Sunday, December 13, 2015

A month of gifts, day 13: The Gift of Sports

It’s a good thing I’m a writer, because I can barely talk this morning. My throat hurts because I spent most of the third period of last night’s Sabres game either screaming for the team or giving the refs a detailed exegesis on my opinion of their eyesight (poor) and judgment skills (even worse). It was clear that pretty much everyone else in the building agreed with me, too, which was gratifying.

(Pre-game warmups at First Niagara Center.)

My very first pro sporting event, when I was about ten years old, was a Maine Mariners hockey game with my friend Amy and her mom. We sat up in the nosebleed section and cheered wildly for Archie—I can’t remember his last name—who was basically the team goon. I don’t mind admitting that my favorite player on any hockey team is still the one with the most penalty minutes for fighting.

My friend Andy and my sister Alyssa got me hooked on baseball—mainly out of self-defense, so they’d stop making fun of me for not knowing what was going on. Those were some good times, summer nights at the field in Old Orchard Beach, or watching our beloved Red Sox break our hearts every year on channel 6. I can tell you exactly where I was in 1986 when Bill Buckner let that ground ball roll between his legs during game six of the World Series against the Mets. (I come from a family of truly epic grudge-holders, and was delighted when the Royals beat the Mets this year to take the pennant.)

 (Fenway Park, from the official Red Sox website. Someday, I will sit in that hallowed place, and yell like a maniac.)

(True confession time: I cried when the Red Sox finally won the Series in 2004. Cried like a baby, because we had been waiting SO DAMN LONG for that moment. Cowboy up!)

I’m pretty sure my first boyfriend broke up with me because I wouldn’t switch my loyalty from the Celtics to the Lakers. (Dude. Seriously?)

And then there’s football. I was lucky enough to attend BYU during the Ty Detmer years, which was a lot of fun. I can still sing most of the fight song—I learned the words to “Rise and Shout” during one epic game in which the Cougars scored seven touchdowns against the Air Force Academy.

(I know Utes fans are pissed off about this, but it doesn't seem like college football season without round umpty-jillion of the Holy War.)

After school, I kind of fell away from football . . . until I got pregnant with the twins. Since I wasn’t supposed to go out much, I spent Sundays watching football. Lots and lots of football. We were living in Sacramento, and that was the fall Steve Young (another former Cougar YAY) led the Niners in that epic Super Bowl run. If you’ve known any pregnant women, you know we can get kind of hormonal and emotional about stuff, and I was deeply invested in that team.

My loyalties have shifted a little, living here in Buffalo. I root for the Bills more than the Niners, for the Sabres rather than the Bruins. (But I will never, ever, EVER root for the Yankees, because my love of the Red Sox is more of a religious affiliation.)

Loving a sport is discouraging sometimes, what with the doping and concussions and assorted bad behaviors. But at its best, the love of sports brings out the best in people. For instance, last night there was a dad and his young son sitting a couple rows in front of us. The lady on the other side of them left a few times to grab snacks or visit the restroom, and when she came back during the third period, she handed the little boy a box of M&Ms. “Thank you for being so patient and standing up so I could get by,” she told him.

It was a great moment, even better than hollering with 18,000 other fans when Ryan O’Reilly scored that overtime goal that gave my Sabres the win.

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