We’ve reached the time of year when, arguably, interest in sports moves toward its apex.
Football percolates with college bowl games and the National Football League’s playoffs. While the NBA is in its smear of seemingly redundant midseason games, college basketball moves into conference play, complete with rivalry matchups that fuel fans’ fires. And speaking of fires, baseball’s “hot stove league” is active, with plenty of talk and even some action on player trades and signings. Hockey remains an afterthought, but in just about a month we’ll be treated to the Olympics, and many of us will gather in front of the television – or the tablet or smart phone – and become instant experts in luge, ice dancing and curling.
I’ve been an ardent sports fanatic for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the Chicago media market, I was fed a heavy dose of Bears and Bulls, a smattering of White Sox and Blackhawks and an intolerable amount of that most bitter pill, the Cubs (which, unlike others in my family, I refused to swallow). My allegiance to my teams has remained as I moved to various communities across the country, each with their own rooting interests.
Recently, a former co-worker who now is a prolific blogger posted comments about sports fandom and how he “learned long ago to put this stuff in perspective.”
Pat Cunningham, who I worked with in Rockford, Ill., admitted that he cursed at the TV last weekend when the Bears’ defense – one of the most pathetic squads in the team’s history – botched a fourth down play and allowed rival Green Bay to score a touchdown that put the game out of reach and sent the Packers to the playoffs. But Pat’s emotions didn’t carry forward.
“I didn’t dwell on the matter for very long,” he wrote. “Nor did I become the least bit depressed or anything like that.”
Pat’s sports passion was drained when the Cubs crashed and burned in the 1984 playoffs. The next morning, he decided “that it was silly to invest so much emotion in a mere game in which I had no financial stake or any other form of ‘skin’ (as it were).”
On one level, I admire Pat for his ability to be dispassionate about sports – especially higher stakes games. I’ll be honest, I’m a screen barker. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I still find myself ridiculously “coaching up” my team or berating game officials through the TV screen. It’s madness, but it’s harmless and I’m aware of how dopey I sound.
But being a fan is a bond that can carry families and friends through good times and bad. I’d venture a guess that Sunday suppers were more pleasant for many families the past few months thanks in large part to the season-long success of the Kansas City Chiefs. Add in the Mizzou football team’s stellar run through the Southeastern Conference and you’ve got plenty of happy talk for the dinner table.
As my father and I grew apart over the years, one bond that remained to the end was our rooting interest in the Indiana University men’s basketball team. As we disagreed about politics and national news issues, we could always talk about the current IU players, memories of great games and our hopes for the program’s future. Some may dismiss that, but it was meaningful for both of us.
Eventually, I’ll wise up and stop yelling through the TV, but my rooting interests won’t ever erode. My fandom is part of me, it is part of what defines me. And I’m fairly certain that my son, Chaz, and I will always be able to hash out the Bears’ strengths and weaknesses. That said, I completely agree with the contention that too much attention and emphasis is placed on sports in the United States. The adage, “All things in moderation,” is always good advice. If you need proof of that, the film “Big Fan,” a dark look at a New York Giant supporter, is worth a viewing.
With the tapping of a few keys, Pat dismissed fans’ fervor, writing, “Sports are only games.” For many, that is true. But games and matches offer opportunities for socialization, camaraderie and community pride. The bonds that fans create are often unbreakable. Sometimes, making it more than a game is a good thing.