Philosophy and Sports: The ravaged heart of a Packers fan

>> Tuesday

Everyone always talks about how they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when Jordan hit the jumper to win his 6th ring (I was at home with my Dad and brothers), when Kevin Dyson fell one yard short of the end zone (I was at some strangers house and had recently been scolded for being alone with a girl in their guest room during halftime), and when Mark McGwire hit no. 62 (I was at a bowling alley, and was one of two people paying full attention to the TV before the ball barely cleared the left field fence...then the entire place came to a screeching halt. Have you ever been in a bowling alley full of people without any sound of balls and pins colliding? It's eerie).

But one of my most distinctive sports memories was the most devestating. I can relive the moment anytime I want. It was hours after Super Bowl XXXII had ended, and the Packers had just been on the losing end of one of the great Super Bowl upsets of all time. The 50+ guests that had been at our house had cleared out in a depressed hush. My brother and I were both lying on our beds, crying into our pillows. You don't forget that kind of heartbreak.

So when the Lawrence Tynes finally made a fucking field goal, and I saw my younger brother tearing up, I knew that he would remember that moment forever. The Seahawks game will fade into a vague blur of a memory, but the pain of losing doesn't fade.

But here's the thing about sports depression: it's a vital part of being a sports fan. I value the moments when David beats Goliath, the hero rides into the sunset, or the good guys win. But at a subconscious level, I value even more the times when these things don't happen.

That's what seperates sports from all other forms of entertainment. In a movies and TV shows, there are a disproportionately large number of happy endings. More often than not, good defeats evil, the nice guy gets the girl, and the underdog wins. Even (especially) in sports movies. I can't help but think of Dodgeball. The movie almost didn't happen because the writers wanted Ben Stiller to win. That moment when Vince Vaughn walked off the court in defeat and Ben Stiller celbrated like an asshole was supposed to be the end of the movie. But the promoters or whatever (the people with the money) insisted on a happy ending. So they added the whole bullshit where the refs ruled Stiller stepped over the line, forcing sudden death, etc...and the little guy wins. David beats Goliath. I don't know whether the movie's tagline, "A True Underdog Story," was formed before or after the ending had been changed, but it makes much more sense with the original ending. Because the underdog, in true reality, usually loses.

Now you might be thinking, "But the Packers were favorites, the underdog did win." But the Packers were underdogs in a broader sense because no one (except me...Zuch can back me up) expected them to be good. Everyone saw Favre as a shell of what he used to be, and everyone demanded that he retire because they didn't want to watch a hero stumble into the reality of old age. But then Favre made a triumphant, out-of-nowhere return to excellence--like Wylie Burp in Fievel Goes West--and everyone was cheering for him to win the Super Bowl and ride into the sunset on his fucking tractor.

But the NFL is not "Dodgeball" and the crowd did not get what they wanted.

Now you might also be thinking, "Well not all movies have happy endings. In fact, some of the great movies are great because they don't have happy endings." But it's all contrived, and that's the point. Movies like the "Virgin Suicides" and "Requiem for a Dream" are what I like to call "beautifully depressing." But those movies, and the emotions they elicit, are still products of an author. Someone designed those movies to evoke certain feelings like sympathy, sadness and straight-up depression (I couldn't sleep the night after I watched either of the above mentioned movies). What makes sports so unique, and so great, is that the drama is produced without an author (if any one of you assholes says that "God" is the author...well, think about what path you're heading down).

Even when it comes to movies--especially sports movies--that are "based on a true story," the truth is so Hollywoodized that the story becomes virtual fiction. Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Bechtel and me discuss "Hoosiers" knows how passionately I hate happy endings. But Hoosiers is a perfect example of a reality distorted to appeal to our desire to see the underdog win. The movie has great cinematography; the acting is phenomenal; the characters are intriguing...but it's total fiction, and it's portrayed as reality by the bullshit phrase, "based on a true story."

This is why I will contend that "Friday Night Lights" is the greatest sports movie ever made. Not only are the differences between the movie and real events negligible, the conclusion is much more representative of real life.

And that's what makes sports so unique among other forms of entertainment. In real life, Goliath usually kicks the shit out of David, cheaters and "bad guys" win, and the hero declines into mediocrity.

When a story like the Sean Taylor episode breaks, we're not devestated because a man has died, I hate to say. We're devestated because it's a shot of reality into what we want to be a fairy tale.

But ultimately, that's what keeps us coming back to sports. If we knew they were contrived, they would be horrible stories. But the reality of sports includes an abundance of heartbreak and unwanted endings. And that's what makes sports so damn great.


Vinnie 8:59 AM  

Dodgeball? Fievel Goes West? I think we need a tag for "oddly selected references" and constantly try to top each other.

But yeah, great post, and I couldn't agree with you more. The haze of euphoria just can't compare to the haze of despair and shock caused by a heart-breaking loss. Like you say, you don't want it to happen like that, but when you detatch yourself from your preconceived wants, you can't deny how incredible, and dare I say, beautiful that moment is.

For me, Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS tickled my psyche in a way that Marquette over Kentucky in the Elite Eight or Paxson-for-three never could. I look back on that game fondly more than anything and consider that top-of-the-eighth to be one of the greatest twenty-some minutes of baseball I've ever seen, if not for the quality of play but for the sheer weight of emotion it leveled on the fans and players. To watch things unravel at a moment when they seem so destined to go right is just an indescribably awesome thing, and it almost always tops whatever ideal scenario we conjure up in our imagination beforehand.

Mike 10:20 AM  

Agreed, both in sentiment and as to oddly selected references.

Just think back to that 2003 Marquette Final Four year.

Sure, everyone remembers MU womping the shit out of Kentucky, just because all the bandwagoners had turned out. For me, the best game that season was the loss to Louisville at home.

I HATE watching Marquette lose, which means I've had a really bad week.

I HATE watching Marquette lose TO LOUISVILLE even more. (Again, this past week sucked balls.)

But anyone who was at that game can tell you it was truly operatic. Two ranked teams dueling for first place in the conference. A new rivalry starting to come into its own, stars on the floor and sidelines, a packed house, the game going back and forth. I'm pretty sure no team had a lead bigger than 5 or 7 at any point in the game. Travis Diener nails the game-tying three with 10 seconds left only for Reece Gaines to nail the winner with 3 seconds left.

I left the Bradley Center crushed and emotionally exhausted, but I can still say that was probably the best game I saw at MU.

Patrick 11:37 AM  

I feel really bad for Packer fans especially Matt, Nate, and Nick who were very gracious and understanding toward myself and Zuch when we were up there last year and the Bears lost in the Super Bowl.

But I can't say I feel bad for your buddy Nate who was mocking Zuch and I last year. What goes around comes around I guess.

For me, I still remember watching Laettner beat Kentucky on March 28, 1992. I still remember the date. We were all watching the game at our house and I remember my brother throwing the remote at the tv which caused the remote to explode, with pieces flying everywhere.

And of course, watching the Cubs blow the NLCS. I watched it in one of my buddies room in Mashuda and looked in horror as they blew their load in the 8th. I still remember getting a phone call from my dad when the Cubs were still up 3-1 and him saying "here comes the choke"

Nathan 1:43 PM  

No Pat, I wouldn't expect you to feel any sympathy for me. And don't worry, I took endless shit at work Monday morning from all the Packer-haters. I can dish it out, and I can take it.

But you know what DOES get under my skin? When fellow Packer fans bring up the game, mope about it, and continue to do so for hours on end. If you're supposed to be a sympathizer, don't talk to me about the fucking Packers! Talk to me about the weather, or the presidential election, or the hypothetical death of my entire family...but don't talk about the damn Packers.

People need to learn how to ignore the elephant in the room once in a while.

Nathan 1:44 PM  

Oh wait, I just realized you weren't talking about me...was I actually gracious last year? I don't remember that.

Patrick 7:31 PM  

Yeah, you guys were surprisingly very cool about it. I was shocked. Thats why I feel for you guys cause I know what its like to see your team lose in a big game.

Mike 11:44 PM  

Blew their load?

Zuch 9:23 PM  

I agree with the idea behind this post (and Dodgeball would have been that much more awesome if they went with original post). That being said, the Pack had been transformed from underdog (They did a touch better than 4-12 I guess) to favorites in that game and really should have been beaten an overachieving Giants team.

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