How are we to regard the “efficiency experts” who would pit logic against loyalty? Just where do you draw the line on acceptable fan behavior? We’re talking about those who genuinely enjoy sports but who won’t watch a complete game. When questioned they complain that they go on too long. One need only, they insist, watch toward the end because that’s when it really counts. These people get to the ballpark no earlier than the third inning, find double-headers a staggering waste of time, and tune in a football game only for the second half. Certainly in a blowout they’ won’t linger a moment more than is necessary to gather up their possessions. Does this sound familiar? And what about their standard comment on professional basketball? Isn’t it true, they say, that nearly all games are decided in the last few minutes? What happens before means little.
Just who are these avid reductionists anyway? Surely we’ve got a number of Type A personalities here. No way they can sit still for two, three, or even four hours. Add on those who grew up in families where pleasures were suspect and strictly limited. Productive activities with tangible benefits – that’s what was expected of them. The longer such people sit and watch a game the guiltier they begin to feel. (Many probably can’t watch at all without feeling obligated to do something useful at the same time – read, paint, cut the grass. They’re least anxious no doubt listening to a game while traveling in their cars – at least they’re getting someplace.) Count the habitual bettors in this category. What interest do they have in the ebb and flow of the game, the strategies or the surprises? What’s important is the final score and of course the spread between winners and losers. Let’s not forget those more curious than committed, the dilettantes, not the devotees. It’s important, they believe, to look in on certain games and know the outcomes, especially if there are major happenings – Super Bowl, World Series, Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby, etc. Such events are, after all, likely to be discussed. They should be prepared with an opinion, an observation at the very least.
These people are merely masquerading as fans, so say the true followers of sport. Their arguments, their explanations are hardly worth refuting. They might just as well insist on reading only the last pages of a novel or on walking in toward the end of a movie. Sure, the latter stages of a game are the most important. That’s obvious, but obviously not the whole story. What about the first-round knockout or the team that scores a bundle in the first inning, then coasts to victory? Most disturbing about these people is that they ignore the game in its entirety, the beauty of the whole, the significant ups and downs, the rhythms, the superlative plays that can happen at any time. Sure the emphasis should be on results, but if it’s only that, much will be lost. From warm-ups to wrap-ups, the game, they insist, has an integrity of its own, should be viewed and understood as a whole. It’s time well spent, an experience not to be missed.
Into which camp do you fall? You’re not sure? You say you came in during the middle of this discussion!
Fans may not express it this way, but watching their favorite teams in action can result, for better or for worse, in a level of emotional engagement rarely present in their daily lives. We’ve long recognized sports contests to be outlets for feelings otherwise kept under wraps, but rarely have we described situations when the game actually produces those moments of almost unbearable intensity. Let’s fill in some of the blanks here with situations (typically when the game is on the line) which every sports fan will recognize and relish (at least in retrospect).
Your team is clinging to a one goal lead with a minute and a half to go. The other side has pulled the goalie and is swarming into “your” zone, desperate to score. The deafening roar of the fans, all on their feet, makes conversation impossible anywhere in the jam-packed arena. Players on the attack move the puck around rapidly and with precision, hoping to get their opponents out of position, thus opening a flight path to the goalie. The defense is on maximum alert, flashing to the puck, attempting to dislodge it, hurling their bodies and diving to the ice, to discourage or block shots. The attackers are artful and clever, able, despite repeated body checks, to maintain possession. Suddenly there’s the crash of a slap shot, the puck rocketing in from just inside the blue line. It’s knocked down in front and followed by a wild mass scramble, players sprawled across the ice. Your guys try desperately to get their sticks on the puck and send it down the ice, to relieve, for a few moments at least, the pressure. But they cannot and it’s back to a shooting gallery. How long can your team hold out, stand up to the onslaught? And what about you? Watching at home you probably at this point have gotten to your feet, moved closer to the TV, started breathing irregularly. The clock can’t seem to move quickly enough. Your guys are under siege. Can they hang on? Whatever the outcome you know you’ve been to a place non-sports fans never enter. Continue reading →
For us fans the sometimes failures of our heroes is a subject most familiar. But is it possible to let our favorite teams down? That’s not a question we feel at all comfortable discussing; still the truth is we do at times fail them. What, you may wonder, could prompt such self-defeating behavior?
Here’s how it can happen. No matter the particular sport; what’s important are the circumstances. Consider a tight, tense game, a nail biter with victory likely going to the first team to break through. Each threatens but is turned back, thwarted. This mounting tension brings you to the edge of your seat, locked into an emotional roller coaster, involved as only a fan can be. Then, what you fear most happens. The bubble bursts. The opposition breaks through, scores and takes what at this late stage of the game is a commanding lead. Anger, frustration, disappointment – all these emotions hit at once. Your team has let you down. Worse, they’ve handed the opposition a dramatic and morale-boosting victory. Sure, there’s some time left, but little chance you reckon for a comeback. All game long your boys have been stymied, unable to get anything going.
So, whatever the particular situation- your team, three runs down, heading into the ninth, or with a two-goal deficit, four minutes remaining or ten points behind with under two minutes to go in the basketball game, or trailing by more than a touchdown with less than three minutes left – it’s time, you decide, to throw in the towel. Off goes the game. No matter that you’ve already put in two or three hours watching. Exhausted, demoralized, you’re also hurting and feeling sorry both for yourself and your team. You just can’t bear seeing your heroes humbled, nor endure the final agonizing moments of a losing effort. It’s simply too painful watching the other guys wrap it up, then move on to the high fives and happy embraces. So you shut it off.
Now for the shocker. It may hit, but a short time later when you tune back in to catch the postgame wrap-up and check on other scores, or later on when you’re watching the sports news. Then again it may not come until the following day when you turn to the sports pages. It may not even register at first, so unexpected is the news. You listen or stare in disbelief. Then it clicks in – YOUR TEAM WON! My God. It’s no mistake. They rallied and won. Incredible!
Joy now mixes with disappointment, also shame. Talk about heroics. The comeback must have been something. The fans probably went wild. What a lift for the team. But where were you during this stirring climax? How could you have missed those precious, unforgettable moments when the faithful were rewarded, when your boys showed what they were made of? Put to the test, you didn’t measure up, were unworthy, a fan all too fickle.
Will you be more faithful in the future? Have you learned your lesson? Sure, you say, and you promise to mend your ways, to renew your vows and acknowledge your obligations as a fan. “It’s not over till it’s over”, Yogi Berra’s ageless pronouncement, you now accept as the final word on such matters. But do you really? Will you be able to hang in there when in the waning moments the opposition breaks open a tight game? The pain and the suffering – will you really be able to bear it? Let’s wait and see.
Monumental – What other word can describe the emotional investment fans make in their favorite teams? Though no swearing-in ceremony, no formal initiation or sacred rite is involved, once that bond is forged, the loyalty, commitment and devotion of fans become a wonder to behold. Banners mounted, memorabilia collected, jackets emblazoned with team names and symbols, schedules scrutinized – that’s just for openers. Defending one’s heroes, proclaiming their virtues – these become almost instinctive reactions. Each season brings inflated expectations together with visions of championships and confetti. Traditional rivals are scrutinized with a wary eye, indications of weaknesses gleefully emphasized.
But it’s only during the games themselves that the full range of powerful feelings comes into play. Each game propels the fan along an emotional roller coaster. No outsider can appreciate fully the mood swings fans experience – from eager anticipation, the pleasures of an early lead, the gloom of falling behind, the exhilaration of a dramatic rally to the shattering grief of coming up short cushioned only by the “might-have-beens” that never were.
That fans need relief and can find it in an occasional blowout, even when it goes against them, is not all that surprising then. But the emotional cauldron really heats up as the season winds down with your team in the thick of the race. The importance of each game suddenly is magnified many times over. The eye is on the crown; visions of victory crowd out all others. Your boys are making a move. It’s looking good. A setback – temporary no doubt. Rivals, however, refuse to falter. Another defeat, momentum waning. They will fall short; others are celebrating. It’s over, all over.
Disappointment – yes, brief flirtations with “what ifs”, but no abyss, no descent into despair. Doubtless surprising, in view of the season’s devotions. But fans are that way. They accept final verdicts: There are no Courts of Appeal. As Yogi might have put it – “Once it’s over, it’s over.” With the dust having settled it is time to disengage, to display resiliency. Frayed nerves need a rest. Besides, fans must be prepared to carry on. For you see in short order another team in another sport will be counting on them for support.