Sports is not real life.
Or rather, watching sports and rooting for your favorite team and linking your happiness or sadness to the outcome of a game that you are just a spectator to is not “real life”. Win or lose, you’ll still get up in the morning, get dressed, go into work, and deal with things that would be happening if that game never took place. If your team celebrates a championship or laments a failed playoff run, you will not be shaking champagne with them or patting anyone on the back in consolation in the locker room.
I’ve known this since I was young, and I am even more acutely aware of it now that I’m older.
So why do I still take sports so seriously? Why do I get so elated when my teams win, and descend into depression when they lose? Why did I get so upset a couple of weeks ago when the Red Sox lost to the Indians in the playoffs?
I’m sure it is tied into simple Freudian-type analysis. For most of us, our lives are devoid of the opportunity of glory of the larger than life variety. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While rarely epic, we still have the opportunity on a daily basis to make our significant others, family members, friends, co-workers, or even strangers happy. We should always have that as a goal, and when it happens should celebrate it as a great day. I surely do.
Glory should never be a pre-requisite of satisfaction, and such a concept is so far removed from our everyday lives we don’t even consciously seek it. But the Epic Moment, the (as Lloyd Dobbler once said), “Dare-to-be-Great-Situation”, is something we still crave on a deeper atavistic level.
If you’re lucky, you might get one in your life. Or if you’re blessed by the gods of chance, maybe two or three. But most of us will never experience something that fits the “according to Hoyle” definition of a Heroic Moment.
So for me, and millions of others whether they realize it or not, that is an allure of sports…the chance to witness and vicariously have a “Dare-to-be-Great” situation where you have ultimate victory. And “sports” is actually not the apt word for this. I can watch Tiger Woods playing golf and root for him, but at the end of the day I don’t really care if he wins or loses. The New England Revolution is the pro soccer team of the area where I come from, and while I hope they do well I have never followed them. Rooting for Team USA during the Olympics is fun and there’s national pride to give a tendril of emotional attachment, but those games/matches will never have the same meaning as ones by the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics.
For the wins or the magic moments of a sporting game to mean anything to me, there must be a deep emotional attachment to the team and to the players.
This feeling cannot be faked. It cannot be manufactured after following a team for a few games or even a few seasons. You earn emotional attachment by investing your heart and soul into years and decades of following and rooting for the success of a team in which you have zero control over.
And if you’re lucky, well actually let’s just say “really f’n lucky”, you’ll get to see your team win a World Series, an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup, or a Superbowl. And if you are “off-the-charts-stupid-lucky”, there will be amazing moments during that championship run that bring your team back from sure defeat. Walk-off homeruns, epic 4th quarter comebacks, three goal deficits erased against your rival, and maybe even an interception on the goal-line to get your team the Lombardi Trophy.
I’ve got to witness all of that and more in the last 15 years, and I am extremely grateful for this amazing luck. Four Superbowl victories (the last one I witnessed in person), three World Series titles, one Stanley Cup, and one NBA Finals victory. There has been Tom Brady and Big Papi and Paul Pierce and Zdeno Chara and a host of other legendary Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins that I have been lucky enough to have on my side.
As we head into the World Series, I wish the fans of both the Cubs and the Indians the best of luck. Chicago hasn’t even been to the Series since 1945, and it’s 108 years since they won it all! Cleveland made it to Game 7 of the Championship in 1997 (their last appearance), only to lose in the 9th inning to a then five-year-old franchise when they could not close it out. Their last title was 68 years ago!
I’ve been to Wrigley Field and still have that Cubs fishing hat I got there decades ago. I’ll be rooting for them, but at the end of the day with no true emotional attachment I am hoping for a competitive and fun World Series. But no matter what happens it’s nice to know that one team will make a long-suffering fan base collectively experience that Dare-to-be-Great-Situation, that ultimate feeling of victory.