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Friday, June 20, 2008

6 Obscure Sports To Try This Summer

Summer is here, which means it’s time to start playing outside as much as possible. Are you tired of all the old summer standby sports, though? Sure, baseball and volleyball are fun, but sometimes you want something just a little, well, weirder. This summer, take a chance on one of these obscure sports.

1. Bossaball
Surprisingly originating in Belgium and not a Nickelodeon back lot, bossaball finally answers the question of why no one ever thought to make hybrid of volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, and the Brazilian fight-dancing capoeira and then played said hybrid on an inflatable court outfitted with integrated trampolines. Basically, the sport is played much like volleyball, except contact can be made with any part of the body, each side can touch the ball eight times before knocking it back over the net, and serves can be made via kick. Also, one player on each side is the “attacker” and bounces on the aforementioned trampoline, which enables him to fly up for huge spikes with his hands or feet. Like in volleyball, teams get one point for making the ball drop on the opponent’s side of the court, but this score jumps to three points if the ball lands on the trampoline. Sound confusing? Check it out for yourself (this video’s shot indoors, but it’s also common to see the court blown up on beaches):

2. Ga-ga
According to Wikipedia, ga-ga is a dodgeball variant that probably originated in Israel. Much like a good mixed martial arts bout, it’s contested in an octagonal ring surrounded by walls known as a ga-ga pit, and, again, much like a good MMA bout, it’s popular at summer camps. Basically, the game is played in much the same way as the dodgeball with which you’re probably familiar, but with a few key differences. Players don’t catch the ball; instead they smack it open-handed and let it careen around the octagonal pit. To start the game, players bounce the ball three times, repeating “ga” with each bounce then running towards it to try to make the first kill. Additionally, they’re aiming for a lower area on their targets; players are only out if they get hit at or below the knee. Leaving the pit or touching the ball twice without it hitting the wall or another person earns a quick DQ. Here’s a look at a game:

3. Underwater Hockey
The NHL’s popularity is waning, so maybe they should catch up with the times and replace their icy old rinks with pools. As the name implies, underwater hockey (also known as octopush) is like ice hockey in a pool. A lead puck is dropped to the bottom of the pool, and teams of six players in masks, snorkels, and fins maneuver it towards goals at opposite ends of the “rink” using small sticks. Unlike ice hockey, underwater hockey’s a non-contact game, though, so don’t’ expect any brutal checks into the pool’s wall.

Englishmen Alan Blake invented the sport in 1954, and its popularity has since spread worldwide. This video from Singapore gives a pretty good idea of what it’s all about:

4. Mountain Unicycling
Unicycling is great and all, but isn’t it just a little too easy? You can barely turn your head without seeing someone who scoffs at bicycles in favor of going everywhere on a single wheel. Such would seem to be the logic behind mountain unicycling. The name is in no way misleading; it’s a sport in which riders climb and descend hilly trails on their unicycles. These intrepid souls ride specially designed unicycles that have cushier seats, fat mountain bike tires, stronger frames, and longer cranks. Proponents say that it’s not as dangerous as it looks; since unicycles don’t have multiple gears, they don’t fly down hills as quickly as mountain bikes and are easy to bail off of in a pinch. The enthusiasts in this video say they enjoy the sports because it’s more difficult and technical than mountain biking on sophisticated modern bikes, although even with their experience, you’ll see them take some pretty tough spills:

5. Wife Carrying
There’s no more auspicious beginning for a sport than to start out as a joke, and wife carrying has somehow made the leap from laughable oddity to legitimate sport since its inception in Finland. Originally designed as a play on the legend of men courting women by grabbing them and running off with them, wife carrying is a form of racing in which a man totes his wife (or other female partner) through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. For all the silliness of the endeavor, the rules are fairly technical. The couples pass through a 253.5-meter course complete with a water obstacle and two dry obstacles, and any husband dropping his wife is docked 15 seconds. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms, otherwise she is given a weighted sack to make up the difference. If you can make it to Sonkajarvi, Finland by July 4, you can still compete in this year’s world championships. The sport still has a sense of humor; first prize is the wife’s weight in beer. Or check out the video first; this style of knees-over-the-shoulder positioning is known as an “Estonian carry.”

6. Pesapallo
Wife-carrying isn’t the only odd summer sport the Finnish people enjoy, though; they also have their own variation of baseball known as pesapallo. The game, which was developed by Lauri Pihkala in the early 20th century, is ostensibly similar to baseball, although watching it would be totally disorienting for fans of America’s pastime. For starters, the bases don’t form the familiar diamond; instead, first base is where third base would be in American baseball. Second base is roughly where it would be in American baseball, and third base is then located on roughly the same line as pesapallo’s first base, but deeper in left field, which means that running the bases requires zig-zagging all over the field of play. Furthermore, there’s no pitcher’s mound. Instead, the pitcher stands to the opposite side of the plate from the hitter and tosses the ball up in the air; the hitter then swings as the ball descends. The pitch is a strike if it goes a meter above the batter’s head, then lands on the plate without being hit. Catching a flyball doesn’t score an out for the defense, and if a batter doesn’t like the ball he hits on his first or second strike, he doesn’t have to run and can keep batting.

Despite all these differences, though, it’s easy to tell the game is a cousin of baseball, and it looks like a lot of fun:

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12 Of The Best Mullets In Sports History

There's something special about the mullet. It's a magical haircut that should only be worn by mystical creatures like leprechauns or midgets. It's like a forest fire; it grows wild and free, and if you get caught up in it, only a helicopter and veteran pilot can get you out. Be glad your dad never thought to punish you by forcing you to wear a mullet during your middle school years. But maybe he did think of it, but figured that you would end up on the cover of Newsweek after a week long hostage situation that would culminate in the senseless deaths of numerous students who had ridiculed you for your retarded hair cut. And yet, there were (still are, in some backwards places in our fair country) people who willingly pay another person to damage their reputations. Here are the best athlete mullets.

12.) Don Majkowski

Majkowski was a pretty decent quarterback in his day. He threw for 66 touchdowns and rushed for an additional 12 for the Packers, and was inducted into their hall of fame. The real reason for his success? The back-alley barber that mangled Majkowski's head every few weeks. Imagine trying to tackle a guy when his beautiful, golden, mulleted dome is distracting you.

11.) Jaromir Jagr

Jagr has been one of hockey's most prolific scorers and is currently 2nd among active players in goals, assists, and points. More importantly, his hair looks like a combination of Persian carpeting and the dog from The Wizard of Oz. It looked ridiculous flying behind in the wind as he skated down the ice. Around the year 2000, Jagr got wise and cut his hair. He still looks retarded, but that's due to his stupid droopy mouth.

10.) Ryan Smyth

Ryan Smyth is known for being an emotional hockey player. He's teared up after losses, after he got traded from the Oilers to the Islanders, and probably every time he looks at his horrifying hairstyle in the mirror. Still, he's a great guy...can't someone help him out by cutting his hair in his sleep?

9.) Andre Agassi

Agassi's mulleted head from the 90s is probably one of the most famous in the world. Not too many people know what an Egret's nest looks like, but it's probably more organized that this dude's hair. When he shaved his head, the statement he made was a resounding "Give me a mullet , or give me wait, I didn't mean that literally. A shaved head is fine."

8.) Dennis Eckersley

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Considered by many baseball fans as one of the greatest pitchers that ever lived, The Eck chalked up 390 saves and 2,401 strikeouts in his prolific 22 year career. More prolific than that? His hair. Not only did he sport a killer moustache, but his insane mullet rocked plenty of batters into submission. Most walked back to the dugout, unable to comprehend what they had just witnessed. He looked like a beautiful black stallion, his hair waving in the wind, until BOOM!, a curveball lands in there for strike three, and you're out, Nancy.

7.) Randy Johnson

He's tall and shockingly ugly. He's Randy Johnson, and he can throw a baseball pretty friggin' hard. No one really knows why Johnson loves his mullet so much. But think about it; if you looked like him, with your big weird gangly body and bird-like features, would it really matter what you did with your hair?

6.) John Kruk

John Kruk was somehow a professional athlete in spite of his obvious love for beer and chips. During his career, he hit exactly 100 homeruns, and sported a sweet mullet for all of them. Now, Kruksie is an analyst on ESPN and has (un) wisely changed his do.

5.) Bob Golic

Did you just ask if that's the guy from "Saved by the Bell-The College Years"? If you did, then you're right. Bob Golic acted in a bunch of shows after his 13-year football career ended, and we can only assume his outstanding choice of haircut had something to do with it.

4.) Dwayne Schintzius

When it comes to unpronouncible last names, Dwayne Schintzius takes the cake. No one knows how to pronounce that thing. But what's more important is that his head was always adorned with the road-kill type hair that put him on the map. Was he a good basketball player? Who knows.

3.) Tony Siragusa
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This guy's day probably goes something like this: Wake up, eat a rack of ribs, drink a glass of gravy, go downstairs, eat breakfast, go to McDonalds, buy one of everything, drink milkshake, eat a pizza, and watch Everybody Loves Raymond. There's no time for grooming in that schedule at all...which is why Siragusa's mullet grows wild and an evil tree in a Harry Potter book. Or something.

2.) Brian Bosworth

While many consider The Bos to be one of the biggest busts in NFL history, mullet enthusiasts everywhere agree that he lived up to some sort of mullet related hype.

1.) Barry Melrose

When it comes to the mullet, Barry Melrose is a pioneer. He's sported a mullet through thick and thin, and he always manages to make it stand out by covering it with bear grease and slicking it back.

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Defense adjusting to voices in their head

by Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for He's covered the NFL for 13 seasons as a beat writer and is the president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

HOUSTON - Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans hears voices in his head.
On this particular Wednesday, the sound is of Houston Texans linebackers coach Johnny Holland relaying signals during practice. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith will soon be doing the same in training camp and the regular season.

Hearing prepared

New helmet

Alex Marvez was at the Texans' training facility recently, where he got an up close look at the new defensive helmets. See what he learned about the new system and what the Houston players think about them.

To defensive players like Ryans, such jargon is music to their ears.

After long making rules changes designed to increase scoring, NFL owners reversed course this off-season by allowing the use of defensive helmet transmitters. Teams like the Texans recently began experimenting with the new technology during minicamps and OTA (organized team activity) sessions.

Rather than have to worry about reading signals from the sideline, Ryans is told the play through the transmitter. Ryans then conveys the information to his teammates just like the quarterback does on offense when receiving calls in his helmet.

"It's not a big adjustment for me," Ryans said after his first practice using the transmitter. "I just have to focus in and try to hear the coach. Usually, you don't have a coach talking to you until you get to the sidelines. Now, he's in your ear on the field."

Formations, stunts and blitzes won't be the only information verbally passed from coach to player. Like on offense, a line of communication will be open for 25 seconds before the transmitter is shut off with 15 seconds remaining on the play clock.

"This gives you an opportunity to give a little more, like reminding a guy there's an opportunity for a quick count or to be on alert for something," Smith said. "That will be much more of a (defensive) advantage."

And a legal one.

Last season, New England was caught breaking NFL rules by videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals. It was later learned the practice dated back to the 2000 season. That led the league to levy $750,000 in fines against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick as well as strip a first-round draft choice.

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Hoping to prevent another "Spygate" scandal, NFL teams approved the installation of defensive transmitters after the proposal didn't have the 24 owner votes needed to pass the previous off-season.

The offensive helmet transmitter was adopted in 1994 with a frequency system that has 268 million different encryption codes, league spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email. Aiello said there has never been evidence of a team tampering with the current frequency system.

"Each team has it own code, indecipherable by any other team or person attempting to listen in," Aiello said.

Defenses didn't have that luxury. Players, scouts and coaches league-wide have tried deciphering those signals by watching the opposing sideline.

Smith said he has "constantly" used mechanisms to prevent that from happening, like having multiple coaches signal at the same time. A designated assistant would wear a color-coded wristband that let Ryans know which play to call.

"Teams now can't see your blitz signals and alert their quarterback," said Ryans, Houston's leading tackler the past two seasons. "They don't know what's coming. It puts us all on a fair playing field."

At least in theory.

Smith and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio are two of the coaches concerned whether the transmitter will continue to work when heavy contact is involved. The finalized helmets won't be sent to teams until July, plus NFL rules force teams to minimize hitting during the off-season.

While playing earlier this decade, retired NFL quarterback Jim Miller said his transmitter would sometimes malfunction following a strong blow.

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"I have had both of my headsets fly out and just hang by their wires -- and they're velcroed-in pretty good," said Miller, who is now an NFL analyst for Sirius radio. "This may be a problem to the linebackers who dole out some good hits unless they have perfected the system."

The Arena Football League began using the defensive transmitter this season with generally positive results.

"No machine is perfect," said Utah Blaze defensive back Damon Mason, who is the AFL's all-time leading tackler. "Sometimes you get calls that cut out. Also, all the guys are waiting on you to give them the call so there is added pressure. But if I had a choice, I would rather have the headset than not. It makes it much easier to communicate and eliminates mistakes."

Other potential problems involving frequency or hardware that have affected quarterbacks won't surface for defensive players until game day. Some teams also may struggle to choose the defender that will wear the special helmet marked by a florescent dot on the back.

Only one defensive transmitter is allowed on the field, which has teams likely to designate an every-down player like Ryans and a similar backup in case of injury. But there are some defenders who don't want helmet communication with coaches. Crowd noise also may limit the transmitter's effectiveness.

"There will be some things we have to work through, much like the offense did years ago," said Del Rio, who plans to experiment with the defensive helmet during this week's Jaguars practices. "Finding out how you can best utilize it, there will be a little bit of experimentation with that this year."

Smith can't wait for the testing to begin.

"It's going to be outstanding if it works," Smith said. "But we're going to continue to train with our signals because we'd be crazy not to. If the transmitter system goes down, you've got to have that ability."

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