For the Love of the Game
I rolled over last night as I watched the Niners’ comeback ultimately fall short. I sobbed a bit, trying to expel any tears I could. But I couldn’t; I had nothing left.
What seemed like hours earlier, power was lost at the stadium and I had over a half an hour to squeeze my eyes shut and attempt to sort out my thoughts. I could only picture my dad’s face, my dad watching the Niners once on TV when I was little, remembering how when he’d come home from business trips, I’d run to the door and grab him around the waist and he’d rub my head and ask “How’s my boy?”
Today is the day after the Super Bowl, and it marks five months since I lost him. I’m a Niner fan for very sentimental reasons; seeing him watch them on TV a few times is why my eight year old self fell in love with the team. It’s been a struggle, in many obvious ways, since he passed. On the most apparent of levels, my dad is no longer with me and I can’t see him whenever I want to see him, or call him if I want to talk to him. But more than that, being the person I am, one who doesn’t believe in god or fate or larger forces controlling smaller, meaningless things like my existence or the success of my favorite football team, it’s hard for me to reconcile the feeling I’ve had the last few months.
The reality is that my dad was never a Niner fan—he watched them on occasion because he did like them, and he liked a few of their players. But I didn’t know that as a kid, I just wanted to be like him. That was okay, too, because even though he wasn’t the sports fan that I’ve always been, he always followed just closely enough for my sake. Because he knew it was something I loved and he took pride in sharing that with me if he could. So when I lost him, and football became meaningless for a little while before becoming something I could again love watching without feeling guilty about, I had this feeling. I had this feeling that the Niners would win it all, either for him or with the help of him. So when half of the Superdome lost power and all I could think about was him, I just wanted to talk to him. Just wanted to ask him to give it everything he had. And it nearly “worked.”
I’ve avoided this subject for a couple of reasons, one being what I mentioned earlier about not believing in god or other supernatural forces. The other was that I felt so selfish to think that other football fans didn’t lose someone close to them recently too, that there weren’t millions of other fans of my very team that had their own sentimental reasons for wanting to win as badly as I did.
And with that, I’ve concluded something else I’ve always struggled with: the idea that someone who doesn’t also love sports will never understand why fans take it so hard when their team loses. Everyone wants some kind of meaning from life. From my often cynical, negative point of view, I can see where those who wear their lucky jerseys do exactly the same thing. We want to cheer for something, but beyond that, we want to know that we’re taking a part in it, too. We want to feel that, even if we don’t believe in anything else, our superstitions do help the team win because on some level, we do believe in something cosmic. We’ll wax philosophically about how god doesn’t exist and how faith is silly, but we’ll do it in a dirty t shirt from the same spot on the couch, begging the universe to reward our existence. And I am so okay with that.
The last thing a fan wants to hear when their team loses is “it’s only a game.” Sometimes it isn’t.