Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sports: Why We Play and Why We Watch

I'm getting old. (Some would question the need for the word "getting" in the previous sentence.)

But, despite the fact that I'm getting old, I still like to get out and play some basketball. And I'll keep playing basketball until either a) my aging, creaky old body won't let me anymore, or B) the young guys I play ball with lock me out of the building or move the games to a different time and/or place and "forget" to tell me about it.

Ready for my 1950's yearbook photo.
(Yes, my shirt says "Dad" on it. Because I am.)

I play basketball twice a week at the church. I'm the oldest, slowest, and fattest of the regulars (and irregulars) who come to play. (I've got shirts older than some of the other guys.) I'm not strong enough to guard the big guys, and I'm not quick enough to guard the little guys. I'm not a very good shooter, and I frequently make bad passes. Day in and day out, I'm the worst player there.

So, why do I still play? Because some days I'm not the worst player there. Some days the shots actually go in. And some days, even if I am still the worst player there, I'll deflect a pass, or I'll get a good box-out and grab the rebound, or I'll make the perfect pass, or I might even block a shot. And that's enough to keep me coming.

There's something about the feeling when you make a good play, or you contribute to a team that is doing well. It's a feeling you can't really get any other way than playing sports. It's a physical, visceral feeling, and as long as I can, I'll keep trying to attain it. (Even though I'm old and slow.)


I have been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings since the Richard Nixon administration. (That's a long, long time ago, if you care to look it up.) I've been with the Vikings through devastating Super Bowl losses, disastrous playoff losses, and disappointing regular season losses. Over all that time the Vikings have usually had a pretty good team that just happens to lose in the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion.

My wife wonders why I still watch and cheer for the Vikings. Every year they get my hopes up, then, just like when Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, every time they end up letting me down.

Vikings on my desk and wall.
This past weekend it looked like it was going to happen again. The Vikings rushed out to a 17-0 lead over the New Orleans Saints, but then the Saints fought and clawed their way back into the game. When New Orleans kicked a field goal to take a 24-23 lead with less than half a minute left, I thought it was going to be another in a long line of heart-wrenching Vikings playoff losses.

With ten seconds left and no timeouts, the Vikings had one desperate hope. They needed to gain about twenty yards and get out of bounds to stop the clock just to get the chance to attempt a long field goal for the win. (And Vikings playoff history is littered with failed field goal attempts.)

And then, the unbelievable happened. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum lofted a ball toward the sideline, and receiver Stephon Diggs leaped in the air and caught it. But then, instead of getting out of bounds to set up the field goal, Diggs turned up the field and ran all the way untouched for the game-winning touchdown! It was one of the most remarkable plays ever! (It was the first time in the history of the NFL playoffs that a game ended in regulation with a touchdown as time expired.)

That play is the reason why I keep watching and cheering. Sometimes the miraculous can happen! And maybe it will even happen to my team. Every once in a while the team that has never won comes through and finally wins the championship. (Just ask fans of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.) Maybe that can happen with the Vikings.

The Vikings still have to win two more games in order to bring that first Super Bowl trophy home. Maybe they'll win it this year. Maybe they won't. Either way, I'll still be watching.

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