Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday morning fan

On being a team non-player

I've just finished watching the New York Jets -- my team of 35 seasons, going back to childhood bleacher seats watching the twilight of Joe Namath -- defeat the New England Patriots in the divisional playoff of the 2010 season. And I am utterly exhausted. Watching games like that are not really fun. Yes, of course, there are thrilling moments of excitement, and I finally allowed myself to breathe in the final minute, when I believed that they really were going to win it. But a Jets game is usually a matter of three or so hours of stress.

The real pleasure in a Jets win comes after the game is over. It's having the leading commentators and sports writers to talk about it. Listening to the fans on sports radio savor it. Wearing the colors on my baseball cap with pride. The sense of quiet contentment that comes from that is the real payback for the anguish of the game.

I realize that my way of thinking about all of this may sound a bit unorthodox. But it nevertheless points toward the bizarre reality of sports fandom, which involves relinquishing one's sense of emotional well-being to the vicissitudes of fate. Football, like all sports, is only a game, but a game is by definition an event whose outcome is, no matter how great the apparent mismatch, uncertain. Sometimes uncertainty seems like a pretty scarce commodity in modern life, in which so much is planned, slotted, seemingly inevitable. And to the extent it isn't, uncertainty is more often than not a source of unease, if not alarm. But in sports uncertainty is bearable, even pleasurable, because at the end of the day it really doesn't matter. Only a game. So when the Jets lose -- which, in the course of my life, they've done more often than they've won -- I usually can get on with my life for a week and avoid sports radio, the newspaper, and the ribbing of my friends.

But not this week. For now, I get another week of psychic dividends. Can't be sure that will be true after the game in Pittsburgh next Sunday. So I'm going to steal it and savor it -- and talk about it -- while it's still fun.