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Playing Scrabble is Harder Than Kicking Field Goals

Straight from one of the few people qualified to judge. Stefan Fatsis, whom I'll identify as a Bog Friend, D.C. resident, Wall Street Journal Writer, author of the sportswriting classic Word Freak, ESPN Scrabble analyst and former kicker for the Denver Broncos. ("I have the greatest resume," he acknowledged.)

I talked to Stefan in advance of this weekend's premier of the 2006 U.S. Scrabble Open on ESPN, Sunday, at 6 p.m. (Yes, your D.C. Sports Bog is now running a promotion for a broadcast of a two-month old scrabble event that will be shown smack in the middle of the Redskins game. Write a letter to the editor or something.)

Anyhow, here are the various things I learned.

1) Playing Scrabble is more physically exhausting than kicking field goals. "Seriously, dude: stamina, endurance, it's physically draining," he said. "I kid you not, when you play in a tournament, eight games of Scrabble in one day, you are wiped out. You are completely wiped out. It is mentally, and consequently physically exhausting."

And kicking field goals? "Getting in shape for NFL training camp, yeah, I worked harder physically," he said. "The actual act of practicing? I think eight games of Scrabble left me more exhausted than a day of Broncos training camp."

(He's writing a book about the Broncos, btw, which is why he was a kicker in training camp. He claims he made "a few" 40-yarders during camp, but that his skill was approximate to that of a decent 10th grader.)

2) You know how ESPN's poker broadcasts show odds of winning a hand? ESPN's Scrabble broadcasts show the updated odds of each player winning the game, thanks to Quackle. Who knew.

3) You know how ESPN's poker broadcasts feature the lovable Lon McEachern on play-by-play? So do ESPN's Scrabble broadcasts. And I thought I was making an easy living.

4) Does this make Stefan the Norman Chad of televised Scrabble? "I've only been married once," he pointed out. "And I still have all my hair."

5) One of the 2006 U.S. Scrabble Open finalists was Geoff Thevenot, a copy editing musician who was in a cover band called Banana Seat that once opened for Men at Work, apparently giving the producers free rein to make copious Men at Work references during the broadcast, something that will likely not happen during the Redskins broadcast, barring a "Who Can It Be Now" retrospective of the best of Clinton Portis, circa 2005.

6) At one point during the 2006 U.S. Scrabble Open, a finalist was faced with the following word choices: CASTRAtO, oSTRACA, CRAvATS, CARiTAS. A castrato, of course, is a singer castrated in boyhood. This is something else you're not likely to learn during the Redskins broadcast.

7) Stefan, without feeling the need to cozy up to Washington's most coverage-starved fan base, comments on televised Scrabble's ratings: "We're not talking the NFL, but we're talking hockey, I think."

Stefan, if you keep taking cheap shots at our favorite sport, we'll no longer promote your two-month-tape-delayed, airing-during-the-Redskins Scrabble telecast. Which, once again, comes on Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 29, 2006; 1:02 PM ET
Categories:  Weirdness  
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