On Saturday night, I attended a wedding between two good friends of mine. It was a nice ceremony and I cut a rug for the majority of the time. I ran into my friend Shawn and immediately said, “Yeah, I’m gonna miss the [Eagles] game Sunday because I have work all day.” His response, “Dude me too.” Then both of our minds clicked and we said at the same time, “We should just record the game and watch it later.” We devised an entire plan. With a time window from 9-11 pm I would patiently wait for Shawn to walk into my house and tell me he’s done work. We would then wait for our friend, Steve (who also had work), to call us so we could all watch the game. My phone and laptop would be off all day and I wouldn’t turn it on until the next day. To help reinforce our plan I set up signs at work outside of my area that read in bold blue ink, “NO Talk About the Eagles Game” “I DVR-d It.” I didn’t talk to my boy BC because we argue football every time we see each other and I couldn’t risk it. (He yelled to me that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl and Tony Romo would win the MVP. I honestly was left speechless because it was so irrational my brain couldn’t grasp it, I had to sit down.) I put my Ipod on shuffle and trudged through my nine hour shift.
When I left at 9:00 I came home and immediately yelled as quickly as I could, “Don’t tell me anything about the game. I know nothing, justleavemealoneanddon’ttellmeanything!” Shawn arrived around 9:30 and I said was to meet him in 10 minutes at his house. The plan became such a mission that we didn’t watch the Phillies because they might reveal the score of the Eagles game which happened a few hours earlier. I didn’t put on my Michael Vick jersey because we were getting food and I didn’t want someone saying, “So how about that game today?” To say we were paranoid, determined, anxious, and excited would all be appropriate and it made me think, “Is there anything else that evokes this much emotion?”
Look at it this way. Does anyone record the State of the Union address or America’s Got Talent or American Idol or any other event with that much vigor and determination to have it viewed without any biased or prior knowledge? I tried making a list or at least an idea on why sports are such an integral part of our lives and why we go to the ends of the Earth or to the brink of insanity to keep the purity of something that only last a few hours.
It is a representation of your region- If you think about it; it’s the least logical, but strongest reason for why sports are so important to us. Does the fact that Milwaukee has a good baseball team make it a good city? No, I visited that city in August and it was fun, if you enjoy empty streets by 11 and empty bars that have drunken Brewers fans talking about how much better Yovani Gallardo is than Roy Halladay (it really was fun though). But sports fans don’t take it that way. If your team is bad, then you have a self-conscious perception of yourself that the entire world judges you as a part of that team. If the Phillies blow it against the St. Louis Cardinals then people nationally will call people from Philadelphia “choke artists” because sports are the microscope that American cities are looked through. It makes us invested in the game because if the team is the best, then the CITY is the best. Do you know anything about people from Seattle? No, but you know that the Seahawks stink so why would visiting Seattle be on your list of “West Coast Cities I’d Like to Visit?” It’s the reason that BOSTON got its own issue of ESPN the Magazine; not just the Patriots or Celtics or Bruins or Red Sox.
It’s a loooooooong season- Every sports season has a range of about four months. Exposure to something over four months a year eventually leads to a liking if not a respect for whatever the viewer is seeing. For example, I listened to “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” for about nine months every morning from 10-12. I hated Colin Cowherd. I couldn’t stand him. From his stupid rant on John Wall (who he called J-Wow) to his whiny and high pitched voice I couldn’t understand why he had a radio show. But hearing him every day I started to calm down and out of sheer saturation and exposure he started to grow on me. I started to strive away from what I didn’t like and began to focus on what I DID like. It took a long time, but I have respect for Cowherd and I don’t think he’s that bad. He actually makes some good points and his analogies are creative and solid. He’s educated and keen to what goes on around the world. It’s the same with sports franchises. The Phillies play from April-October which is more than enough time to “expose” a non-fan to the sport, to the players, to the front-office, and to the fans. For example, the Four Aces being on the Phillies gave the team so much publicity that people now enter their own little “Four Aces Cliques” based off which one of the four they like they most. The long season allows for the ability of gradual exposure making it simpler to ease into fandom instead of it being thrust down your throat.
Winning is an addicting feeling- I grew up in a dismal time in Philadelphia sports. The Sixers stunk (except 2001), the Eagles stunk (up until 1999 when the Andy Reid era started), and the Phillies stunk (up until 2007). The Flyers were good but in the hierarchy of the Philadelphia sports market they’re fourth by a large margin. Regardless, up until about 10 years ago, all Philly knew was losing. All my generation knew was bad team after bad team after bad team. But Philly’s new generation got its first taste of winning in 2001 when Allen Iverson led the Sixers to the Finals. Dubbed the worst Finals team in NBA history, Iverson scored 30 of his game-high 48 in the first half and the Sixers stole game one from the Lakers. Although the Sixers lost the series 4-1 (it was the only game the Lakers lost in the playoffs that year), Philadelphia was hooked on a drug called Winning. And around the same time the Eagles became contenders with the Phillies following suit. Soon enough, Philadelphia was a winning sports town.
But why is it so addicting? Because it’s so simple. In a world where nothing is clear-cut or simplistic, sports are. You either win or you lose. That’s it. There is no “well we lost out on our mutual fund, but our Sirius satellite stocks are doing well!” You either won 28-27, get to celebrate with a parade, or you lost 28-27 and you get to think about what could’ve been for the next six months. Winning equates to accomplishment and succeeding at a task is a coveted emotion.
It’s our childhoods- Every kid grew up playing a sport. Whether it was baseball, basketball, football, hockey, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, or track and field, we all personally had a stake in a sport. The knowledge of the game and thrill of the competition stays with us for our entire lives. Turn on sports talk radio and listen to how many callers say, “I used to play college baseball” or “I’ve coached football for years.” It represents the best times of our childhoods. It represents a time of purity when all you had to look forward to on Fridays and Saturdays was your next football or baseball game. They were games that could be played with minimum resources. All that’s needed to play basketball is a ball and a net, football needs a ball, baseball needs a bat, a ball, and a glove. All of which could be found for more than affordable prices. Today, kids spend the majority of their time playing video games which cost 300$ for the system alone. And unless they create some professional video game league, they’ll miss out on an important aspect of being kids; and that’s going outside and playing.
It’s about companionship- Some of the longest stints of my social life come during a sporting event. I’ll go the bar during playoff basketball or a UFC title fight more often than I do just to get some drinks. It’s a guaranteed conversation topic and it allows for people to gather for a single reason. Without sports the bar would be a metaphorical wasteland of socialite drifters trying to find common ground with other socialite drifters that they’ve never met nor are they likely to ever see again. With sports it creates an identity and sense of being a part of something. Regular people now become fans and now have a common ground to start conversations. “Hey my name is John,” becomes “So what do the Phillies do in the bottom of the inning here? Do you keep Halladay in?” I’ll be at a bar sitting next to a stranger. Now on a regular night I wouldn’t really say anything to the stranger because there’s nothing to say. But if I look up at the screen and Vick throws a dart to Desean Jackson I can look at him and say, “Did you ever think Michael Vick would be able to throw a pass like that?” And then take off from there. It’s the reason that at parties, when all the guys meet in the corner, they don’t talk about the drapes that they just bought, but did Halladay pick up his 20th win or did the Eagles beat the Cowboys. Regardless if the person is wearing a rival team’s jersey, a little hazing and heated conversation makes for a time that you can’t achieve if you’re talking about Democrats and Republicans.
After we got food and arrived at Shawn’s house it was 11:00. I thought to myself, “I’m about 15 minutes away from seeing this game.” At the same time, Shawn’s little brother, Mikey, walked past us. Shawn and I both got out and yelled, “Don’t say anything, DON’T SAY ANYTHING!” He said, “Dude…the Eagles are terrible.” My world crashed. He later told us that he thought we didn’t want to talk about it because they lost to the 49ers. It was eleven hours and a great amount of energy for nothing. I turned on my phone and saw that the Eagles blew a 20-3 lead and lost 24-23.