They flip you off in traffic. You moan about them in check out lines. They annoy you. You aggravate them. But put them all together in a round bowl with colorful people running around and we’re all closer than our own family.
The bonding of all those disparate personalities, some of whom we wouldn’t spend any time with in any other venue, is one of the more amazing and wonderful effects of sports on our lives. I’ve had many opportunities to experience and revel in those events, including the special feeling that goes with “winning the big one”, which I’ll leave for the concluding post of “sports week” on Friday.
Today, I’d like to talk about how sports brings out the best of people. I’m sure you’ve read of many ugly incidents at sporting events. Perhaps you’ve even witnessed boorish behavior yourself at a game. I certainly have (anytime the Jets come to town). But that’s not the norm. And in those special moments, people can thrill you as much as the event.
I’ll explain through examples; games I’ve attended in my past that have illustrated the depth of emotional investment and strength of competitive spirit and fair play. If that emotion could only be bottled and kept handy…ah, what a positive world we could live in.
I’m going to leave exact dates to the fact checkers of the world as they are not critical to the point. Example one takes place decades ago, at a football game between my hometown Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers, here in Miami. The game is a rout. The Chargers are destroying the Dolphins. By the end of the first quarter Miami was down 24-0 and had benched their starting quarterback. Then, the amazing happened, as so often does in sports. Big “Mo” (momentum, for you non-sports jargon readers), switched teams. Slowly the Dolphins crawled back and, just before halftime, executed an electrifying play where a receiver caught a pass and lateralled the ball backwards to a running back who then scored as time ran out in the half.
Yes, I remember the names of all the players and the score, but the setup is intended only so I can talk about the crowd (of which I will forever be appreciative I was part of). We went wild. We rose to our feet and clapped. And clapped. And clapped. The teams went to the locker room. And we were still standing and clapping. The halftime entertainment came on the field. And we were still standing and clapping. The teams came back on the field. And we were still standing and clapping. I have never seen or been part of anything like it. The entire stadium. For the entire halftime. We all stood and clapped and cheered.
The game got more epic from there, swinging back and forth, with missed field goals leading to an extended overtime and, finally, the game won by San Diego. An unbelievable performance by Kellen Winslow, looking half-dead but rising like Lazarus each time to make a big play, was so staggering in its individual determination and will that we even stood and cheered for him.
And it is that amazing capacity I would like to illustrate more. For all the “ugly fan” stories and booing fans do, the respect and appreciation for individuals striving to give all they can in pursuit of a victory stirs people to universal acknowledgement.
There have been many times that I’ve been at baseball games where a pitcher has thrown a terrific game, perhaps even shutting out or allowing no hits to the opponent. If he has to leave the game before the end, he always receives a standing ovation. Why? He wasn’t even able to complete what he started. It’s the effort and result people truly appreciate. The baseball player who goes crashing into the stands to catch a foul ball that has little effect on the game but a huge effect on the fans. The basketball player diving to the ground to grab a loose ball even though it means, at most, a couple points, means the world to the fans. The football player who is trapped behind the line of scrimmage and evades five tacklers to end up gaining no yards gains miles of respect from the fans. We applaud when an injured player is removed from the field. Not in derision, but in support and hope for his health.
At a World Series game years ago, I got to watch the (supposed) last game of one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He had a dominating game against my hometown Marlins, but all of us stood and applauded as he left the mound for what we presumed was the last time in his professional career.
I have watched and read about how people acted after 9/11. I have personally been part of the rebuilding after the destruction of a hurricane. It is important to recognize, in these cynical times, that within each of us is a spirit of fairness and goodness that we seem to reach easiest when times are hardest. I see that spirit on display surprisingly quite often during sports events. A genuine sharing of optimism and goodwill among all these disparate people.
Which makes it a little easier to turn the other cheek when someone flips me off as we all try to squeeze out the exits from the stadium to go home.