It’s something I guess I’ve always known, but the recent NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was a good reminder.
Being a sports fan is basically a sucker’s bet.
I was raised in Portland, Oregon, and I have lived here in Wisconsin for more than 11 years;I figure I will probably die here unless I am able to retire somewhere warm. That means there are two colleges I follow regularly during basketball and football season: Wisconsin and Oregon.
And those two teams suffered two of the biggest gut-punch losses in the tournament this year.
The Badgers had gotten their act together and performed like the veteran team they were and made a nice little run in the tournament only to lose on a buzzer-beater against Florida.
Oregon, on the other hand, made its first Final Four in 78 years, and despite getting outplayed all night by a much-bigger North Carolina team, the Ducks were within a point in the final seconds. Then, the Tar Heels missed four consecutive free throws, and Oregon couldn’t get a single rebound for a shot to pull off the stunner.
I guess that’s the deal we make as sports fans: Seasons are going to end, and most of the time they are going to end badly.
For instance, the Green Bay Packers play in the 32-team NFL, so, all things being equal, they have a 3.125-percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. I estimate having Aaron Rodgers bumps that to 10-15 percent, tops. Yet, every year, when they lose in the playoffs it absolutely stinks.
On a head level, I understand that. On a heart level, I just think about the 16 games (plus playoffs) I have invested in the team and the countless hours I have spent thinking about them. I just start thinking about how close they were to achieving lasting glory and just falling short.
I mean, why should we really care? Ryan Braun isn’t coming to my house for Sunday dinner. Craig Counsell likely isn’t going to hang out in a tavern and have beverages with me. Athletes at that level are in their own little world, and we just to hope to be radiated by the light.
For some my age, I imagine sports fandom is a reminder of a simpler time when every game (even if your team had absolutely zero chance of winning a championship) was a life-or-death struggle and could alter your mood for the next couple of days.
No matter how much we discuss our favorite players and teams, we know at a basic level the Packers general manager isn’t going to listen to our advice for the draft, the Brewers manager isn’t going to consult us when he needs/wants to make a pitching change, and Bucks management doesn’t really care what we think about a potential trade.
Jerry Seinfeld famously said that, as fans, we are basically “rooting for laundry,” but on some level, when Robin Yount and Paul Molitor are together for so long, when Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are beamed into our homes and hearts for going on three decades, and when we see Giannis Antetokounmpo make the leap to bona fide superstar, we are more invested than just the jerseys on their backs.
Watching sports gives us the perfect release from whatever ails us in the real world, whether it’s a rough day at the office, the endless string of ridiculousness on the news or problems in our interpersonal relationships.
It gives us hope.
It gives us something to look forward to.
It gives us something bigger than ourselves.
But mostly, what it gives us is a sobering dose of humility all too often.