Anyone who has seen me walk across a room knows that I am no kind of athlete. The truth is that I can neither run, catch, nor throw. My reaction time is somewhere around twelve and a half minutes, and my eye-hand coordination makes you wonder if my eye and hand are in fact controlled by the same brain. I can't aim at anything successfully, so if you ever see me with something that shoots, including a Nerf Gun or a shot glass, run like zombies are chasing you, because someone is going to get hurt.
This was a great disappointment to my parents. They were both big time jocks in high school, and they tried their best to make me not stink in whatever sport they could make me not stink at. As a result of their efforts, I am not completely embarrassing in tennis or golf, but that's where it ends. I have always joked that this was my rebellion: since my parents were jocks, I had to take another path and be a bookworm. Anyway, my Dad remains a sports nut, who religiously watches any baseball or football game that happens to be on television, and my childhood was spent complaining about the sports talk radio that was non-stop playing in the car instead of Duran Duran or Journey. (This was the 80s. Forgive me.) I went to my share of games with friends and family, and even enjoyed watching ice hockey. I lived on Long Island in the glory days of the New York Islanders, and as a result I am a lifelong Islanders fan, even though I have no idea if they are any good anymore, or even if the NHL strike is over.
Then I went to college. I ended up at Duke University, beginning in 1988, which, if you will remember, means that I was the same year as Christian Laettner and a year ahead of Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. If you don't know who they are, know that they were an amazing team of basketball players who, in 1991 and 1992, won Duke's first and second NCAA championships. Yeah. I was there. Anyway, I love watching Duke Basketball, despite rarely having two hours in a row in which to watch a game. I scream like a crazy person, and have trouble staying seated.
I am still not really a sports fan per se. I don't watch any sports unless I care who wins. I have never ever in 25 years of basketball fandom been able to see a foul before the replay and the commentators' explaination. I just don't see that fast. The rules change from time to time, and I can't keep up. I don't really care about the rules. I only care about screaming like a crazy person whenever Duke does something positive. Sometimes, I don't even know what everyone is so happy about if it didn't involve something painfully obvious like scoring or a turnover. I just enjoy being swept up in the fun.
Here's the thing: because of Duke Basketball, whenever I meet anyone, anywhere, who has gone to Duke, we instantly have an emotional connection. We talk about which player we love the most (this year's team: Mason Plumlee is the overwhelming favorite) and the last game we saw, and memorable games of the past. Remember that time in the Kentucky game Grant Hill inbounded all the way across the court to Christian Laettner with less than two seconds of the game, and in the epitome of grace under pressure, Christian found the time to dribble and shoot and score and win it for us? Or how about that Maryland game when we were down by ten with less than a minute to go and....WON THE GAME!!!!!!!!!
Then I went to Emory for law school. I appreciate the education I got there, but I don't have any passionate feelings about the school or anything that happened there. Emory, as I'm sure you know, doesn't even have a football team, and no other teams that generate excitement, unless you happen to be the Mom or the girlfriend or boyfriend of the atheletes. Whenever I meet someone who also went to Emory, we compare years, and then we play "do you know" and that's all we have in common. There is no shared Emory experience. I don't have the feelings about Emory that I have for Duke.
The point is this: I feel sorry for people who haven't found something to rally around like that. I think people are happier when they have something to look forward to (basketball season) and hope for instant gratification glory.
On December 27th, I drove up to Charlotte NC to see Duke Football play in the Belk Bowl. I spent a boatload of money on the tickets. I'll be honest with you, I didn't even know who we were playing until I got there. Despite the fact that I went to every Duke home football game (because I was in the marching band, which was the pennance you paid for being in the pep band for basketball, which got you a front row seat behind the basket to every home game without having to sleep in a tent for a week for the privilege) I don't follow Duke football at all, and despite having watched upwards of 65 million Jets' games at my father's elbow, my knowledge of football consists of knowing that a touchdown is 6 points, and you have four downs to get ten yards I know that there is something called a safety, which gets you points somehow or another, but I don't know how. I know from Facebook posts that there is some controversy over something called "offsides", but I don't have any clue what that is. I'm guessing it has something to do with the side of the field, but I could be wrong.
So, I sat in Section 226 of the stadium in Charlotte with my son, freezing my booty off, screaming like a crazy person when the rest of the Duke fans. I wore a hat with horns, and my son wore a fluffy blue wig. I could answer virtually none of his questions about what happened during penalties and the like. But that's not the point. The point is not the love of the finer points of the game, but the joy that comes from loving a team. Even when the game is tied at 34 with 90 seconds left, and WE have the ball on THEIR 5th yard line and yet somehow we still manage to lose by 14. Don't ask. Bottom line is that I had an awful lot of fun, and so did my son, who is slowly but surely becoming a rabid Duke fan without actually understanding what is happening all the time.
My hope and wish for my children -- and for you -- is that you find that kind of happiness in the future. So, Go Duke, Go Dawgs, Roll Tide, Go Rams, I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck, How Bout Dem Braves, or whatever floats your boat. The world will be a better place with more joy in it. Except if you root for the NC Tar Heels, of course. Then we can't be friends. That's just plain wrong.