How to Enjoy Sports

A few random thoughts while I wait for the UK tip off.  

I consider myself to be a moderately engaged fan of competitive team sports.  On the continuum between complete apathy and SEC frat boy, I’m almost precisely in the middle.

In baseball, I root for my SF Giants, but I don’t make a point of watching their games,  which tend to proceed at the pace of hardly.  My attention span can’t handle five minute at-bats and twenty-or-so commercial breaks between the action.  However, get me a ticket to a game, and I’m there.

Football tests my loyalties, between my genetic predisposition to root for Green Bay, my father’s hometown team, and my adopted 49ers.  This has created some intra-family playoff drama in recent years, and I distinctly recall being exiled from my home one year, at the tender age of fourteen, when I refused to back the boys in green.

The one sports team that I get behind with all my fan-boy enthusiasm, however, is the UK Wildcats basketball team.  Having grown up in Lexington and attended UK, I come by it honestly.  And I’ll be the first to admit, I go a bit overboard, wearing a UK tie to work on game days, traveling 90 minutes each way to join fellow alumni at our adopted home bar for big games, and shamelessly taunting fans of those teams so unfortunate as to oppose us.

Having spent most of my life surrounded by at least one person who aspires to complete apathy (Mom, Ashley, I’m looking at you), I have developed a grand theory of how to be a sports fan, a simple formula that any willing spectator can adopt to get the best possible experience out of their vicarious battle with The Other Guys.

According to this theory, you only need two things in order to enjoy a sports match up: a basic understanding of how the game works, and a team to root for.

This explains why, once every four years, I manage to get Really Excited about sports that aren’t on my radar screen outside the confines of the Olympics.  The announcers tend to walk us through the scoring system, and comment on what the athletes are doing right, or wrong.  Any time I see the red-white-and-blue, I have an athlete or team to support.  It’s almost too easy.

It equally explains why, despite enjoying baseball, I do not watch cricket.  The game is incomprehensible.  I have had no fewer than six people- all of them some varietal of British, appropriately enough- attempt to explain to me what is happening on the “pitch,” but the significance of the game eludes me.  Fortunately, that is a majority position among Americans, and there is no societal pressure or expectation that I figure it out.

Two days ago, I went to our local Kentucky bar for a big game, and brought a friend who is rather apathetic towards sports in general.  To ward off evil spirits, I lent him my UK tie, and together we fought through the mosh pit of blue and white to secure a table with a good view of the action.  At the beginning, he couldn’t understand why conversation was stopping when the ball was in play, but then a funny thing happened.  The enthusiasm of a hundred-or-so rabid Kentucky fans became infectious, and when the game came down to the wire in the final minute, he was rising and falling with the rest of us, holding his breath when the ball was in the air, genuinely rooting for a positive result.

Retrospectively, I consider this confirmation of my theory.

The subject is on my mind today because there is yet another Big Game for the Wildcats this afternoon, and in acquiescence to a little too much birthday cheer last night, I am considering watching the game at home.  That isn’t to say I’ll be watching it alone- my wife is here, and she is a perfect test case for my Grand Theory of Enjoying Sports.  Unlike my guy friend from the other night, she will need a bit of explanation about the game’s details- why was that a foul?  what just happened there?  is he allowed to do that?- but she asks the right questions and occasionally remembers the answers.  More crucially, she has a predisposition to root for Kentucky.  Not because she attended the school, though she did, but because she knows that my happiness will be directly, inexplicably affected by the outcome of a game taking place between ten eighteen-year-olds thousands of miles away.

So, as previously alluded, today is my birthday, and the Cats have a shot at the final four.  Life is too serious to forego a chance to associate with a sports team and live and die with their performance, once in a while.   I’ll be donning my UK sweatshirt, UK track pants, Kentucky t-shirt, and a pair of blue fuzzy socks, for good measure, yelling at the refs through the screen, cheering in a mostly-empty room when we succeed, hanging my head when things look bleak.  It’s fun to be a sports fan.




Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 8:41 am  Comments (1)  
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