DENIAL. No way did I just suffer through the worst football game in the history of ever, only to watch #18 throw across his body, trying to thread a ball to Stokley who was wearing Corey Graham as a poncho, to all but ensure our defeat in double overtime. We were 13 – 3, on an 11-game winning streak, and we lose in the fist round to a team led by “Stabbin’ Ray” and the suddenly “elite” unibrow.
There is no God.
“Hello, my name is Katie, and I am a sports fan.”
Fan stems from the word fanatic, originating from the Latin: “fanaticus,” meaning “mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god.” Or if you prefer the 16th Century definition: “an insane person.” One must only envision a screaming, foam finger-waving adult male, shirtless in subfreezing weather and wearing a slice of cheese for a hat, to be confident that little has been lost in translation over the past 750 years.
Just because I don’t expose my midriff, risking hypothermia in the stands, does not mean that I am any less “insane.” I have a doctorate in clinical psychology for Christ’s sake, yet I continually put my emotional well being in the hands of other people. Not only has it proven unwise for a woman to put herself – literally or figuratively – in the hands of an NFL player, it is completely irrational. Why should I care more about the outcome of an event over which I have no control than the actual participants who receive paychecks?
So instead of joining the rest of the world in bracing for the mind-numbing marathon coverage of the “Insufferable Harbaugh Showdown,” I am still struggling through the 5 stages of grief over a game that occurred more than a week ago.
ANGER: John Fox needs to be fired. What kind of walking brainstem runs out the clock with 31 seconds left, two time-outs, and a Hall-of-Fame QB that only needed to get into field goal range? I’ve not been more infuriated about someone “taking a knee,” since my husband went down during the delivery of our first-born. And the officiating? A drunk-tank full of syphilitic imbeciles would’ve been more competent. Don’t even get me started on the secondary. I mean come on Rahim, my one-year-old knows that under no circumstance do you let that receiver behind you (especially with Lennay Kekua playing corner), and my one-year-old still shits his pants – privately, no less, rather than on national television.
Defending the modern day fan is not an easy task. Horrific acts of crowd violence have been well documented over the past couple of years. But as with any group, a few bad apples can rot the collective impression. There is a pure goodness to fandom as well, one that is often overlooked when scanning stadiums of intoxicated rubes, adorned in war paint and waving signs they made after stealing their child’s fruit-scented markers.
BARGAINING. If only Del Rio hadn’t gotten stuck in the nacho line during half time. Maybe he would’ve made some second half adjustments when it was clear that Von and Doom had already left for Honolulu. At least Champ stayed behind…5-10 steps behind to be precise. If only we had called a pass play on 3rd and 7 at the end of the 4th quarter. Our tight ends have been open in the flat ALL YEAR LONG. At the very least line them up in formation to threaten pass and keep the defense honest. If only Judas Elway hadn’t treated the “chosen one” so poorly last year. What Would Tebow Do? How about unleash some karmic retribution on our heathen souls.
One of the great aspects of being a fan is that we get to enjoy an experience that is not completely scripted. (NBA fans aside, of course). Our sitcoms, our Hollywood endings, our daily 9-5, all run a very predictable course. Sports not only provide a much needed diversion from work, relationships, the fiscal cliff, but one that we can’t predict at every turn like some Law and Order SVU episode. (Spoiler: the once “marginally famous, now completely obscure” guest star that you spend the entire episode racking your brain to identify, until you give up and search imdb.com – is always the killer. That means you, Eric Roberts).
In addition, it’s an experience that has the possibility of engendering genuine joy. When my husband and I took our 4-year-old to Disney last year, we were struck by her perpetual state of unadulterated happiness. I remember him saying there was nothing I could tell him that would generate such bliss.
“But babe, what if I gave you permission to have a 3-way with Olivia Wilde and Penelope Cruz?”
His response: “What’s the catch?”
That’s what adults do; we reflexively ruin any potentially joyous experience with skepticism. We always assume things are “too good to be true.”
But with sports, we let our guard down, we allow ourselves to get caught up in celebrating the moment. The excitement of watching a kickoff being returned for a touchdown is real and it’s spontaneous, and unless we reflexively search for a yellow flag, we don’t ruin it with adult suspicion.
And it’s happiness that we get to share with others. Collective delight. Like theoretically being 9 months pregnant, at Mile High Stadium, popping and locking to House of Pain with two dudes dressed as “Dumb and Dumber” in the seats next to you, after Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds, giving us new life. Come on, does it really get much better than that?
Besides, when else do we catch the average male being affectionate with one another? You’re not going to see many bro hugs, high fives, or chest bumps when the McRib makes its annual cameo.
And if you still think that such shared joy is not powerful, just visit a nursing home on any given Sunday afternoon in Denver. I used to hate seeing my grandma in that dreadful reminder of how twisted the circle of life really is. But if I went on a Sunday, I saw a group of people who normally loathed facing a new day, get dressed up in their orange and blue best and actually congregate without bitterness. My grandma loved the Broncos, and up until her last days, found sincere happiness following them (and this was during the McDaniels’ era, which proves how delusional a loyal fan can be).
DEPRESSION. You know you’re depressed when you can’t find joy in watching Mr. Bundchen and coach Belicheat go down, “slide-kicking” and scowling their way to defeat. Instead of celebrating the demise of the bizarrely tailored hoodie, I am left paralyzed by the stabbing pain of regret – “we should’ve beaten the team that is now in the Super Bowl.”
UGH, I said STABBING! And once again I’m reminded of the Ravens, and that soul-crushing game. <Side note: In January 2000, after Raven’s middle linebacker Ray Lewis fled the scene of a double homicide, police reports claim he ditched his blood-drenched “white suit.” Stabbing deaths aside, he should have gone to prison for wearing a white suit. Asshole.>
Of course there’s the flip side to the “highs” of sports and that’s the pain, which accompanies a loss. I will argue that as much as it hurts, it’s mitigated by the collective experience of fandom. As a fan you have an instant support group, a gaggle of like-minded souls, with whom you can vent because they know exactly how you feel.
Furthermore, sports create a unique Petri dish that allows one to feel sadness without any real implications. No one has died or gotten sick. It’s grief that involves no true loss. It’s a way to “virtually” experience stress and depression that will go away sooner rather than later.
Being a fan also brings you closer to people whom you may never have encountered otherwise (literally, if you’ve ever had “the pleasure” of watching a game on the bleacher benches at Lambeau). It provides common ground across geographical and cultural backgrounds, socio-economic status, gender, age, intellect, musical preference, and political and religious affiliation.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly divided, sports are a unifying force.
Your kicker missed a potential game winning field goal? It’s an instant conversation starter at the least, and often a genuine way to bond with someone with whom you might not share much else. Whether I’m hanging out with Joey and his crew who have lightening bolts tattooed on their scalp, in Chargers Alley while chowing down on brats, or hanging out with a friend of a friend of a friend in a luxury box at Mile High that’s stocked with botoxed faces eating sushi, I’m sharing that experience with others.
Most importantly, many of us initially became fans because it was a way to be close to someone in our immediate world. A parent, a best friend, an older sibling we worshipped. Picking a team is often determined by bloodline not geography.
For me it was my Dad.
Sharing his love for our various sports teams meant sharing his love. And his time. I spent my childhood counting down the minutes until Sunday afternoon because Sundays guaranteed four uninterrupted hours with my father. He was not home much when we were growing up. He had more important things to do – like save people’s lives. I understood that, as much as a 6-year-old kid can. Judging Barbie beauty contests cannot compete with a coronary artery bypass graft. But that didn’t mean I ever stopped trying.
Watching or talking about sports was an instant way to connect with him, something that otherwise wasn’t going to happen very frequently.
To this day, I do not regret memorizing the 1978 Broncos roster instead of the US capital list, despite failing Mr. Richardson’s social studies quiz (Jefferson City – really MO?). That’s because, even at a young age, I understood that I had learned something far more valuable: information that might impress my old man.
My fondest memories as a child were going to games with him. It didn’t matter that it was in subArctic temperatures, surrounded by shirtless, screaming, finger foam waving lunatics – because I got to sit next to my Dad – and maybe even coax out a snuggle during a mid-December game.
I would never be able to follow in his All-American cleats. Even though I inherited his athleticism, I was after all, a girl. Girl sports are cute and all, but at the end of the day, they’re girl sports.
But if I followed sports, and shared his euphoria and despair over his beloved teams, I could share a part of him.
And that, my friends, is why being a fan matters.
ACCEPTANCE. Yeah right…