Why I should probably stop trying to talk about sports

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I was never much of a sports fan, so I have a hard time picking up the lingo.  Partner is a diehard sports fan (football, hockey, baseball), and I have picked up some odds and ends from him.  It was also helpful to have a college football player working for me last summer; he had obviously explained the sport to his elderly female relatives, so he knew all the right terms to use to help me understand it. (When I asked him what position he played, he told me he was a linebacker.  When I looked blank, he added helpfully, “I just push people around.”)  Also, as I grow older and more wizened-looking, people – especially men my own age – assume that I know all about sports.  And who am I to disappoint them?

 

 

A few weeks ago, a couple of weeks before the Super Bowl, one of the university shuttle drivers hailed me at lunchtime and pulled over and asked: “Who do you like this weekend?

 

I laughed in what I hoped was the correctly rueful tone.  “Well,” I said, “they’d better win.” (By “them,” of course, I meant the New England Patriots, the local favorites.)

 

 

He chuckled and waved.  “It’s gonna be a tough one,” he said.  “I don’t know.”

 

 

He drove off.  I was very pleased with my performance on that one; he’d been a semi-pro player and a football coach, so if I could fool him, I figured I could fool anyone.

 

 

But then this happened:

 

 

The Patriots had just won the AFC championship by three points.  (Partner was ecstatic, naturally.)  After the game, I went down to the health club.  I was checked in by a skinny kid who was staring at the after-game show on the TV over the desk.  “Is everyone happy?” I said.

 

 

He looked at me blankly.  “Why?”

 

 

I gestured up at the TV set.  “The game.”

 

 

He looked up again, still blank.  “The – oh, the game.” 

 

 

I tried one more time.  “Everybody was happy at the end? Everybody cheered?”

 

 

He gave me that simpering grin that you give a gibbering child or a person with an impenetrable accent, and looked away from me. 

 

 

I will never try this again.  I’m obviously still not doing it right.


 

Super Bowl XLVI

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As you are probably aware, New England lost the Super Bowl last weekend.

 

 

Partner retreated into the other room immediately after the end of the game. He does not like losing.  He is a born New Englander, and he is used to losing, but he prefers to win.  The Red Sox have finally broken their losing streak – twice over the last decade – and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup just last year, and the Patriots have won the Super Bowl three times.

 

 

But not this year.

 

 

Here’s the thing: New England teams are not terribly attractive to the rest of the nation.  When the Patriots last lost the Super Bowl, the Onion headlined: “Patriots’ Season Perfect For Rest Of Nation.”

 

 

We are hated, we know.  When our teams lose, we have to put up with a lot of gloating by fans of the other teams, who now feel that their hatred is justified.

 

 

And now we sulk in defeat.

 

 

But you just wait!  We’ll be back.

 

 

And as a recent issue of the Onion so cleverly put it, in a piece written just before the playoffs: “NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Opponents may think they’re not what they were when they were younger, but have they considered Tom Brady might get even more handsome with gray hair?”

 

 

(He will, you know.)



Football for beginners

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I never cared much for football. It was a lot of running and snorting and stamping, and I didn’t understand the rules anyway.

 

 

Partner has tried, very patiently, for very many years, to teach me the game. No soap. I used to think I had some kind of mental block that prevented me from learning this stuff; I still think, for example, that a “safety” is when one of the players runs backward.

 

 

Then I hired a member of the university football team to work for me in the office.

 

 

Bingo!

 

 

He was not only huge, but funny and articulate. I asked him what position he played, and he was insightful enough to know that if he’d said “offensive lineman,” I would have been as unenlightened as ever. So he said: “I push people around.”

 

 

Now that I understand.

 

 

He spoke with passion about the phases of his training: strength, speed, agility. I was, naturally, enthralled.

 

 

So now, naturally, I am much more taken by football than I was before.

 

 

Now I see in the New York Times that various teams – mostly college teams, apparently – are redesigning their uniforms to be more colorful, and interesting, and eye-catching.

 

 

So what audience are they aiming this at? The old traditional fans?

 

 

I don’t think so!

 

 

They’re aiming it at people like me!

 

 

And, just so you know: my former employee’s team won their first game of the season, by one point!

 

 

Yay team!

 

 

I hope they win the Stanley Cup!

 


 

My team big and good, your team weak and stupid

 


I’ve learned pretty much everything I know about sports from Partner.  Much of this information is garbled in my mind; I will not ever understand what a “safety” is, for example, because I made up my mind early on that it involves a football player running backwards.

 

 


But now and then something in the sports world catches my attention, and I strain to figure out what it’s all about.

 


For example: back in November, there was an incident involving a football player named Derek Anderson.  His team was losing, and he had the nerve (!) to sit on the sidelines with a teammate and smile and laugh for a moment.  The crowds, and the sportscasters, were enraged. 


 

This is unforgivable, apparently. 


 

Unlike (let’s say) dogfighting, or texting pictures of your genitalia to the world at large.


 

Yesterday morning I read a commentary in “Sports Illustrated” (don’t blame me, Partner subscribes) about this event.  The columnist made it clear that the losing team is required to be stoic and grim.  Anything else lets down the team and the fans.  I quote: “It may seem irrational, but fans want their own passions validated by seeing the athletes they’re rooting for show that they feel just as strongly.”


 

Yes, babe, it does seem irrational.

 


I always knew there was a theatrical element in sports; I’ve just never heard it enunciated so clearly.  According to this guy, athletes aren’t just supposed to play well; they’re also supposed to represent the passions of their home fans.


 

Whoosh!

 


Now, players for any given team come from all over the country and the world.  But once you’re on the team, you’re a native son.  Once you’re on the (let’s say) Boston team, you become a Boston soldier, hup hup hup.  


 

Until such time as you’re sold or traded, of course.


 

This goes way beyond the whole role-model thing.  This is all about rivalry, and tribalism, and ritual combat.  Cleveland is better than Detroit, Boston is better than Atlanta, the Bep Tribe is better than the Bap Tribe, Cave #73 is better than Cave #74.

 

 

Eesh!  Too serious!  I’m glad I’m not an athlete.  I’m not serious about anything.  I’d never be able to keep a straight face.


 

Sometime let’s talk about the erotic element in sports instead.  All that running and chasing and grabbing. 


 

Now that’s an interesting topic.



 

 

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