A few months ago I had never heard of a bucket list. Sure, I knew of the idea, from books and televisions shows – “1001 Books to Read Before You Die” or “100 Places to Visit Before You Die” – but, as a young man, I never took the idea of planning out one’s life with death in mind very seriously. I spend most of my energy in finding employment, staying employed and saving up what little money I can. I don’t even have health insurance in this silly country, why would I think about having to visit the Blue Mosque before I die?
Then one night a DJ at the bar where I work told me he’d crossed an item off his bucket list.
“What the hell is a bucket list?” I asked.
“A bucket list?” he responded, shocked at my ignorance. “You know, it’s just a list of stuff you’d like to do before you kick the bucket.”
“Yeah, I don’t really think that far ahead. If I can wake up, feed myself and go to work tomorrow I’ll be doing all right.”
The conversation, however, stuck in my head and I have slowly begun compiling my own bucket list; of sporting events, of course. Until now it has not appeared in any concrete, physical form; just meandering day dreams. Here now is the beast in full flight.
1. Title Fight in Las Vegas
I went to Vegas once and I swore I would never return. Three straight days of booze, gambling and all sorts of other unmentionable debauchery might be the plaything of the mighty Hunter S. Thompson, but as for myself, the Strip remains a mountain I’d prefer to scale just the once. That said, I would kill to go to a title fight in Sin City.
Firstly, an unmistakable tension hangs in the air prior to a title fight. The two camps bicker and muckrake for weeks, even months, leading up to the big night. Sometimes the verbal jousts are merely perfunctory, as if regurgitating a worn out script, while other times they are as dangerous as any physical punch. Check out the 2008 documentary, Thrilla in Manilla, to see the devastating effect of Muhammad Ali’s relentless verbal attacks on Joe Frazier.
In addition to the war of words prior to the fight is the tension of the spectator during the day of the fight. With boxing the spectator does not just roll out of bed, put on a beanie and go to the tailgate. No, the fight begins at eight o’clock in the evening. So you have breakfast and think about the fight while you read the paper. You go for a swim, or hit the gym and have a small lunch. Normally you’d be tired, but the excitement and anticipation force any thoughts of lethargy to the back of your mind. The big fight is tonight. Just before the fight you head out to the tables for a few quick rounds, not caring too much about how much you win or lose. Just killing time. Killing time until the spotlights go up, killing time until all the bets are placed, killing time until the announcer brings out the champion and the challenger.
One my good friends dated the daughter of Manny Pacquioa’s financial manager. We talked of getting tickets to a big fight but of course they broke up before Pacquiao’s next Vegas fight. So it remains on the bucket list. Here’s hoping I win the lottery before Pacquiao vs. Mayweather because I have seen what ringside tickets go for…
2. Monaco Grand Prix
I’ve done Vegas. I’ve done Macau. That leaves Monaco as the only jewel missing in the Triple Crown of the gambling world. To play roulette in the Principality would in itself earn a spot on most bucket lists, but with the added prospect of watching the fastest motor cars on the planet race around the oldest street course in Formula One – Monte Carlo is a must do.
The Monaco Grand Prix, along with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans, represents the pinnacle of motorsport. The Mediterranean beauty, the allure of wealth, the extravagant glamour and the extreme danger of the course set Monaco apart in its own right. At Indianapolis you race around an oval over and over again, and of course Le Mans goes on for a whole twenty-four hours. With Monaco though, you race like mad for a couple hours through the tight, winding city streets and then get back to the business of drinking, gambling and being painfully glamourous.
I do not remember when I watched the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time, but I do now know the course extremely well through hours of Gran Turismo on the Playstation. Embarrassingly enough I could probably follow the race with my eyes closed, just listening to the gears shifting down, and know exactly where the driver was.
Having an unhealthy amount of free time on my hands, I have dedicated far too much thought to the best place to watch the race from. As a city course the spectator has more of an option than simply buying a ticket to the grandstands. So although it would be nice to have a grandstand seat on the back straight by the swimming pool, I think the bucket list demands a spot on a balcony in the apartments overlooking Sainte Devote, watching as the cars tear down the slightly curved starting straight into the tight ninety degree turn before roaring full throttle up the hill towards Casino Square. Oh and, it wouldn’t hurt to have a glass of champagne on hand as well.
3. Old Trafford on a European (Knock-out) Night
Oh, look who spoke too soon. I begin work on this article the day after Manchester United ignominiously crash out of the Champions League at the group stages. Prior to yesterday this had happened only twice in my lifetime. The new crop at United now stand face to face with the grim reality of Europe’s elite club competition: it is not a given birthright. Roy Keane paradoxically criticized the team in singling out his old team mate Ryan Giggs for praise, “That sums it up – he’s 37 or 38, you can’t be depending on him.”
For younger team members the unexpected stumble into the Europa League might bring a slight blush of embarrassment. But for the elderly statesman such as Giggs the Champions League remains the Holy Grail. Giggs has served faithfully as Sir Alex Ferguson took a good domestic side out of its depth on the Continent and molded them into perennial European challengers. The fascination with the competition, however, does not begin in Ferguson era.
Manchester United were the first English side to compete in the European Cup, in opposition to strict directives from the Football Association. They were the first English side to win the European Cup, ten years after the Munich air crash prevented the Busby Babes a chance at glory. They were the first English side to win the European Cup again after the horror of Heysel. From the outset the competition has held a captivating luster for the Manchester club. From Matt Busby to Alex Ferguson, the leaders of Manchester United have instilled the desire to be the greatest. Not satisfied with a place in the starting eleven. Not satisfied with a run in the FA Cup. Not satisfied with the league title. Not even satisfied with the European Cup. The trophy cabinet only attests that you have been the best. You must constantly prove you are the best. You have to win it again, and again, and again.
This belief has spread, from the managers, to the players and to the supporters. If I had a sixpence for every time a match commentator mentioned the “special buzz” around Old Trafford on a midweek European night then I’d have enough money to cross this item off the bucket list.
In fact I had a real toss up with this bucket list item as I also adore the domestic league and crave the experience of a traditional three o’clock Saturday kickoff. Yet, with no disrespect to any domestic rivals, Manchester United’s ethos compels them to challenge at the highest stage and there is none higher than the Champions League. The do-or-die aspect of the knockout rounds adds an urgency and risk different to the conservative proceedings of the group stages and the processionary quality of a league campaign.
Sadly United will be missing from the great stage this year. In decades past the lesser Continental competitions might have provided a platform to build on, but I’m afraid the demotion to the Europa League will be viewed differently this season. As I write this, hwoever, FIFA might sanction the Swiss Football Association and ban Basel from the Champions League Round of 16. Not the most proud way for United to progress but I’m sure you won’t hear any of United’s owners, management, players or supporters complaining about a knockout tie with Bayern Munich.
Really who would contest putting the Wimbledon Tennis Championships on a bucket list? In my family’s household it’s the only sporting event that rivals the football season. Like football, tennis is a sport we had all played (to varying degrees of success). Also, like football, the rules are simple. The sport, again like football, lends itself well to televised viewing. Generally speaking the match has a flow and advertisements linger in the background. A far cry from watching four 15 minute quarters of American Football stretched to over three hours; leaving one feeling more concussed than a quarterback with weak coverage.
And then of course you have the tradition and history surrounding tennis’ oldest tournament: strawberries and cream, the classic Pimms Cup, the stringent all-white dress code. In the sporting environment the silly English traditions come across as charming and comforting where otherwise they might seem cold and stuffy in day to day reality. In fact the only downside of the tournament used to be the ubiquitous summer downpours, but of course now they have gone and put a retractable roof over Centre Court.
In short, one doesn’t have to be an obsessed aficionado to enjoy Wimbledon. I find it hard to believe a majority of fans wander around the All England Club arguing over statistics and in-depth tactical analysis. That’s not to say the players are not highly trained and coached sportsmen (and women), but merely that the experience of the spectator is more pleasant and casual than the testosterone-filled maniacal chaos of most sectarian ball games. Wimbledon is a tournament I’d love to attend with my whole family, in part because I’m sure all of them would love to attend as well.
5. Nurburgring – The Green Hell
Every other item on this bucket list denotes the viewing of a sporting event. Every item except the Nurburgring. For in fact, you or I can go to Nurburg, Germany, rent a car – anything from a sporty Volkswagen Golf V GTI to the might of a Porsche GT3 – purchase a 24 Euro ticket and race around one of the oldest, historic and picturesque racing tracks in the world. On certain days you can also drive the whole course, the old Nordschleife and the modern Grand Prix track – I don’t think any other Formula 1 circuit is available for public access.
Like the average ignorant American, I associated Nurburg with the Nazis. Turns out those rallies were in the Baravian city of Nuremberg. Nurburg, however, is near the western border with France and, at least from the photographs I have seen, a gorgeous part of the country. The medieval Tower of Nurburg looms on the northern side of the final two kilometer straight and adds to the picturesque nature of the track. Of course one might think differently about the lush, dense forests and an old, decrepit castle when swerving around barrier-less corners at over 150 km/h. In fact it’s probably best not to think about them at all.
The older track, the Nordschleife, runs for over 20 km and consists of 154 turns. Nicknamed The Green Hell for the extreme danger in the dense surrounding forests, the track nearly claimed the life of the reigning Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda in 1977. The Finish driver tried to organize a boycott that year due to safety conditions (the distance between race marshals and the distance needed to travel for fire and medical vehicles) but his fellow drivers voted to race. His car went up in flames after crashing on the second lap; he still bears the scars today and Formula 1 has never raced the Nordschleife again.
Like most average Americans who know about the Nurburgring, my introduction came through the Gran Turismo video games. The track, even on the Playstation, terrifies, no matter if you are driving a smooth balanced car or a strung-out beast of a super-car. The first four kilometres of the track seem easy enough, more technically demanding than scary, but once you take the long, slow turn at Aremberg and veer downhill at full throttle towards Fuchsröhre, you begin to realize you might be in for more than you bargained. By the time you are halfway through the course, usually around five minutes in, and racing up Kesselchen, searching desperately for grip on the fast corners, your hands begin to tire and you no longer to want go fast. In fact you just want to slow down and stop racing all together. And this is all just a virtual Green Hell. Small wonder then I want to make a pilgrimage to the real thing.
Here is the point where I tell you that Part Two of the bucket list will appear in the next issue. More likely, however, I will have lost complete interest in the topic by that time and will write about something else even more dull!