Monday, February 6, 2012

XLVI, the Microcosm of Being a Sports Fan

"I would turn back time and let bin Laden go, if it meant the Giants won the Super Bowl tonight."

So many times we declare that if we were ever blessed with the talents of a professional athlete, that things would be different. We'd shoot free throws better than Shaq, have more 4th quarter courage than LeBron, and that we'd do it for a salary that would give Scott Boras a heart attack. But have we ever stopped to appreciate how incredible it is to just be a sports fan? Take the quote uttered last night, for example. The comedy of it is debatable, depending on your ability to have fun. But it is that feeling behind the quote that makes being a sports fan so damn awesome.

It'd be ridiculous for me to recount what led to 21-17, how many passing yards Eli Manning accumulated, or the pros and cons of Ahmad Bradshaw plunging into the end zone as if he were taking a deuce. You can find that stuff on more established websites, with established, in-the-biz opinions. I'm here to tell you today that Super Bowl 46 made me realize that it's an amazing era to be a sports fan.

Let's start with the event itself. The Super Bowl is an outlier of an example to use, but for every sporting event, fans willingly spend a good chunk of their salary and time just to be there in person. Witnessing sports live is a phenomenon that last night's game put to the forefront. It's not like a show, where you're almost certain to have a good time. In this case, you are gambling your self-esteem, putting it on the line and on the shoulders of men whom you probably may never meet. And even though the fan assumes none of the pressure that is inherent in that risk, all but one fan base in every sport comes away empty-handed. What do they do next year? Barring a Donald Sterling or Jim Dolan-type move by the team in the offseason, but sometimes even IN SPITE of such a move, the fan renews tickets. Patriots fans can't possibly be happy today, and maybe for a while. But come next year, they will be just as rowdy and obnoxious, if not more so. If you caught the post-game shenanigans, you might have seen all-world wide receiver Wes Welker barely being able to speak at his presser, as he took the blame for New England's loss. Late in the game, Welker dropped a Tom Brady pass that could have wrapped up another Lombardi trophy for the organization. It would have been Welker's first taste of championship glory, only that it wasn't. The man was reduced to an emotional wreck afterwards. But don't think, for a nanosecond, that every New England fan rallied himself or herself behind the salty tears that undoubtedly rolled down Welker's face as he turned away from the dais. Those fans may have suffered heartbreak. But they will cheer louder and harder for Wes Welker next season, and they'll enjoy doing so.

(What's that? Pitchers and catchers are reporting soon? Crap, it looks like the vitriol will be back for Red Sox Nation before you know it.)

Then there's the theatrics of the game itself, exemplified by Mario Manningham's circus catch on the sideline. Once the ball was close to reaching its target, every experienced NFL fan knew that there was a high likelihood of a challenge flag being thrown, regardless of the call on the field. But while players could only speculate about the instant replay decision, or hear from their upstairs booth that they're right or wrong, we fans have the distinct advantage of being the first people to know the outcome (well, we know what the outcome SHOULD be). And it's not just your run-of-the-mill instant replay. It's a uber-slow motion timeframe to figure out the exact time that Manningham secures the football with both hands. It's a zoom-in and freeze frame feature to Manningham's feet to sync the potential catch with him staying within the field of play. And it's that great moment of celebrating (or grieving) before the official's official determination. Technology has progressed, and we fans are the biggest beneficiaries.

I wouldn't trade my sports fandom for yours and you wouldn't trade yours for mine. That's what fandom is: an untouchable asset that we will possess and pass down to the next generation. Today, about a hundred players are sleeping late or still celebrating. But there's no shame in waking up for work this morning...or being one of the 7 million people nationwide who took a sick day.

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