I love sports. But I am not invested in them. It is fun to root for a team, but I don’t live and die with wins and losses. I get excited, I might yell (or even cuss), but when the game is over, it is over. I don’t dwell on the outcome, it is inconsequential and totally out of my control. There are important things in my life that I need to think about, or work on, or figure out, or fix, that thinking about how the Bengals could improve their pass rush or how changing the starting rotation of the Reds might win a few more games falls below the priority list. So it was much to my chagrin this weekend when twice I found my mood fouled by the outcome of a football game. Normally, win or lose, as the game ends I’m onto something else. So I took some time to examine what was different about the two games (Baylor vs. Oklahoma and Bengals vs. Texans). Both teams I rooted for lost, after being amazingly good and undefeated up until this point. I had high expectations going into the game, which after being a Bengals fan through much of the 90s and early 2000s taught me to mollify my expectations for victory. But it wasn’t just that. Teams lose, it happens a lot, and I certainly wasn’t thinking that the Bengals would go undefeated or that Baylor would be national champions. In fact, I remembered thinking earlier that if the Bengals did lose this game, it would be great because it would reduce expectations for an unrealistic undefeated season, reduce the tension, and give them a fire for victory that could carry over into playoff wins. Baylor was playing a tough team, and they were starting a freshman at quarterback. Given that, my expectations were muted enough that I shouldn’t have really been too upset about the loss, but at the end of both games there I was aggrieved and in a bad mood. I took me a bit but finally it dawned on me that the source of my aggravation had been about the time invested in a losing effort.
With Katie, rarely do Sara and I ever sit down to watch anything uninterrupted. Both of these games occurred in the evening, after Kate had gone to bed. I made a special point to watch the entirety of both games. During both games, Sara was doing things on the computer or watching TV in the bedroom, and I thought nothing of it. Sara wasn’t really interested in the games (since it wasn’t the Packers) and since she had other things to do, I watched the games by myself. This was the key. Most of the time I watch sports as a communal event, with friends and family, or with strangers at a bar, but in these two instances I had decided to invest the time alone. So why did the loss affect me. It was because it was a bad investment of 6 hours (two games). When I watch a game with someone else, regardless of the outcome, there is dual purpose: sports and interpersonal communications, and when one doesn’t work out (your team loses) just having someone else to there to share the experience and conversation makes the time investments at worst neutral.
For me, like many others, sports are a common language that facilitated many conversations. With my dad or grandpa. With my siblings. With strangers. Conversations initiated by a good play or a terrible call often meander into something more substantial during the course of the game. The slow ebb and flow of a baseball game gave me many an opportunity to chat with my dad. Conversations didn’t need to be deep or even meaningful; they just became part of patois, between singles, strikes, and stolen bases. Those conversations with my dad, or anyone, really made the three hours invested in watching a game worthwhile. It becomes so much a part of the experience that I really took it for granted. During the years I lived alone, I very rarely watched a whole game without doing anything else. Often I would read, write, or work on projects with the game on in the background, only breaking to catch those exciting moment. So even if my team lost, I still got something done.
These two games I watched I wasn’t doing anything else. I didn’t have my book out, or my laptop, I was just watching the game. So I invested, I made a bet on the outcome with my time and I lost. The end result was a crappy mood. Luckily, bad moods based on the outcome of football games are an easily recognized pattern so after about 30 minutes of grousing around I was on to the next thing.