As a softball player in high school, I had a competitive streak a mile wide and took to making deals with God during close games.
I’d tell God that if only we could win THIS game, he could have my bicycle, my guitar and -- during one county championship – my brother. My mother, who knew about these deals, said she was afraid if we ever made it to a state final, she and my father would – poof – disappear from the stands.
That competitive drive receded a bit after college but resurfaces at times like last Friday when the Salisbury Falcons played the Bangor Slaters for the Colonial League Boys Varsity Basketball championship at Freedom High School.
My kids go to Salisbury and I’ve watched some of the players grow up. Amid the thunderous cheering, I felt the visceral excitement of the game in the pit of my stomach.
Mind you, the only thing I contributed to that contest was cheers for Salisbury but at the end, when Falcon’s standout Lloyd Irons dunked the final basket at the buzzer, the dormant 17-year-old in me was thinking: “How do you like us now!”
But that’s where my fan-atism ends. I’ll happily root for my kids’ teams and that of their friends, but loyalty to a professional sports team is an anathema to me. Why would you take pride in, say, the Phillies’ success if you don’t know them personally and you contributed nothing to it? Why spend weekends watching strangers on TV simply because they play in the nearest big city?
In our house, I’m outnumbered on this three to one. The Phillies, the Eagles, the Philadelphia Union and Manchester United all cast spells on various family members during their playing seasons – which seem to get longer every year.
It’s easy to see why people might root for a particular player because they like his or her story -- Jeremy Lin’s fascinating rise or Tim Tebow’s religious devotion and acts of charity, for example. But how does that translate into wanting to spend chunks of each week watching people you don’t know in what amounts to perpetual Reality TV? For every moment of high drama in sports, there’s a lot of routine action to sit through.
So, all you pro sports fans, I’m open to arguments. What draws you to root for a bunch of strangers playing a game on a Sunday afternoon? Is it the poetry-in-motion of a soccer player who can bend it like Beckham? The chance to see the grace and precision of a well-executed double play or a Hail Mary pass? The joy of sharing a passion with your kids or your parents and siblings?
The woman who would have traded her brother for a county championship is all ears.