Why does my heart hurt when my team loses, when the season ends abruptly, with aspirations of a championship smashed and shattered? Why does rooting for my team consume me? Why does it command such a considerable part of my life, so that once the games are over, with the final pitch or the despairing sound of a whistle or a horn, I am left with a gaping void?
My most cherished memories from childhood involved sports, involved my teams, those teams handed down to me by my father. Dad and I always talked about sports (and still do), about standings and stats, and strategies and schemes, and players coming and going — which is also how I bond with my nephew. We broke down shooting percentages, and batting averages, and pass completions. We spoke fondly, as if we knew them personally, of Phil Niekro, and Bert Jones, and Goose Givens, later Johnny Dawkins. Sports brought us together. Sports gave us a purpose.
There was no better feeling in the world than when my team won, and bonus points for winning with dramatic flair: a walk-off home run, a Hail Mary, a buzzer beater. And when my team won it all, I was ecstatic, as if I had won the championship myself — and why not, after all, I had been there throughout. It was validation for my belief, for my faith, for my hope. Everything made sense when my team won; everything was how it was supposed to be. But when my team lost, and the season ended, it was the end of the world for me.
Even today, as a fifty-five-year-old adult who should know better, when I have so much else in my life to be concerned with, when I have so much to be grateful for, when my team loses the big game, it is simply devastating. As a kid, after a bad loss, I couldn’t go to school; now, I can barely do any work. I know my wife doesn’t understand it — she respects it, to a point, and she allows me to wallow in my self-pity for a day or so, but she doesn’t understand it.
Lately, I’ve been struggling to understand it as well. What is it about my team losing, not going all the way, not being able to hoist that shimmering trophy high into the air as confetti falls in slow motion and the band plays our fight song that I find so utterly soul-crushing?
After another March Madness became another March sadness, I forced myself to consider this in earnest, and I have come to realize that it has something to do with time — time spent obsessing over my team, and then time spent waiting for next season. There is that notion of time lost and, dare I say, time wasted, for what am I left with for my fandom but disenchantment in a team that has failed to live up to my ideals. All that time invested, and for naught. And it is about time passing, removing me ever further from that wide-eyed eager young boy who would bolt out of bed each morning to parse the sports section at the kitchen table because nothing else mattered then.
When my team loses to end the season, it hurts, and I’m crestfallen, and it feels like something near and dear to me has died — and maybe something has. So I grieve, and I mourn, and for a while, the sun doesn’t shine as bright, and my posture isn’t as straight, and I don’t know what to do with myself. Yet time forges on, as do my teams, in some form or another, perhaps with a different roster and different coaches and maybe even in a different stadium or arena.
Heartbreak is gradually supplanted by optimism, and that old adage “we’ll get ’em next year” becomes the rallying cry. New players are lauded, statistics are reexamined, schedules are scrutinized. Enthusiasm slowly builds, until the first pitch, or kick off, or jump ball, and before long, it is the start of another season, where every team is undefeated, with another set of expectations, and the disappointment from the previous year has faded away with all of the other disappointments from all of the other years. Life begins again, as hope springs eternal.
I love sports. I love my teams.
Peter J. Stavros is the author of Tryouts, the story of one young man’s quest to make his high school basketball team. More at www.peterjstavros.com.