TV show is sports’ best act

David Morrison

So starts the dry season for sports fans, the time when nothing grows except an almost obscene desire for the start of spring training.

College football is over, and college basketball isn’t interesting yet.

The big three sports are in dire straits.

The Patriots are employing a “scorched earth” policy on the rest of the NFL.

The Celtics have proven that basketball is, above all, a selfish sport and that two superstars can, in fact, make you invincible. At least in the Eastern Conference.

Some of your favorite baseball players will be spending more time in suits (and potentially jumpsuits) than in MLB uniforms in the coming months, thanks to the Congressional hearings on steroid abuse.

And nobody cares about hockey.

Luckily, this winter brings the return of one sporting institution fans can look to as a ray of light in the dark months.

This is an athletic endeavor free from fascist domination, full of teamwork and refreshingly devoid of steroids (cough, cough).

This is the American Gladiators.

The first run of the show, from 1989 to 1996, was one of America’s greatest contributions to society in the 20th century. It had NU alum Mike Adamle as its host. It had enlarged toothpicks that competitors and Gladiators used to whomp on each other. It had tennis balls shot out of cannons.

After a 12-year hiatus, NBC has brought the show back and, I assume, punished those who were responsible for canceling it in the first place. The network executives must have realized that, in these uncertain times for TV, red-blooded Americans need something to hold on to. Who needs writers when you have the stunning visual of female Gladiator “Fury” trying to wrench an overmatched contestant off of the rings in the Hang Tough event using her patented “Suicide Squeeze?”

Because it is the last event of each competition, I had always viewed the Eliminator as the final arbiter of justice for the contestants. This was the time for Gladiators to get out of the way and let the common man (or woman) shine.

And the new one does not disappoint. It is longer and much more difficult than its predecessor. When the winner crashes through the wall of foam blocks at the end, it is less a sealing of a well-earned victory and more a proclamation of mankind’s mastery of mind over body.

And they have to swim through fire, which is, like, awesome.

Still, as a maniacal fan of the show during my childhood, there is something internal that will not let me enjoy this to its fullest extent. The decade of reality television between the show’s two runs has tainted “American Gladiators.” It is very slick and over-produced now, which runs counterintuitive to the gritty, heat-of-the-moment feel given off by the original series.

The show kept most of the old events, but the new ones are jokes compared to the ones they replaced.

Breakthrough and Conquer, where the opponent had to score a touchdown against one Gladiator, then step into a ring and wrestle another, is gone. In its place is Earthquake, in which a platform rocks gently while the Gladiator and contestant halfheartedly jockey for position on it.

The show’s producers also put water underneath all the playing surfaces for no particular reason.

And what’s with all of the neck braces? If competitors and Gladiators of the “Saved by the Bell” era could weather all of the events without spinal injury, shouldn’t their counterparts in the “24” era be expected to do the same?

Still, these are all minor gripes. The world is a better place for having “Gladiators” back on the air. And when the writers come back across the picket line and the show is canceled, I will thank all those involved with “Gladiators” for the 12-16 weeks of excitement and nostalgia it gave me.

I hope you’ll join me.

Assistant sports editor David Morrison is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]