I hold my parents responsible for my love of sports. We lived in Atlanta when the Falcons appeared to be Super Bowl bound in the late ‘70s. During the season our house was filled with lots of cheering and shouting on Sunday afternoons. The Falcons made the playoffs in 1981 and in order to advance they needed to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I was convinced the Falcons would win. Not because I knew that much about football, or the team at the time, but because I still believed anything was possible, whether it was realistic or not. I was a child.
My parents went to the Falcons Cowboys playoff game while my sisters and I watched the game on TV with a sitter. The Falcons led most of the game. I knew they were going to win. I could visualize it—the team winning, my parent’s elation that wouldn’t end until after our Super Bowl victory. Except that’s not what happened. The Cowboys came from behind to win. I was devastated. How could the Falcons lose? This wasn’t supposed to happen. When it became clear there was no chance the Falcons would make a comeback, I ran to my room, slammed the door, jumped on my bed and promptly began to cry. I cried for the Falcons, I cried for my parents, and others experiencing the same pain I was. But mostly I cried for the fantasy that hadn’t become a reality.
I took a break from watching football after that. It was too painful. I didn’t need a reminder that sometimes dreams don’t come true. Several years later, my father convinced me to watch a college football game with him. I almost immediately regained the love I had for watching the sport. At first I resisted getting behind one team, but seeing my Dad get behind the University of Miami, where he’d gone to school, win-or-lose I quickly followed. I loved it when it was clear Miami was in control and a victory certain, and had to walk away when things started going in favor of the opposing team. Whether I thought I was a jinx on the team, or allowing myself to have hope that things would improve during my absence, I can’t quite say. Trying to stay and experience the pain of watching my team lose was too great. I couldn’t do it. My father would often remind me, “it’s only a game,” when he would see how upset or frustrated I was getting. Logically I knew he was right, but it really bothered me that he seemed at peace with it, and I was having all these intense emotions.
While I didn’t set out to teach my children to love sports, I’m afraid I’ve taken them a good distance down the path. My oldest son watches college football games with my husband and I on occasion and helps us cheer on our alma maters. He isn’t picky about who he roots for mainly cheering for teams because he likes their school colors or their mascot. He can get pretty upset—frustrated, angry and sad—when his team isn’t winning or loses altogether. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was a child. I try to comfort him and talk to him like my dad did with me. “Are you playing in the game?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Did you practice with the team?” I ask. “No,” he replies. “Is there anything you can do to change what happens in the game?” “No,” he replies. Sometimes this line of questioning calms him down, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to see your child’s heart break. To know their dream might not come true, even if it’s only a game.
Most things are out of our control. As an individual that’s hard. As a parent it can feel even harder. We can only control how we respond to what happens. I try to empathize with my son and see the game through his eyes—fantasy sprinkled with a dose of real life. While I’m better equipped emotionally to handle my team losing, I still can’t bring myself to watch and entire game if its clear my team will lose. I’ll turn the channel or walk away. I know it’s only a game, but the pain that teeters in the loss is still too great.
Every time I see the famous Doug Flutie pass and victory over UM I’m reminded of the disappointment I once felt, though thankfully not as intensively as I did back then (the recent UPS ad is a killer to watch every time!). Maybe it’s the childlike fantasy I still want to believe in, the hope that the dream will come true, even though I have know I have no control over it. I think back to what my dad said and take a deep breath. It’s only a game.