Thursday, March 9, 2006

Joy to the world

Don't worry, this isn't another sports post, but it does have a sporting tangent.

Last week I was lamenting the downfall of the Big Ten and pondering how cruel life can be. Today I enjoy the demise of Duke and Gonzaga and think how wonderful life is.

I grew up in a family that couldn't care less about sports. My parents still don't. But I remember the moment when I fell in love with sports - and a side benefit of sports.

I was playing football in with the neighborhood kids in someone's backyard. It was "touch football," but we were playing as though the definition of "touch" was not causing the other guy multiple fractures. The teams were split between the young guys - about 8 and 9 years old - and the old guys who might be 10 years old. The age difference accounted for quite a talent split, and my team was definitely on the short side of talent.

Still, we were determined to not let the big kids beat us and gave it our very best effort, despite being so outmanned. It came down to the end of the game and the football was floating toward the makeshift endzone between the two lawn chair markers. One big kid defender against two little kid receivers. I was one of those receivers and I couldn't catch anything but a cold.

So I did what any talentless, fat little punk would do - I ran into the big kid with everything I had, and as we both crashed to the ground, my fellow receiver caught the ball, safely between the lawn chairs, inside the endzone. Victory over the big kids! I felt like I'd won the Super Bowl.

Sure, the big kids complained that I committed pass interference, and the kid I knocked to the ground did end up pounding me, but we'd won and it felt great.

I forgot to mention - I suffered from stuttering and dyslexia. I was a non-athletic, chubby little kid who sounded funny, had a hard time reading and was a generally social outcast. I was always the last kid chosen for a team in gym class - even after the girls, and not to sound sexist, but as a little boy, that was real hard. I was only invited to play in the game that day because they needed me to round out the numbers for the "little kid" team. This was the first time I'd felt great about anything in months, and years later it still makes me smile and brings a feeling of satisfaction.

That is the beauty of sports, especially at tournament or playoff time. We can tune in to a game and spend time immersed in a sporting duel that will, ultimately, mean nothing when we wake up the next day. Life will go on regardless of the winning or losing status of our beloved teams. But the stress and junk we all deal with simply because we are living can be put on the backburner for a few hours. We can whoop and holler at the TV, radio, or even in the stadium or arena and burn off the anger, stress, embarrassment, or whatever is eating away at us.

You may ask, "Jay, what if I really hate sports? Is there any hope for me to whoop it up and holler?" Good news - yes. No matter how much you hate sports, spend a few minutes yelling at a referee next time you pass a basketball game on the TV or radio. You'll never go wrong with yelling at a referee, and you'll get to enjoy the stress-relief benefits of fandom.

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