A better script for the agony of defeat could not have been written. If you would have seen this happen in a movie, you would cringe and remind yourself it’s not real. It’s just a movie, one that Quentin Tarantino would find a little too gory. But it wasn’t. It’s still too painful to recount the details but the plot was simple, yet cruel. The stakes could not have been higher. Two centuries-long rivals square off. Your team is at home and starts off poorly only to regain momentum and take a large enough lead for most of the game the outcome seems in hand. The crowd is electric, even the announcers seem to be on your side. But only then in the waning moments, a few bad breaks, a blown call and the stage is set for the unthinkable ending.
3…2…1…It goes in. We lose.
For those who follow such things, it was the night of February 8th, 2012. I am a Carolina fan and I hate Duke. My heart still feels like a half-eaten peach that’s been rolled across the floor of a public restroom. So yeah, I’m doing not so great today.
Please understand I’m no fair-weather fan. This fandom isn’t based on popularity, the color of the uniforms or they’re just the good guys in the rivalry against one of the most detested teams in all of sports (See #2). I’m a fan because I went to school there. So did my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors. It’s in my blood. Like a vampire, I’m stuck with it for eternity. It’s my existence and my curse. One of my earliest memories in life is of my own blessed, loving mother cursing, cheering, and throwing toys at the television during a game. I watched, frozen with fear and intoxication over what could cause such passion. I was hooked.
I married outside my religion with my lovely wife, a mid-westerner from a school that’s mostly known for being just a good school, so the pious following of Carolina Basketball was a new and bewildering experience for her. She took it well, even when a tough loss sends me stomping out the door to play in traffic or go virtually speechless for days. Her birthday comes around this time and more than one romantic dinner has been spent in choppy silence as I mash my steak into a thousand pieces and swear the couple behind us is gloating over my loss. So yeah, this game was kind of a big deal.
Two years ago, this sporting disaster sends me into fast-food-binging, hard-liquor-drinking, vow of silence funk of epic proportions, lasting days, maybe weeks. Something probably gets broken and the dog chooses the crate over being in the same room with me. I avoid anything with a screen or an internet connection to keep my eyes from having to relive this nightmare again. In the waning moments of last night’s game, as the tension in my chest built and the bile rose to the back of my mouth. I knew. This was going to end badly but a voice I had never heard before chimed me - it’s just a game dude.
My daughter is almost two. We’ve already dressed her on more than one occasion in little Carolina fan outfits and temporary tattoos. The first thing I bought when I heard I got one past the goalie was a Onesie depicting Carolina’s greatness over its most hated rival. I already dream of walking her around campus on her first visit, showing her my old dorm like my dad did with me. I picture us watching games together in the comingyears, cheering for the same team, sharing the excitement and nerves of an upcoming game. Maybe one day she chooses another team and that’s okay. But for now, it’s her legacy too. And I know this dad-daughter bonding moment will be about much more than a rivalry or even sports. I’ve got a job to do. To teach her the lessons I want her to learn, to be the person I hope she will be, I will have to change.
So last night I watched and I sat as all that is evil in the (sports) world celebrated while an icy hand reached deep inside and ripped out an unhealthy amount of soul. There were no tears. No slamming of doors or anxiety-ridden pets. I may have wandered the house in a stupor searching for something, anything to focus on other than this, but no ledges were mounted. They’re no empty vodka bottles this morning and I didn’t fall off the glue-sniffing wagon. (Kidding! I’m a whiskey man.) I checked on our sleeping daughter, told her goodnight and went to bed.
Don’t get me wrong, today sucks. Like any loss, especially one to the team that shall not be mentioned, it’s been taken personally. I still have the painful residual feeling of rejection, like I was just dumped, on my birthday, for my best friend. But that little girl made me smile this morning and it made me forget about the game.
Until I clicked ont he wrong website this morning. It’s fast food for lunch today, right after I cancel the cable.