Not to start things off on a bummer, but most of my recent internet deep dives — whether they’re on the Arctic shelf, fascism, or the deterioration of the New York subway system — make me feel like we’re all gonna die. But over the last 30 hours, I’ve been in a YouTube rabbit hole that makes me want to live forever. And I want to thank Jon Hamm and Jordan Spieth for sending me there.
A couple of things about me: Much to the amusement and annoyance of those around me, I am getting into golf. So, personally, I was not surprised to find myself watching old U.S. Open highlights on Monday night (Hale Irwin!). That’s how I happened upon this video, produced by the USGA, with the incredibly chill title: “2015 U.S. Open: Spieth’s Northwest Conquest.” It’s an hour long, it was cowritten by Walt Whitman with scraps of sentences Don DeLillo threw out from the opening section of Underworld, it was shot by Terrence Malick, and has music that sounds like Randy Newman’s score for The Natural. (I can’t quite place it.)
We can have a whole separate convo about how much Hamm got paid to say things like, “Indeed, there was, for all to witness, a new era, heralding Spieth’s Northwest conquest.” Why not just name it Northwest Passage? Take the W, USGA. But then I realized that the beginning of this video made me want to solo-climb El Capitan with no ropes. And I needed to keep that feeling alive.
Another thing about me: I like to use YouTube as motivation. I can’t really articulate it, but if I’m feeling down or sluggish, watching the end of the 2013 Iron Bowl, or the Nike “My Better Is Better” ad, or the Inception trailer will usually set me on the right course. So I wasn’t surprised that Hamm got me going with the amber waves of flop shots out of the rough at Chambers Bay. But I didn’t realize there was a whole genre of videos just like it.
Now, I’m not talking about straight-up hype videos, like Kendrick Lamar’s admittedly amphetamine-mimicking NBA Finals clip from last week.
I’m focused on something more specific. Let’s call them Videos for Major Sporting Events Narrated by Famous Actors. VMSENFA. Rolls off the tongue. There are a lot more golf vids like this — “DJ’s Major Redemption,” narrated by Andre Braugher, and a 2011 Open Championship joint with the G-rated spoken-word stylings of Al Swearengen.
This is a thing? This is a thing. You will notice, when watching these videos, that the production values are usually high. You can cut together a cool montage on Final Cut and put a Coldplay or Young Jeezy song over your highlight reel, but chances are, no matter how many subscribers you have, you can’t match the production muscle of ESPN, CBS, ABC, et al. And you know what? Some things are best left to the professionals.
These videos tend to make a sporting event feel bigger than it actually is — they are more celebrations of wanting to watch something, or remembering having watched something, than actually watching it.
The best ones tend to be about unifying events — major golf and tennis tournaments, Olympic Games, World Cups. These are little pushpins in the maps of our sports-watching lives, and these videos memorialize them. And with the magic of the internet, they can be appreciated after the fact, like a hyperstylized memory.
These videos tend to have a pretty wide scope — looking at the socio-cultural or historical implications of a game or series, even ones that are barely there — and, at least for our purposes, they must be narrated by someone who must have cost a fortune to hire.
Or do they? One thing about these videos, is the actors seem as passionate as the audience watching them. To wit:
Holy shit, Sherlock. That’s obviously Benedict Cumberbatch introducing the 2012 Olympics, and it immediately takes you back to that deliriously happy time at the beginning of the decade, when LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook attended USA swimming meets …
And McKayla Maroney became more famous than all of them.
The Brits really sell these, man. Maybe it’s the Shakespearean training or just the pleasing nature of the accents, but whatever it is, Clive Owen talking about Wimbledon sounds like the St. Crispin’s Day speech:
Amanda Dobbins pointed that one out to me. Tennis really gets it. Here’s Kate Winslet bodying the 2014 Wimbledon video:
Here’s Jared Leto introducing the 2015 U.S. Open:
These are good. I am feeling it, but tennis is not in my top 10 of things to watch, so I need something a little closer to home. How about Jack Bauer talking about the USMNT?
WTF. Rodger Sherman showed me this one. I love how the conceit here is Kiefer Sutherland IS ON THE U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM. “You read the headlines? We didn’t.” YOU WERE IN FLATLINERS, MAN. Nobody is trying to replace Michael Bradley with Kiefer Sutherland. Still. Goosebumps. Soccer videos are the best. Here’s Jeffrey Wright introducing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil:
Here’s Don Cheadle doing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:
When you get to the end of this rabbit hole, do you know who you find? Wright Thompson. You may know Wright for his longform journalism over at ESPN, but he is also the god of VMSENFA. Maybe he’s not famous, like Kate Winslet famous, but he’s basically the Morgan Freeman of these videos. He’s made tons of these things — about the World Cup, NASCAR, and golf. But his Shawshank Redemption has to be this one about the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, that doesn’t mention ALABAMA’S TEAM until about a minute 40. WRIGHT!
If you need me, I will be running my hand through fields of wheat and getting ready for the U.S. Open. Hopefully, Cate Blanchett will be along shortly to talk about the majesty of Erin Hills. I’m waiting.