Wild Thing

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SANDCAST Mike Dodd 12/4/2019-Mike dodd
Tim Hovland (left) with partner Mike Dodd.

This editorial piece from the May 1995 issue of Volleyball contemplates the role Tim Hovland played in the popularity of beach volleyball at the time. The fiery Hovland made every event entertaining, and former VBM editor Don Patterson wondered what would happen to the game when he retired. Twenty years later, who serves as beach volleyball’s entertainer, or is that role still waiting to be filled?

Tim Hovland once described himself as nuts. I havent found too many people who would dispute that. Were talking about a guy who once hung upside down by his feet from the upper deck of a stadium railing at a Rolling Stones concert, a guy who nearly ripped Sinjin Smith’s finger off by wrapping a windshield wiper around it, and a guy whose most serious injury in recent years came when he stepped on a light fixture and tore his foot open singing Wild Thing at a post-tournament party.

Hov has that rare knack for entertaining that puts him in the same company as Charles Barkley, John McEnroe, and Deion Sanders. At times, they can all be raucous and obnoxious. But they have a flair and fire that keep you tuned in.

Hov turned 36 in February. The first of his 60 tournament victories came back in 1979 when he won in Hawaii with Karch Kiraly. You hate to say itand you probably wouldnt want to to his facebut his best years are in the past. He isnt about to concede anything, of course. Hell tell you that there’s no such thing as age in his life, that he hung in just fine last year with a 14th ranking, and that hell still be in the mix this season. But the bottom line is that he’s approaching the end of the ride, and the sport is going to need a new loudspeaker to continue the tradition.

You know what? It’s tough to play and talk at the same time, Hov said one afternoon over the phone from his home in Playa del Rey. I mean, these guys are having enough trouble just playing, let alone talking. I dont think they can really handle the stresses of the job.

Considering beach volleyball is still seeking respect and recognition among mainstream sports fans, replacing Hov is more than a frivolous concern. The eccentricity, star appeal, and unpredictability that a Tim Hovland brings go a long way toward selling tickets and creating media attention. You watch the 49ers, chances are you either want to see Deion pick one off, run into the end zone, and do his dance, or you want someone to knock the stuffing out of him so he cant do it. You love him, or you love to hate him.

Any purist will tell you that there’s nothing better than watching Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes because it’s the highest level of volleyball. But how many sports fanstake your neighbor, for exampleknow enough about the game to distinguish between the No. 1 team and the No. 10 team while theyre flipping back and forth between the Manhattan Open and the hydroplane thunderboat regatta?

So why do we need the guy next door? Simple. If he likes it, maybe hell talk about it with the guy two doors down. And the more the word spreads, the more newspapers will cover it and TV stations will show it and radio sports shows will analyze it. And the more it grows, the more opportunities fans will have to see it and players will have to make a living at it. Just ask a low-ranked AVP playerthe guy sleeping on hotel room floors and tending barhow important it is for the prize money to continue jumping upward.

Which brings us back to Hov. Ill guarantee you if anybody’s down at the beach, theyre going to come to my court, he will tell you. You come to my court, youre going to see something. You may not like it, but youre going to see something one way or another.

Im the first to admit I used to get a charge out of seeing McEnroe’s tennis tantrums on the late news. First the sportscasters would show the clip of him knocking cups of water off a court-side table with his racket, then theyd tell you in an oh-by-the-way tone that Ivan Lendl had won the tournament.

Of course, Mac won plenty of tournaments himself. And so has Hovland. It doesnt work if you cant back it up.

For the game’s sake, I hope Hov has enough left in him to back it up for a couple more years. At least until another Wild Thing comes along and grabs the baton.

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