling is an exciting sport.

That's right, curling.

For those of you who skip the Winter Olympics, curling is that sport where they slide smooth round rocks down a rectangular ice court (called a "rink"). The sport is noted for the precision and skill that makes millions of Canadians scream in delight.

Each rock is aimed at a ring of circles (called the "house"), similar to an archery target. As each player slides ("delivers") a stone, two other players sweep the ice with brooms in front of the moving ("running") stone to help it travel with more speed and momentum ("curl").

The object is to bump out as many of your opponent's rocks while leaving your own rocks in place. Whoever has the most rocks closest to the center of the house (called the "tee") at the end of a round (known as an "end") wins that number of points. The team with the most points at the end of ten "ends" is the winner ("winner").

My own fascination is, unfortunately, not something that I can talk about very easily. There's still a stigma in the United States that curling is not a sport, and is something to be scoffed ("laughed") at. Oh sure, there are fans ("weirdos") of curling in the US, but they all live within 10 miles of the US-Canadian border, which means they're often viewed with suspicion ("dirty Commies").

I was at a business function ("beer write-off") a few days ago where I was talking to a guy about curling. We both agreed that it was a cool sport to watch and that it could be pretty exciting at times.

"Curling?" asked a woman ("non-guy") standing nearby. "How is curling exciting?"

We stammered out an embarrassed explanation ("we watch it for the articles") that completely failed to explain the attraction of the sport. The fact that the US Men's Curling Team won bronze at the 2006 Olympics meant nothing to her. Even the news that team captain ("skip") Pete Fenson also owns a pizzeria ("national hero") also failed to impress her.

Then I stumbled on an explanation that seemed to satisfy her: "It's like chess on ice."

"Oh, chess! That makes sense then. I guess that is pretty cool," she said, as if chess is somehow more intense and exciting than people heaving 44 pound rocks down an ice floor while sweeping madly in front of it. I could tell that she not only thought curling was still stupid, but that chess was actually more exciting.

"How many chess players own pizzerias?" I challenged her.

"Chess isn't even in the Olympics," said the other guy.

The woman admitted defeat ("gave up in exasperation") and quietly departed ("went to find people less weird").

The problem curling faces in the United States as that it's not as dramatic ("violent") as other sports and it doesn't lend itself to the same kind of human interest stories about overcoming adversity ("my broom broke").

Now don't get me wrong, I still love my football. I'll watch a bad football game ("Browns vs. Raiders") before I watch any other so-called sport ("golf"), no matter who's playing.

However, I've found that even after the Olympics are over ("shut up, Scott Hamilton"), I still crave curling. I read about it, I visit curling websites, and I've even tried to find a curling club in Indiana (official motto: "If it ain't basketball, it ain't a sport."). But until I actually have a chance to experience curling, I'll have to content myself with the occasional curling tournament on ESPN 2 ("tennis reruns") and YouTube.

One of my dreams as a humor columnist is to start enjoying the same perks as Dave Barry ("boogers are funny"), who would write about certain people or activities, like opera, fighter planes, and synchronized broom drill teams. He would then be invited ("all expenses paid") to participate in that particular activity, so he could write about it some more ("sell out for cheap laughs").

My ultimate goal is that Pete Fenson will be so impressed by my new found interest ("obsession") with curling that he'll invite me up to Minnesota for a chance to watch him and his team practice for an upcoming tournament. Maybe he'll even let me slide a few rocks with them so I can see what it's like.

I like pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese, Pete ("shameless pandering").

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.