The Five Most Inspiring Opening Paragraphs In Sportswriting, 2015

There was a lot of great sportswriting in 2015. Here are the five paragraphs (from totally imaginary feature articles about various athletes) that inspired us most.

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Dec 29 2015, 8:33pm

The Alchemist is a metaphorical figure. — Photo by Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, 2015 honestly wasn't all that great a year. There was tragedy after tragedy, at home and abroad. There was division and bad faith and worse politics, and a discourse that seemed intent on devouring itself in the messiest way possible. But, but: there was some really great writing about sports, which doesn't quite balance things out, but does at least help. The Vice Sports staff went over our favorite pieces of the year and agreed on the five opening paragraphs that moved us most this year—paragraphs that challenged us, inspired us, reminded us that this art form is alive and well, and most importantly kept us reading. These are those paragraphs, in no particular order.

The city is a heart, and if you listen close, you can hear it beating, the traffic surging through the capillaries, the arteries forever bringing us back in, the city's ceaseless mechanism throwing us back out and through it all again. Kirk Hinrich, now and forever lifeblood in motion, understands this better than anyone. The game casts him away, with its cruel and casual logic, and then it brings him back. He pumps through the system, carrying what he carries, and he returns. He returns, here, to his favorite booth at the Cheesecake Factory on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue. The menu is huge and sticky. Kirk Hinrich looks at it and doesn't look up. "What are you going to get," he asks, as if anyone cycling through this system, at the mercy of this heart, ever knows that answer. — Kirk Hinrich, Closer To The Heart

***

"It's just a book," Kirk Cousins says, lowering his worn copy of The Alchemist so that his eyes can meet yours—serious eyes, these are, scanning always and seeing and then seeing more, then doing it again. "But then it's not." To understand the book is to understand what makes Kirk Cousins who he is, and to understand Kirk Cousins is to understand a great deal more than just Kirk Cousins. It is to know a hard job, and the hard things that job requires. It is to know the iron core at the center of a competitor. But there is no way to know it without knowing about the mystic, the storyteller, the alchemist behind The Alchemist. To know Kirk Cousins, we must go back to Rio de Janeiro, to the night of August 24, 1947, to the moment that Paulo Coelho entered the world, crying tears that were wiser than anyone in the room knew. At the time, they all just thought he was a baby. — The Education Of Kirk Cousins

***

The land is flat and rich and cruel, here, the land is old. The land remembers a great many things, has given up everything but the dead over the humid centuries it has spent working for the people that tried to tame Forrest and Lamar Counties. The honeysuckle evening, the Technicolor green of the world after rain, the bathwater closeness of the South Mississippi days, the people who are as sweet as the tea, strong and quiet or gunpowder-voluble—all this is in uneasy and constant synchronicity with the land itself, with the soil that is black in your hands, thick and almost oily. It sprawls into the swamps, it embraces the live oaks, and it stretches generously to two green horizons on either side of the road that leads to Jonathan Papelbon's ranch. — The Long Green Way Home

***

The Super Bowl forever lies on the other side of an invisible bridge to nowhere, at the end of a long and uneven highway. All who would travel this rough road, underlit and unsigned and strewn with the wreckage of past voyagers, must remember and beware—there are trolls under the bridge to Super Bowl City. Will Brock Osweiler remember? — Brock Osweiler On The Road

***

The big man is singing the rapid-fire lyrics in a basso profundo imitation of Robin Williams. "You heard this one?" Dwight Howard is shouting over the noise, the speakers in his Denali wobbling with noise, almost indistinct. You have heard it. It's a classic, a song you heard in your own youth, if never quite as loud as you are hearing it now, as Dwight Howard pilots his Denali, which is hulking and right-angled and blood red and vibrating with the din from within, to the veterinarian. In the backseat, loose, Howard's pet snake—his name is The Bible, after what Howard calls "absolutely the best book ever"—is writhing and rolling, not at all in time with the song. Howard explained earlier, over the phone, that The Bible has "a little stomachache" after eating a couple pairs of Howard's dri-fit workout clothes.

"You know this song?" Howard asks again and you tell him yes, that you saw Aladdin with your parents when you were a kid. Which triggers something in the big man, whose face grows serious. "A lot of the kids on the team, the young kids, they don't know Aladdin, they never heard of it. So I think for me, now, as a veteran and a leader, it's my job to introduce them." He lets it go, but you can already see it: these Rockets rookies, the ones just getting to know both their team's resurgent center and Aladdin—they've never had a friend like Dwight Howard. — Dwight Howard's Graduation Day