Confessions of a Sports Fan

The fleeting joy in Mudville

My name is Bill W.

I'm not the founder of AA; that guy's dead. I'm Bill W., the Minnesota sports fan. I'm not addicted to sports. That's not what this is about. I have an unhealthy relationship with it, that's all.

I'm part of a different breed of sports fan. Not different as in special, different as in mutant. I want you to know this, so you'll come to understand me, and us, a little better.

Some of you will empathize. Some will find this all quite pathetic. So be it.

The Minnesota sports fan is a wounded man. He's been hurt often, much of it occurring in childhood, where the damage tends to be permanent. The most important thing to grasp about us is that wins have become nowhere near as enjoyable as losses are painful. Wins are a relief, but are viewed as momentary aberrations. Losses are torture and viewed as punishment for caring.

During a sporting event, a Minnesota fan waits for a fist to the solar plexus. Sometimes it doesn't arrive, but the expectation makes the event difficult to enjoy. It is a well-worn motif by now. The sports event plays out as if things are going to go our way. Then there's an ugly and unexpected turn. This setup and delivery can play out over a single game or stretch over an entire season, and it doesn't occur all the time. When it doesn't occur, however, there's merely relief, as if one escaped a car accident through blind luck.

How did the Minnesota fan get this way? It's unlikely that our sports experiences are uniquely painful. We believe them to be, but I think we're mistaken. Fans in Buffalo, New York, for instance, have known as much emotional grief. But they're New Yorkers. I think our pain is a peculiar blend of our sports experiences combined with our Minnesota personality. We have an insecurity about us, a lack of confidence combined with a peculiar innocence. We turn to sports for great drama and transcendence, something our lives too often lack.

But we're not rewarded often enough.

It's strange, I know. The gifts provided by the Twins in '87, '91, and even this year, with game 163, should be a balm—more than that, a soothing repair. But as I mentioned earlier, too much damage was done too early.

If you don't remember the 1960s, '70s or first half of the '80s, then maybe this isn't about you. Then again, if you were at the Dome for the NFC championship in '98, you've seen a bronzed monument to this Minnesota pathos. That moment was so angelically pure and layered in its rich, deep suffering that it should hang at the Capitol for out-of-state visitors to inspect.

There were moments before that, of course (see Staubach's Hail Mary), and there have been moments since. Again, no more than some other states have endured, but those states don't share our regional angst or cultural DNA.

We seem to wait on our pain, expect it, view it as part of who we are. You can lay this template over any single season or any individual game. More often than not it will fit snugly.

After the Twins won the pennant in '87, why did the headlines read "Unbelievable"? Why exactly was it unbelievable, because it happened to us? What headlines could be found after the World Series victory? "The Monkey's Off Our Back" was one I recall. What is the feeling of a monkey being removed? Relief, that's what. Not celebration. Celebration is for winning the lottery. We don't do that (see Timberwolves drafts).

Lay the template over the last Green Bay game and notice the pattern. The setup: Going ahead big, early on. The prepping of the hammer blow: the fumble, the momentum shift, the comeback. We won in the end, of course, eluding the hammer, but what was the accompanying feeling? Deep relief.

And so we move on, exhaling fully, to the next game, to some elusive future championship. But we trust none of it, and we protect ourselves by keeping handy that trusty refrain: "It's just a game, in the end. Only a game."

Actually, it's Mother. And we still live at home. 

 
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