Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Downfall of Jake the Snake

Jake Plummer at the grocery store

Not even my lucky Denver Broncos track pants were enough to keep my favorite team from self destructing on their home field today. Another year of cheering down the drain.

This has been a strange year in many ways, not the least of which being that I have watched football every single week this season. I haven’t actively followed the NFL since my heart was broken by the Broncos in the Superbowl three times in the late 80s and early 90s. Sure, I cheered Elway on as he won the two rings at the end of his career, but I probably wouldn’t have shed tears like I did as 10-year-old if they would have lost.

Watching an outrageous amount of sports in the last few months has lead to me think a lot about sports. I’m not thinking about stats or key match ups or MVP candidates, but more about what sports are really about. (Don’t worry, I’m not listening to sports talk on the radio or anything like that.)

People love to have something to root for. Even if you are a Phoenix Cardinals fan (is there such thing?) there is a 50/50 chance that your team might win any particular game. The thing that’s crazy about being a fan is that when your team wins, you win. Just by rooting for a team (internally or externally) you earn the right to feel happy if your team comes out victorious. Though you really did nothing, you are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. Conversely, you also have to bare the brunt of criticism if you are on the losing end, like somehow your inferior support led to poor ball handling or special teams coverage.

Sports are really just the original reality TV. People get hooked on American Idol for the same reason that they get addicted to sports. When Rubbard Studdard wins the competition, so do all the people who voted 30,000 times for him. People have been cheering for athletes for centuries, so it only makes sense that we would do the same for a girl on The Bachelor, a fatty on The Biggest Loser or an idiot on Joe Millionaire. It’s really amazing that no one thought of it sooner.

Another thing that I find so interesting about sports is its infatuation with heroism. When an injured player decides to take a cortisone injection so he can play on a broken leg or misses his own father’s funeral so he can make it to the playoffs, commentators use words like “brave,” “unselfish,” and “hero" -- as opposed to real life and real jobs, where coworkers would describe those same acts as “reckless,” “insensitive” and “stupid.”

We must be lacking in heroes these days. I am guessing that there used to be heroes at some point because it’s a pretty common word. I think there used to be “war heroes,” though I don’t think we have those any more. But apparently, we have a need to have heroes around. Since they don’t seem to be apparent in daily life - we don’t generally say, “Charlie could have called in sick to work today, but he didn’t. He’s a real hero.” – sports seems to be a logical place to find them. “Even after appearing in court today on sexual assault charges, he was still able to score 45 points and hit a jumper at the buzzer. What a heroic performance!”

So what does all of this deep analysis of sports mean to me? Well, I’m 25 years old and the Broncos just lost the big game. I’m bummed out about it. We really didn’t come to play. However, you’ve got to hand it to Pittsburgh Steelers. As the 6th seed in the playoffs, it took heroic efforts to overcome the challenges of beating three great teams on the road.

I will have to settle for cheering for seven layer dip at the Superbowl party.

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