Within a matter of moments on Saturday, the unthinkable happened. Tennessee’s Michael Palardy kicked a 19-yard field goal setup by a miraculous one handed catch by Marquez North, giving the Vols a huge upset win over South Carolina. A few minutes later, Vanderbilt recovered a Brendan Douglas fumble and iced away a victory over 15th ranked Georgia. This was just the beginning of a crazy day of college football that saw eight of the Top 25 teams go down, including six in the Top 15. As the 1:00 Eastern Time starts finished up, Twitter began to light up with tweets from elated fans. Vanderbilt and Tennessee fans had lost their last 15 and 19 games versus ranked teams, respectively, and fans weren’t shy in letting the world know about their excitement. Unfortunately, some fans crossed the thin line between impressively passionate and embarrassingly sad. What could take them from socially acceptable to downright laughable in such a short span? Tears. Fans were tweeting about how they were crying tears of joy in victory. And no, these tweets were not just hyperbole, they were quite serious. So the question is: When is it ok for fans to cry about sports?
Final High School Games
It’s a cold, rainy Friday night in mid-November. You can’t feel your toes or fingers and your voice is all but gone from the 2+ hours of incessant yelling. You suck down the last bit of now freezing cold “hot” chocolate and pray for a miracle. Surely this couldn’t be the end? The final whistle blows and your exhausted, vanquished warriors fall to the ground, lifeless and defeated. Their helmets act as a water basins, catching tears as they fall from the young faces. Moms, dads, uncles, cheerleaders, girlfriends, and the student section join them in agony as the painful realization that 99% of these seniors will never play again starts to sink in. It goes deeper than just the players never playing again. It means no more 3-hour bus rides to road games with the entire student section. No more pre-game cookouts for the beaming dads who looked forward to them after a lousy work week. No more post-game margaritas for the group of players’ moms who needed to let off some steam. No more post-game makeout sessions with the proud girlfriends. No more after-parties, gameday goodie bags, or cheesy signs. All of these things are over forever, and that is worth crying about.
First Game Following a Tragedy
Sports have the uncanny ability to allow people to tune out all of the world’s problems for a few short hours. The sting of a death in the family, a lost job, pending divorce, or citywide disaster briefly fade away while the game is being played. I’ll never forget the first Saints home game at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in September 2006. I fought back the tears as the iconic punt block was returned for a touchdown. You could feel the joy in stadium, as the fans finally had something to cheer about after months of pain. Fast forward to April 2013, when the city of Boston was reeling after the horrific bombing during the Boston Marathon. The Bruins were playing their first game at home since the tragedy, and the crowd was asked to join in the singing the national anthem. Cue the waterworks. Not only did I cry the first time I saw the video, I cry ever time I watch it. This was followed a few days later by Neil Diamond showing up to the Red Sox game to lead the crowd in “Sweet Caroline.” Games following the death of a teammate, classmate, or anyone else closely tied to the program would also qualify here. Clearly, these sporting events were more than just games. They are a chance for a large group of people to rally around their team and quell their pain, even if only for a few hours. Tears at these times are not only acceptable, but almost understood. If you didn’t cry during any of these moments, then you are probably a robot that hates puppies.
Season/Career Ending Injuries
The fifth-year senior has finally earned a walk-on roster spot after being rejected the four previous times. His or her parents both played collegiate ball for the same university, and it has been a lifelong endeavor for Johny or Julie to follow in their footsteps. The team is up big against a cupcake opponent, and the “Rudy Moment” is finally here. An electricity fills the stadium as the significance of the cameo is not lost on the fans. Snap. The persistent underdog goes down with an apparent ACL tear. Or even worse, a crashing hit leaves the player motionless on the field/court/ice. Silence comes over the audience until people can be heard choking back the tears. Dreams are shattered as hundreds of hours spent running stadiums, watching film, and supporting their teammates selflessly seem wasted. They worked so hard to get to this place, and it feels like the universe has screwed them over for no reason. When a moment like this happens, cry away sports fans. You will find no judgment from me or any other reasonable person.
I hopped on the treadmill for a nighttime jog and flipped on the TV. I caught the final few minutes of a documentary, seemingly about an inspirational wrestler who defied all odds. After the quick workout, I searched for the video and stumbled upon “Carry On: Why I Stayed“. Twenty minutes and almost as many tissues later, I had finished the documentary. I won’t spoil it all for you here, but it and the original piece are well worth a watch. Life sucks sometimes. Heck, life sucks a lot of the time. Sports get to showcase countless incredible stories of individuals or teams who overcome immense adversity. You hear heartwarming stories almost daily about a walk-on that paid his way through school by working three jobs and raising his seven brothers and sisters after their parents abandoned them years ago. Or the manager with cerebral palsy who finally got to play in a basketball game as a senior, and made a 3-pointer which sent the crowd into frenzy. Once again, these moments are larger than just sports, they are about life. Now hand me a tissue.
Drawing the Line Somewhere
As most everyone knows, the term fan comes from the word fanatic, which means “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” People are absolutely nuts for their favorite teams and players. Sports are an outlet for most of us fans, an opportunity to step away from our regular lives and into the lives of those playing the games. We even use phrases like “We, Us, and Our” to describe our teams and players, implying that we are truly a part of the experience. While I have no problem with most of this unbridled enthusiasm, there has to be a line drawn somewhere. That line for me is crying over the outcome of a game. Unless your situation falls into one of the categories above, don’t do it. Save your tears for things that actually matter like the birth of your first child or the news that cancer is in remission. Life is just too short to cry about sports.
Maybe that’s some of the reason I feel so good today. Maybe I finally realized that it’s just a game. -David Duval