When my son was a young boy, he was an avid fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears. We would typically attend one Chiefs game each year at Arrowhead Stadium, and my son, having experienced the spectacle that can be a Chiefs home game, became particularly rabid in his love of Kansas City. He dressed in a Chiefs uniform for Halloween, and would wear the helmet during each Kansas City telecast.
As any Chiefs fan will attest, it can be a frustrating experience, as the Chiefs have a history of great pre-season expectation followed by erratic performance during the season itself. I recall one particular Sunday when the Chiefs were involved in a close, back-and-forth game with their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Raiders. The Chiefs had numerous opportunities during the fourth quarter to take the lead, but seemed to self destruct during each offensive series. My then eight-year old son, seated on the couch with helmet securely strapped to his head, would jump up whenever a play went awry, the offense stalled, or the officials made a questionable call, and yell at the offending player or official. Of course, to his eight year old fanatically loyal mind, any call against the Chiefs was an abomination and an insult to right thinking people of sight everywhere who could clearly observe that “THAT WAS NOT HOLDING!”
At he end of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs, down just 1 point, got to within field goal range with just over a minute to play, and then proceeded to march backward on successive penalties that effectively ended the game. At each yellow flag that was thrown my son would leap from the couch and hurl eight year old epithets at both the officials and Marty Schottenheimer, the Chief’s coach at the time. When it became apparent the Chiefs would lose, my son jumped up, yanked his helmet off and threw it across the room, after which he stomped off with hands thrust in the air, shouting, “I’m done! That’s it! They’re killing me!”
I felt much the same way at the conclusion of the Ryder Cup Sunday after watching the almost surreal meltdown that set upon team USA like a rapidly-advancing viral infection that one feels, rather than sees. Nothing seemed to go the USA's way on the back nine, and there was an utter sense of helplessness in watching. Even my lucky USA golf hat that I break out only for the President and Ryder Cups, and which I adjusted repeatedly over the course of the afternoon, was no match for the Euros. I even went "rally cap" at one point. The odds-defying comeback by the Euros was just so painful that I can barely summon words to describe it. I usually relish the opportunity to re-hash the weekend’s golf results, but today I have no desire to do anything other than put this whole Ryder Cup debacle behind me.
A co-worker mentioned early today that it was an exciting finish, even though the Euros won. I lied and said I agreed. It was not exciting. It was horrible. The USA choked and there is simply no other way to put it. That’s it. That’s the story and I shall write no more about it.
But it does remind me of the teaching opportunity I took with my son years ago when he engaged in his helmet-throwing tantrum. I remember going to him and telling him that it’s fine to root for your team and it’s even ok to have a passionate interest in the outcome. But I also reminded him there’s a line that is crossed when our emotions are affected well beyond the immediate outcome of the game. I told him it’s not healthy to be such fans that we let the result of a contest in which we aren’t participants make us angry, sad or elated. I illustrated how silly it is to be such a fan by asking him if he thought any of the Chiefs players or coaches would have a bad day if they knew he did poorly on a math quiz or had a bad time at swim practice.
I like to believe that little lesson to my son had the desired effect. He seems to have grown into a better fan of sports. He still roots for the Bears, having pretty much given up on the Chiefs, but he knows the outcome of a game shouldn’t have any effect on the rest of his day. As for me, I was reminded of that teaching moment at the conclusion of Sunday’s singles when my wife turned to me and said, “Fortunately, that has no bearing on our lives—now, go pick your hat up off the floor so we can go to the grocery store.”