June 8, 2008

Why We're Sports Fans (J-Red)

I can't boil it down to one thing, so I've prepared a short list.

1) Equalization of Towns/Schools/Countries

One reason I love sports is that they tend to normalize the differences between cities, countries or schools. This past week was a perfect example. Detroit is going through horrible economic times, with the already struggling auto industry hit even harder by the rising gas prices that the U.S. automakers never seem prepared to accomodate. The other economic factors that are impacting this country are felt there as well, on top of their local concerns. But Detroit won the Stanley Cup. At least in the world of hockey, Detroit is the greatest city on the continent. This great equalizing effect can work for cities, countries, and universities. As a Maryland alumni, I'm never going to try to argue that we're a better school, overall, than Georgetown or Duke. However, on the basketball court (in years past) or playing fields, we can best them. For that period of time, we can claim superiority in a meaningful way.

Plus, Jeremy can knock Baltimore all he wants, but we're still going to destroy the lowly Redskins this season. Also, he's right that Camden Yards is 3,000 fans a game behind the brand spanking new Nationals Park, but at least those fans have gotten to see a decent team.

2) Seeing History by Appointment

Brien cited this reason in his post, but I think I have a slightly different take on it. It's rare in life to have history make an appointment. The wait for Barack Obama to clinch the nomination seemed interminable, and when it finally happened it was more a relief than a celebration. In sports, though, major moments in history often do schedule themselves. On Saturday, June 7, the Belmont Stakes were held. I knew that I could tune in at precisely 6:25 p.m. and possibly see history made. Super Bowl XLII kicked off right on time at 6:17 p.m. on Sunday, February 2 earlier this year with the New England Patriots ready to go 19-0. Sure, both of those things failed to happen, but that brings me to my next point.

blahblablahblah There are multiple meanings to "any given Sunday"

3) Seeing History on a Random Tuesday

Seeing history by appointment is wonderful because the drama and excitement and conversation and analysis build and build before the appointment arrives. However, the exact opposite can be even more fulfilling for me. There are 2430 regular season baseball games played throughout the season, and in any one of those games you might see a perfect game, the cycle, or any number of literally hundreds of records broken. Even when a game between two teams you care nothing about seems out of hand, there's always that ember burning in the back of your mind. "If they force a fumble and run it back, get the two, get the onsides kick and connect on the Hail Mary, that would be the most amazing comeback I've ever seen." 99.9% of the time it doesn't happen, but that just makes the one time in a thousand seem so sweet and memorable....or painful, disgusting and raw.

And, it doesn't have to be history. It just has to be unexpected or rare or great or just plain weird. No matter how many games you attend, you're always going to remember the walk-off homers, the touchdowns as time expires, the goals in overtime or the buzzer-beating shots. You're also going to remember the bird Randy Johnson exploded, the wrong-way touchdown and the field goal that doinked off the goalpost support and came back through. You can never know what is going to happen when any game tips off, but it just might be a lasting memory.

4) Embracing Failure

I love that in this country especially we hold our athletes to standards to which we would never hold anyone else. The second Big Brown pulled up on the homestretch of the Belmont, he went from one of the greatest horses ever to a failure. A complete, utter failure. That $50M stud contract for Big Brown went from a bargain to the biggest swindle in the history of mankind in the matter of minutes. The New England Patriots went from greatest team ever to 5th on some lists shortly after David Tyree caught a desperation pass off his helmet. Hit safely in 48 straight games? Failure. Bat .396? Failure. Win Wimbledon, the Australian and the U.S. Opens, but lose the French? Failure. I love that we embrace this hypocrisy on the weekends, immediately before going back to work and doing a good job about half the time.

Need proof we embrace failure in sports, but not in real life? Next time you see a hot chick in a Chicago Cubs baby tee, try to pick her up by telling her you're a lovable loser. Let me know how that goes.

blahblahblahblahblahblahblah Excuse found.

blahblablahblahblahhblah Next stop: glue factory

5) The Rules, Trivia and Minutiae
I'm a lawyer, and part of why I went to law school instead of medical school is that I have a love for rules. I'm not embarrassed to say that football is my favorite sport because I find the rules the most intellectually challenging. There are abstract principles like infinite planes, forward momentum, impetus and intent. In other sports, especially baseball, the rules can be more quirky than complex. A ball hit inches to the left of a yellow line can be the difference between World Series MVP and goat thrown out at second. Trivia is of course wonderful as well, as it provides an alpha-male competition off the field. You can prove you are the greater fan by having a better recollection of the battle at third base in 1988 between Orioles Leo Gomez and Craig Worthington, or of Charlie Hayes catching a pop-up in foul territory to secure the 1996 World Series comeback for the Yankees.

6) Lose Yourself

With apologies to my family and past and present girlfriends, sports catch me off guard often with how deep they can affect me emotionally. I think the best example is probably an unexpected one. It doesn't come from the Ravens' Super Bowl win or the Terps' National Championship run.

In Week 2 of the 2000 NFL season, the Ravens hosted Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tony Banks was behind center for the Ravens, having beaten out Trent Dilfer for the starting job. The fans were still luke-warmly behind Tony, as we knew exactly what Dilfer was.

Jimmy Smith always owned us, along with Mark Brunell and Keenan McCardell. They always snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. This day seemed no different, as the Jags built a 23-7 halftime lead on two long TDs to Jimmy Smith. The Ravens battled back, finally taking a touchdown lead with under 7:00 to play in the fourth quarter. The Jags did what they always seemed to do, scoring ten points by just after the two-minute warning, forcing the Ravens to ask Tony freaking Banks for a 5th TD pass. He threaded a beautiful floater above the linebacker and in front of the safety to Shannon Sharpe, giving the Ravens the lead for good with 41 seemingly-interminable seconds left. They won by the final score of 39-36.

Why was this game memorable? It was the day the Ravens were finally truly part of Baltimore. They were our team as soon as they arrived, but they were not emotionally our team. That stadium, which was brand new and structurally advanced, literally bounced the entire second half. The crowd was unanimously on its feet for more than an hour, something unheard of in almost all professional sports venues. Really, I wasn't even ashamed of wearing purple in public any more.

Most surprisingly, even to me, I cried in the car on the way home. Something connected after that game that linked me to the team and the team to the new stadium and the city. I was convinced that the team was special and that we were going to do something important that year. By February, I was right and Baltimore had its first world champion since the 1983 Orioles.

blahblahblah Rot in hell, Richie Garcia. (I can't blame Jeffrey Maier)

7) The What-If Game

And to tie this whole thing together, recall that the 2000 Ravens allowed an NFL-record low 165 points that season, an average of 10.3 a game. Take out that Week 2 game, and they allowed an average of only 8.6 points a game. Then again, take out that Week 2 game and they probably don't win the Super Bowl.
East Coast Bias
The What-If Game is one of my favorite aspects of sports, because it doesn't matter. Any topic is infinitely debatable because it can never happen. Likewise, talking about a game before it happens is meaningless because no one is going to hold you to it afterwards. You can exaggerate, lie, bullshit, boast and do anything you want that would normally make you an insufferable asshole, and all you have to do to erase it is congratulate the other person after the game if you lose, and not rub it in too much if you win. It's another great parallel universe that we get to inhabit solely through sports. East Coast Bias

8) Cal Ripken, Jr.
Fuck the Nats
Because that's what the number eight will always mean to me.

1 Responses:

Nic said...

Just thought I'd mention that this was well written.

Summer is here and there's never been a better time to try your hand at online sports betting. Place your bets on your favorite horse with horse racing or even try your luck with your favorite football team. Enjoying sport is just a click away!