Tuesday, October 02, 2012

COLUMN: Team Handball

I suppose it's bad form to write a column about something you've written about before. Some might think it a sign of laziness or a lack of ideas. But I figure if Hollywood can achieve both profit and acclaim from rebooting "21 Jump Street" and "Spider-Man," I should be able to occasionally recycle a column topic now and again.

Truth be told, I've got a fairly good reason for this retread. I generally write about the current happenings in my life, and THIS week, there's only ONE thing worthy of my attention. It's a thing that only comes around once every four years, and I'm no closer to figuring it out now than when I first wrote about it four years ago, so indulge my "laziness" if you can.

Once again, the games of the Summer Olympics are in full tilt, and televisions across the globe are showing the very best in human competition. NBC, who catches more grief than they should, is capitalizing on the Games with a myriad of channels and online streams. There's just one tiny problem: I hardly get to witness ANY of it. Basketball, soccer, and tennis are shown mostly during the day, and I'm at work. All the big events that people might enjoy watching are delayed to primetime, and that's when I'm usually DJing, working on projects, getting abused by Jillian Michaels on my exercise bike, or writing this very column.

Good thing, then, that my favorite Olympic sport of all time runs in about the only free time I've got -- the pitch middle of the night. I can come home from a DJ gig at 3 a.m., turn on the TV, and the odds are pretty good that one of the Olympic channels will be airing the greatest game that's ever been invented: TEAM HANDBALL.

I told this to one of my co-workers and she thought I was making it up. But I swear to you, Olympic handball is a real event. If you don't believe me, stay up 'til 3 a.m. and find out for yourself. Not only does it exist, but it's clearly the most awesome game I've ever seen in my life -- I just have absolutely no clue what I'm watching. But trust me, whatever it is, it RULES.

The version of "handball" I grew up on was a sport just slightly more entertaining than staring at a blank wall, where you and your opponent are stuck in a claustrophobic box slapping a rubber ball against a wall like an acoustic unplugged version of Pong. I'm pretty sure some dude went to play racquetball one day and went, "Damn! Forgot my racquet! ... Oh well, I'll just throw the ball instead," and -- voila! -- handball was born. Turns out that's AMERICAN handball. And we've got it ALL wrong.

Team handball has to be seen to be believed. It's sorta like water polo, but without all that pesky water... and WITH a healthy dose of street violence. Each country's team is compromised of seven players, because there are only seven people per country who have ever heard of this crazy sport. Six of the players are outfielders, while the seventh gets the unlucky role of goalkeeper.

I've now watched enough team handball to learn basic gameplay, and the goal appears simple: to decapitate the opponent's goalkeeper via blunt force trauma. This is achieved by hurling a small ball at fastball speed and point blank range. Occasionally the ball misses the goalkeeper and instead flies into a net, scoring what's referred to as a "point," but the violence part is WAY more entertaining.

While all this is going on, the opposing defenders do their best to get in the way of the ball kamikaze-style, offering their own bodies up for severe bruising instead of their goalkeeper's. This is done by chaotic blocking, body checking, and I'm pretty sure one time I saw a knife fight break out. This body-checking is referred to as, I'm not kidding, a "player sandwich." What most sports would recognize as an egregious foul is just run-of-the-mill gameplay in team handball. Says Wikipedia:

"Unlike in basketball where players are allowed to commit only 5 or 6 fouls in a game, handball players are allowed an unlimited number of 'faults,' which are considered good defense and disruptive to the attacking team's rhythm."

"Fault"? More like anarchy. Violent, violent anarchy. In the two matches I've seen this year, I've watched dudes crash into each other at bone-breaking speed. I saw a guy get floored by an elbow to the gut while his teammate got clotheslined flat. I've seen blood flow. Like my friend Jason said, clearly we're dealing with a game invented by a sadistic junior high school gym teacher to pass time on rainy days when dodgeball just isn't painful enough. Sick of that whiny uncoordinated fat kid? Force him to be the goalie and have the jock kids hurl balls at him for an hour straight. (It's good to know I'm not the only one permanently scarred by P.E. class.)

But as long as I'm not the fat kid at goal, consider me a huge fan of team handball. The only problem is that the U.S. doesn't field a team, presumably because the U.S. has no idea the sport exists. Instead, I get to watch handball powerhouse nations like Croatia, Tunisia, and Montenegro. I'm rooting for Team Iceland. Why? Because they've got a guy on their team named Snorri. And another named Ingimundur Ingimundarson -- and if you make fun of his name, he will whip a ball at your head. Seriously, though, apparantly in Iceland, team handball is their national pastime, meaning a lot of Icelandic people have suffered blows to the head -- which pretty much explains Bjork.

At the end of the day, what's more fun to watch -- a person running around a track, some girl somersaulting with ribbons, or fourteen people flying into one another with malice in their eyes and carnage in their hearts? I've found my sport of choice, and if you don't believe me, check this space in 4 years when I tell you about it all over again.

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