In a stroke of genius that is likely to elevate the NHL while pushing Anaheim farther down its totem pole, HBO has announced that it will bring its Emmy-award winning 24/7 treatment to this year's Winter Classic i.e. Sid "The Kid" Crosby vs. Alexander "The Great" Ovechkin, or "Gladiatorial Times at The Heinz" or whatever other overhyped title the NHL has planned, but sponsored by Bridgestone of course (of course).
Now, I never watched Jimmie Johnson Race to Daytona, but as an avid fight fan, I've seen every other installment of 24/7. The truth is, it's hammy, with its orchestral arrangements, Liev Schreiber's guttural voiceover and its 'deftly' edited interview segments. But that's sort of the point. If your sport was marketed well enough to communicate its own storylines and heroes to the masses, then you wouldn't need an HBO special.
The 24/7 series is to under-marketed sports what the professional sportswriter was to all sports in the newspaper and radio eras. He created the storylines that played out in box scores and play-by-plays. He was the hype man, even if the event wasn't hype-worthy. And for every clash of heroes who heralded the hometown, there was suddenly a layered and complicated backstory, accurate or not.
I suppose you could say fans have gotten more skeptical or just more perspicacious, and so the fans who grew up to be sportswriters followed suit. Or you could say that the era of investigative journalism sparked the drive to encompass all of the nation's heroes, political and pugilistic, into a tabloid headline. Whatever the reason, sports reporting today is so much more about steroids and dispossessed millionaires than what the athletes actually do on the field.
24/7 is not about that. It shrinks Shane Mosley's Balco involvement and Roger Mayweather's legal troubles into B-plots playing in the background of the much bigger storyline: the fight. I don't want to see Crosby or Ovechkin elevated to gods (though, can we really stop Bettman at this point?), but if hockey is really a sport still as pure as the driven snow, then this is the show that will reflect that. They'll dig up footage of these guys nonchalantly losing teeth, you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about any player, coach or public figure related to this season's New Year's game, and every episode will end with a melodramatic orchestral arrangement playing over slow-motion HD video of bodychecks, brief pithy interview clips that "sum up" who each player is, and Liev Schreiber hamming up some Sun Tzu quote that illustrates Ovechkin's journey to the North American game and how the pride of a nation sits on Sid The Kid's shoulders.
Cheesy, no? But if you really love hockey, you probably see the game through cheese-colored glasses 90% of the time anyways. So, cheesy...but accurate.