It’s depressing to write this, but I will turn 30 later this year.
You would think at this point in my life, I’d be past the all the irrational behavior associated with one of my sports teams losing. You would think I’d leave behind the rage, the despondent face, and the shutdown of all normal neuron activity. You would think I could count to ten, take a deep breath, or at the very least keep some perspective. You’d be wrong.
Three full decades into life and I can’t keep myself from reverting back to child-like behavior when I’m met with massive sports disappointment.
The other night my hockey team, the Calgary Flames, was officially eliminated from playoff contention. As I sat there watching the game online, I began muttering to myself incessantly. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I was alone, because my soliloquies weren’t exactly meant for the ears of children. I know that’s awful. I know it is, but it was like a reflex. As the night went on, and it became increasingly clear that my team would be making tee times, my anger turned to sadness. I took off my t-shirt with the team insignia emblazoned across the chest and folded it neatly while whispering, “So close. I just want one more game.” When times are desperate I’ve also been known to don a hard hat with my team’s logo and the inscription: Hardest Working Fan. (There’s nothing more mature than a grown man sitting alone, wearing a hard hat, wallowing in self-pity). I slid the hard hat back onto a shelf, and then proceeded to check the standings over and over and over again. I stared at the point totals like a mathematical equation I just couldn’t solve. I let out a long sigh, and then said, “Thanks for a good run boys.” I said that out loud as if I was in their locker room expecting one of the players to embrace me. In the moment, none of this lunacy seemed odd or weird or the least bit desperate. But it is! I know it, and I still can’t stop it!
Of course I had my share of temper tantrums as a kid. On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, Leon Lett decided to ruin my life by fumbling a ball in the snow to set up a Dolphin’s game winning field goal. With my Cowboys defeated, I was inconsolable. I ran to my room, sobbing, and refused to come out for hours. I wasn’t just crying, I was wailing. I remember shaking and seething in my bed just as vividly as I remember the look on my parents faces. You know that, we’re-mortified-by-this-and-no-longer-proud-of-you look? Yep, that’s the one. Sure it was embarrassing, but in my defense I was just a kid.
Now fast forward to the present day. Has my maturity level evolved? Recent events point to no.
“What happened? Let me paint you a picture. We’re at home for the biggest game of the season, our goalie is playing like a cardboard cutout, we’ve got no passion, no energy, and we’re down three goals! THREE GOALS! AT HOME! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”
“Just breathe,” she said as she followed me into the hallway.
I can’t hear her. With my blood boiling, I look for an outlet for my frustration. That’s when the wall gets in the way of my fist. In one swing I manage to put a good size dent in my drywall and my relationship. My sweet, innocent, and terrified girlfriend stares at me with eyes wide and jaw on the floor. I think I apologize but don’t really address the situation until after the game is over.
The Flames came back to win the game. I still have a dent in my wall. I no longer have the girlfriend. Go figure.
September 5th, 2009 – I’m at my buddy’s house to watch Oklahoma play BYU in the season opener. I’m in a room full of OU fans with a giant HD TV and college football season is about to begin. Life is good. That is until Sam Bradford gets slammed to the turf. Bradford sprains his shoulder and stands on the sidelines in a sling for the rest of the game. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is out and the Sooners are shell-shocked. The offense sputters and Oklahoma loses 14-13. A night that began with promise is shattered along with any realistic hopes of winning a national championship. The room is eerily silent. Grown men, rendered speechless by what we just witnessed. There is some mumbling, some guys are texting, no one is moving. We were planning on an entire night of football followed by a trip to the sports bar. But this wound is deep. No one wants to watch more football much less go out for a beer. One by one, each one of us stumbles out of the apartment. Not one of us is the voice of reason. Not one of us says, “Hey, it’s only one game” or “This isn’t really important in the grand scheme of things” or “They can still have a great year.” Nobody’s thinking it, and nobody wants to hear it.
On the very same night, my friend Troy just finished watching the game at his house. (Troy from the Sports Void sportscasts right here on the RDC. Sorry, shameless plug.) His wife tries to comfort him, but he doesn’t utter one word to her. Instead he slowly rises from the couch, grabs his truck keys and drives away. His wife has no clue where he’s going or how long he’ll be gone. Troy drives out to the country, pulls over in a field and sits there in darkness, listening the post-game reaction on the radio. Two hours pass with no communication. His wife is starting to worry. Finally Troy feels enough time has passed so that he can once again tolerate human interaction. He comes home, but decides not to explain himself to his wife until the next day.
His wife is a saint. I honestly don’t know what makes her stick around.
September 12th 2010 – It is week one of the NFL season. My Cowboys are preseason Super Bowl favorites and are loaded with talent. This could be a special year. The ‘Boys are opening on Sunday Night Football against the vile Redskins. I am watching the game at my girlfriend’s apartment. That’s right folks; I managed to land another girl. She is about to see a side of me she’s never seen. If there’s one thing I expect as a Cowboys’ fan, it’s to be disappointed. I am. Dallas underwhelms but still has a chance to win on the last play of the game. Trailing 13-7, Tony Romo throws a touchdown pass to Roy Williams. I leap off the couch and fall to my knees screaming. My girlfriend is screaming right along with me when I hear the announcer say, “flag.” That’s going to be on us, because well, as a Cowboys’ fan, it always is. Sure enough, a blatant holding call on our offensive lineman negates the touchdown. Game over. I am no longer on my knees. I am face down in the carpet, moaning.
Then the phases begin. Phase one is silence. She tries to comfort me, but gets no response. After a good half hour in sullen silence, phase two begins. This is the “what if” phase. I recap every single important down of the game. I act out the plays, calmly at first, then with more and more intensity as it comes down to the crucial errors. Phase three is the insults. I proceed to bash our players, our coaches, and our owner. Phase four is the doubt. I question my life choices and ask myself aloud how much longer I can put up with this. I know my girlfriend is wondering how long she can put up with me. It is now well after midnight. A quiet evening of quality time has turned into several hours of me feeling sorry for myself.
We broke up two months later. On the bright side, at least I didn’t punch a wall.
These incidents are unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg in a long history of over reactions and freak outs. I know that me (and Troy) and most other sports fans out there, do have their priorities in line. But when it comes to our teams, something just takes over in our brains. I know there are far greater tragedies in the world. I know people are suffering from disease, hunger, and poverty. I know there are natural disasters and families struggling to pay bills. I know these games and these teams don’t define me as a person or have any bearing whatsoever on my future. I know, I know, I know…
I want to stop caring about sports as much as I do. I’m just not sure that I can.