Lax, Toots, and Dempsey-Carpentier

Lacrosse, North America's oldest indigenous sport, has had a tough year. First, the scandal at Duke University brought negative publicity to a sport that gets less-than-zero publicity. Then, Canada beat the U.S. to win the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships and end Team USA's jaw-dropping 28-year reign. (Their previous defeat? In 1978 – to Canada.) And, there's been scant local coverage of the newest professional sports team in town – the L.A. Riptide of Major League Lacrosse – and it's not because they bombed in their inaugural season. The team, which is owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, finished at 6-6 – this after starting with three consecutive losses – and just missed making the playoffs.

The rash of bad pub should change this weekend, when AEG's Home Depot Center in Carson hosts MLL's championship weekend. On Friday, the first semi-final game (at 6 p.m.) features two expansion teams – the San Francisco Dragons and the number-one seeded Denver Outlaws – while the second game (at 8:30 p.m.) pits the Boston Cannons against the Philadelphia Barrage. The winners meet in the finals at HDC on Sunday at 2 p.m. (also televised live on ESPN2).

* * *

At the International Documentary Association's always-excellent DocuWeek, I caught a screening of Toots, the feature-length doc about legendary saloon-keeper Toots Shor. During its heyday (from the 1940s through the mid-1960s), Toots Shor served as both watering-hole and salon for NYC's journalists, sports icons, Mobsters, and wannabes -- a very masculine world comprised of equal parts boozing, gambling, and sports. Directed and produced by Toots' granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson, Toots is a paean to a lost NYC, and the film includes compelling interviews with Jackie Gleason, Frank Gifford, Peter Duchin, Pete Hamill, Bert Sugar, and Gay Talese. And, while Toots' fall from grace wasn't pretty – he died broke, the victim of a bad gambling habit and changing times – the film rightly celebrates his life.

Growing up in NYC, I was too young to know Toots or to frequent his joint (tho I do recall the last, sad incarnation of Toots Shor, opposite the "new" Madison Square Garden). But watching this sweet doc, I couldn't help but relate. Toots Shor was a Jewish kid who came to NYC with nothing and opened a saloon. Just like my great grandfather, David Davis, a young Jewish man who came to NYC with nothing and opened a saloon on the lower East Side. My great grandfather got out of the business after Prohibition, but I still keep the original labels that advertised his kosher wine and his slivovitz. I would've loved to try his slivovitz.

At the screening I attended, Jacobson mentioned that Toots will be released in the fall. If you want to see the film during DocuWeek, you've got two chances: on Wed. at 8:25 p.m., and on Thurs. at 10:20 p.m., at the ArcLight.

* * *

My great grandfather's son – that would be my grandfather -- was our family's first sports fanatic. He used to regale us with stories about seeing Lou Gehrig on the Columbia University campus and watching the Millrose Games. His favorite tale involved the time he and his frat brothers got jobs selling hot dogs at the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight, at Boyle's Thirty Acres in Jersey City, back in 1921.

The fight itself was over quickly, in four rounds, but Dempsey-Carpentier proved to be a significant sporting event. Not only did Dempsey's victory over the undersized Frenchman symbolize America's might in the period immediately after World War I, but the bout's success (it was boxing's first million-dollar live gate) helped pave the way for sports' first Golden Age during the 1920s, when expanded media coverage and promoters like Tex Rickard transformed games into big-business entertainment.

I was reminded of my grandfather's connection to Dempsey-Carpentier because Chika, a veteran photographer for Japanese publications, sent me a recently-published boxing photography book entitled Les Plus Beaux Combats de Boxe (yes, it's French, published by Michel Lafon). Outside of Chika's own expert photos – she shot the hell out of great contemporary match-ups like Hagler-Hearns, Tyson-Douglas, and Foreman-Moorer – the image that arrested me was a panoramic shot of the vast crowd at Dempsey-Carpentier.

In the foreground of this black-and-white photo, amidst a sea of bowler-wearing men, you can see three college-aged vendors -- one selling hot dogs, the other two hawking programs or newspapers – enjoying a breather. Now, I'm pretty sure that the vendor in the photo isn't my grandfather, but the image reminded me of how much he enjoyed talking about that fight -– and how, when the main event started, he ditched the hot dogs to watch the action. A true fan, indeed.

August 23, 2006 9:29 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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