Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Being A Sports Fan

Being a sports fan matters to me.I've been thinking about why, and I decided that the reasons are only partly due to the actual sport.Hear me out.I remembered attending a beautiful wedding last summer just outside of Manhattan, only because it was the weekend Adam Scott blew the 2012 British Open.I remembered the one-year anniversary weekend of my perfect bachelor party because it was the weekend of the 2012 PGA Championship.I know exactly when I took a golf trip with one of my best friends in Atlanta this past Spring because it was Sweet 16/Elite 8 weekend.It's true that I wouldn't have forgotten these experiences if I didn't have the sporting event to remind me.But the sporting event, in combination with what was happening in my life, created a richer memory.Some of my experiences have been alone (more on that below), but usually not.And not all of my memories are good.After going through the exercise of thinking about my top sports memories, what I figured out is that, for me, being a sports fan is an anchor for significant memories.It takes me back to hanging out with my Dad and my brother, or friends that are often closer than family to me.It reminds me of first feeling the exhilaration of victory or the depression of defeat, and sharing those feelings.It reminds me of being a kid and the house I grew up in.It reminds me that I enjoy witnessing greatness.Below, I will let each experience/game expound.And I want to hear from others about why being a sports fan matters.

**One note about how I wrote this post.A lot of what I want to convey is how I recall the events.I'm doing minimal research to make sure I have the basics right, but I could have some of the details wrong.But that's how I remember it happening.So here are my top five sports memories, in descending order from 5 to 1.

#5)THE INFIELD FLY RULE GAME:At the time, I called it the worst call in sports history.Today, I still think that. Look at the image to your left.LOOK AT IT!Digest it.Now In 2012, the MLB tried out a one game play-in for two wildcard teams, and the St. Louis Cardinals traveled to Atlanta to play the Braves. Baby Maddux (Chris Medlen) had not lost all season.You read that right.It was Chipper's last season, and potentially his last game at Turner Field.[Quick tangent:I remember watching Chipper his rookie season, 1995, making diving stops against the Rockies in the playoffs, and just being overall clutch.We won the World Series that year.We never won again with Chipper.]The Braves looked tight.Baby Maddux pitched ok, but was hurt by a two-run throwing error by Chipper.It looked like the Braves were playing with all sorts of playoff baggage.But they hung in the game.As I remember it, the Braves were down 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th.There was one out, and Braves on first and second.A pop fly went to the OUTFIELD, where the Cardinals shortstop and left fielder mis-communicated, and the ball dropped in the OUTFIELD grass in between them.I was probably on my fourth Jack Daniels at this point.The playoff-added umpire in left field, you know, the one that is stationed in the OUTFIELD so they don't screw up calls, was close to the play.I saw his arm go up the split second before the ball dropped safely in between the Cardinals players.I yelled, "Nooooo."I knew what had happened.Instead of bases loaded and one out, the umpire called an automatic out using the infield fly rule, making it two outs, runners on second and third.I had never seen a ball fall to the ground under the infield fly rule.I felt anguish.I couldn't remember the last time I felt this way about a sporting event.The normally tame, disinterested, and often times absent Atlanta fans went crazy.The stadium was full that night (sad that I have to make that point clear).Bottles, debris, stuff, started raining down onto the field.Both teams were cleared for safety and clean-up, and a 30-minute delay ensued.I have never been prouder of Atlanta fans.They weren't trying to hurt anybody.They were reacting to mediocrity.They were showing displeasure for blatant injustice.Umpires make mistakes.Balls and strikes are tough to call.Swipe tags are quick and sometimes plays are bang-bang.But this was the administration of a rule in an improper way that directly affected the outcome of a do-or-die playoff game, a team's season, and fans' chances to watch one of their franchise players play again in his home stadium.Some mistakes are bigger than others.In the realm of the bizarre, the Braves played the rest of the game under protest.In case you are even in this situation, to indicate you are playing the game under protest, the manager informs the head umpire, who then walks out onto the field and draws a big P in the air.Yep, I'm not making that up.Baseball, in 2012, still has procedures in place that require umpires to draw big letters in thin air.I finished watching the game, drank more, and convinced myself that the call was the worst I had ever seen.I think it was.

#4)GAME 6, 2013 NBA FINALS, SPURS @ HEAT:More heartbreak.I have pulled for the Spurs ever since Timmy and Pop teamed up.I never liked the Admiral much, but Timmy was always stoic, patient, and definitely not boring.I used to start arguments at parties by asking people who they would take to start an NBA team, besides Jordan, and I would always say Timmy.This infuriated people, especially Lakers fans.Timmy probably should have 6 titles, instead of his 4.,and then the 2013 Championship eluded Timmy.The Spurs-Heat final this year felt like it was about more than basketball.It was good vs. evil, authentic vs. fabricated, fundamentals vs. glitz.And the wrong side won.Despite my bitterness, Game 6 of this series was the best basketball game I've ever watched.The whole series was special.When two great teams (or individuals) play each other, the intensity level is infectious.The Spurs-Heat series had this quality.The best way I can describe it is to remember Sampras-Agassi tennis matches -- every point, from the first game, matters.Mistakes are punished with impunity, often times impossible to come back from no matter when they occur.A lack of focus at anytime can cost you a game (and a series). And every minute of this series mattered, starting from the first in game one.So having a series like that was special.There are so many things I remember about Game 6.The Spurs could have won it five different ways.Kwahi Leonard missed a free throw, and Timmy not being on the floor to get that key rebound stand out.The Spurs were a better team.I believe that.The Heat had better players on the floor.OCD Ray Allen hitting a back-up corner three was obnoxious.When the Spurs looked like they had the title won, Lebron was looking around, with that lost-child-desperate look he still gets.Or as I like to think of Lebron, he had that look of a lost child because he thinks that is what he should look like in this moment.[TANGENT:I think Lebron experiences life one layer removed from reality at all times.I don't necessarily blame him for it, but he's not one of us, on thebasketball court, or in real life.It's like Tiger -- he's been a superstar for so long, that his reality is not actual reality END TANGENT].Timmy's first half performance in that Game 6 was epic -- one of his best in a finals ever.And he's getting old.I really wanted the Spurs to win, for basketball's sake and for the general well-being of the universe.I watched the end of the game in my living room, dark, with the sound down.My pregnant wife was asleep so I reacted with jerky body movements and jumps off the couch, all in silence.I hope Heat fans that left early feel bad about themselves.I take that back -- if you're a Heat fan, you should feel bad about yourself.Because you cheer for evil, fabricated, glitz.I will end this by saying that I'm actually a Hawks fan -- if this had happened to the Hawks, against the Lebrons, I would be sick.I'm sorry Spurs fans, but you do have 4, and the player that I would take above anyone else (other than Jordan), to start a franchise.You guys had an incredible run.I'm envious.Let's hope you have one more left.

#3)2002 WORLD CUP FINAL; BRAZIL VS. FRANCE; SEOUL, KOREA:One more heartbreak, but of a different sort.Having the 2002 World Cup in Seoul meant that games were televised live on the east coast in the U.S. around 3am.I was 23 years old and at my parents house to watch the 2002 World Cup final.In fact, my brother and I had decided to sleep on the floor of our parent's bedroom (this room is where my top 3 sports memories occur) and set an alarm for the start of the game.My Dad was home sick and in a hospital bed.He had been battling terminal lung cancer since 1999, wasn't in great shape, but wouldn't miss the World Cup final for anything.So the alarm goes off, my brother and I were incredibly groggy, Dad woke up, and off we went.My parents had a fairly uncomfortable fold out couch that my brother and I were sharing.I don't remember much about the game, except that Brazil won 3-0.The events of the game became overshadowed by my Dad suffering a seizure in the second half.But it wasn't an instantaneous seizure.He slowly began to slip off the left side of his hospital bed, but never said anything, trying to pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary.His left hand began to shake.We asked him if he was ok, and he said he couldn't control what was happening to half of his body.It was all very slow.We called an ambulance.During the wait, Brazil scored its third goal.I remember my Dad, sagging off the left side of his bed, his left hand shaking, screaming "goal!!"He was still watching the game.His reaction in that moment meant, to me, that he still wanted to experience what we all came there to do as a family -- despite his (and our) fear.And that was watch the 2002 World Cup final. Because that is what we loved to do.We loved to get together and watch games.It's how we passed time with each other.It was the topic of a lot of our conversations.And we shared those times no matter what else was happening.So sports means different things to different people -- but in that moment and forever in my memory, it meant the best times with my Dad and brother.

#2) 1998 NFL PLAYOFFS; NFC DIVISIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME; ATLANTA FALCONS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS:Crystal Chandelier (Chris Chandler) led the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC divisional championship.And I watched it in my parent's bedroom, from that same floor, with a healthy Dad and brother.I was home from college on a Sunday to watch this game.The Falcons potentially making the Super Bowl was huge news for me.I was 19 and grew up with Steve Barkowski, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, sprinkled with some Jerry Glanville and Andre "Bad Moon" Rison.(What's up with all the nicknames??)The Vikings were heavy favorites, with Randall Cunningham leading the purple and gold.The Falcons featured Jamal Anderson at running back, who developed the dirty bird touchdown dance, and tore both his ACLs the following season because we ran him into the ground. We (like I'm on the team) were in Minnesota and here is what I remember about the game. It was tied and the Vikings were driving to win, setting themselves up for a field goal.Their kicker was Gary Anderson, the one-barred helmet wearing kicker that had not missed a field goal all year.Read that again.No misses.All year.Cunningham drove the Vikings into Falcons territory, leaving Gary Anderson with what I remember being a very makeable field goal (40ish yards).It was a dome.NO MISSES ALL YEAR.The kick is up, and it's NO GOOD!I couldn't believe it.The Falcons drove into Vikings territory in overtime, and the immortal Morton Anderson (the oldest player in the league at the time) made the game-winner.My brother literally jumped into my arms in my parent's living room in celebration.It was our biggest embrace ever.The Falcons were going to the Super Bowl.We watched the game at home with Dad.It was a wonderful day.

#1)1992 DIVISONAL PLAYOFFS; PITTSBURGH PIRATES @ ATLANTA BRAVES; GAME 7:I think a lot of people remember this game. Here is how I remember it.I was 13 years old, and the Braves were back in the playoffs after going worst-to-first in 1991 but losing to the Twins in seven games in the playoffs. It was the most exciting thing to happen in my young sports fan career.The Braves were awful as I grew up watching them on the SuperStation every night.It was a staple in our house to have the Braves on every night, except for those awful nights (either Monday or Thursday) when they were off.I actually cried when Skip Carey died a few years ago because I associate his voice with a very happy childhood growing up in Smyrna, GA.So it's game 7, and I'm allowed to stay up late to watch.Dad and I are hunched together on the floor of my parent's bedroom (yes, the same one!).Mom was sleeping, so the lights were off and the sound was down.The TV was on top of a tall dresser so our necks were strained looking up.I remember being huddled on all fours as Francisco Cabrera came up to the plate.I also remember feeling like we didn't have a chance.A pinch-hitter, with two outs, was too much.Then Cabrera hit the dribbler between the shortstop and third basement, and Sid Bream was running as hard as he could seemingly in slow motion.He slid just under the tag, and Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!My Dad and I went nuts, and woke Mom up.She was startled but immediately went into supportive-but-time-to-go-to-bed mode.My first legendary sporting moment is still my all-time favorite.And I'll always remember fondly the floor of my parent's bedroom, growing up, and making incredible memories.

So now I'm 34 and trying to create more of those memories.I'm trying to establish a regular Sunday BBQ to watch the NFL (modeled after Jimmy Kimmel's Sundays), and my wife put in her vows that she would support my fantasy football team and me watching the NBA finals.But the real treat is that now I have a son.I get to try to emulate my Dad, and keep my son up late at night with me.I get to experience firsts all over again with him, and recreate some of the emotions I remember feeling growing up.Some good, some bad, but most of all, rich.
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