Next to soldiers coming home and surprising their families, sports videos on YouTube are always tear-jerkers for me. But not just any sports videos – sports videos of my team doing something amazing. Brett Favre throwing a touchdown pass against the 49ers with 2 seconds left in 2009? Oh my heavens. Kirby Puckett catching a ball at the wall in game 6 of the ‘91 World Series? He caught it! Puck hitting a walkoff later that game? See you tomorrow night.
Today marks the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the Soviets at Lake Placid. So much seemed to ride on this game, at least in a metaphoric sense, and many people don’t realize it wasn’t even the Gold Medal game. The Americans beat the Soviets to play for the gold medal, but the symbolic implications of beating the better Soviet team during the Cold War drew much attention to the game then and now.
But why is it that a sporting event is what could draw that type of emotion. I don’t often show much emotion, but if you want to see me at my loudest/angriest/saddest/happiest/most passionate, one of the best places to do that is at a sporting event. I tear up about games I didn’t even see (like the Twins’ 1991 World Series wins, which I was less than two months old for) or games I wasn’t even alive for (like the gold medal hockey game from 1980, 11 ½ years before I was born).
Even movies that depict sports events or teams, real (Miracle, Coach Carter, Rudy, etc.) or imagined (The Sandlot, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, etc.), draw tears out of crowds (or maybe just me). For some reason, sports stories draw us (or again, maybe just me) into the story in a very emotional way.
I have stormed fields and screamed myself light-headed at sports games. There was even one time in high school playing pep band at a basketball game that I realized I should probably tone it down, because I didn’t need to get thrown out of the game while playing with the pep band.
(I’ve never been thrown out of a game at all)
But the reason for why man (and why I) connect so deeply with sports remains unknown to me.
It could be that collectively cheering for a team is a way of coming together as a group of people around a common goal, but the goal isn’t really the fans, and this behavior doesn’t happen much outside of sports. Even with something like the Olympics or the 1980 USA vs. USSR hockey game, there is nationalistic pride and unity around the success of the country’s team, but again, it was just a hockey game. Sure, there were some extenuating circumstances, but as Al Michaels said before that game “In a political or nationalistic sense, I’m sure this game is being viewed with varying perspectives, but manifestly, it is a hockey game.”
Trying to understand this becomes even more difficult when trying to explain a love or passion for sports with someone who does not feel the same way. A friend of mine was frankly stunned when I said that I wouldn’t have gone to a certain school because they were a major rival of the school I cheered for (not even the school I went to; the school I cheered for. And it was Wisconsin; I wouldn’t have gone to Wisconsin).
A Google search revealed numerous articles and studies regarding this topic, trying to explain why there’s such a deep connection with sports. But in reality, how can we explain something like the Red Sox response after the Boston Bombing, or Dale Jr. winning at Daytona after Dale Sr. died, or Mike Piazza’s home run in the first baseball game in New York after 9/11, or 5 million people showing up to the Cubs’ victory parade? Is it simply that there is some eternal hope that springs from watching these events, or is there actually some public connection that is able to be unexplainably understood through sports?
To those of you who don’t understand why this is the way things are, why sports are important so deeply to so many people, I will admit to you that I also don’t understand. I can’t explain why it is that I so passionately follow my sports teams, why I get so energized when I go to games or even just watch on TV or listen to the radio. I have literally laid on the floor twice in my life when the Vikings lost a playoff game, and just kind of sat on the floor a third time (I was 7, 24, and 18, respectively). I have seen amazing comebacks and heartbreaking defeats. And yet, I cannot explain my connection to these games.
In many ways, I don’t really care that I can’t explain this connection. Of all the things I don’t know the answer to, this may be the one that I am least interested in exploring. These feelings aren’t trivial; they are most certainly real. However, I think trying to explain these feelings defeats the purpose of their existence. Sure, I could come up with any number of partial answers to explain why the passion is there, but I don’t think I could ever find a complete definition, no matter how long I tried. I’ll let others try to do the defining while I sit in my basement and listen to hockey radio streams on my computer.
In many ways, sports can bring out the best and worst in humans, both on the field of play and in the stands or fandom. We remain connected to the history of our teams, even to events that happened before we did. We see the incredible effort and discipline put in by the athletes, we experience the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat, and for some reason we attach an importance to the experience of it all. Perhaps there is no way to explain it other than to say that all of this is done for the love of the game.