Sports Fan from Heaven……or Hell?
Since about the age of ten, when I would have to fidget and wait while my dad got first dibs at the Chronicle sports page, I was a sports fanatic. Not the paint-various-body-parts, bare-my-medicine-ball-abs in 10 degree weather, drunken idiot. Just a stat savvy, opinionated, astutely observant student of professional sports. It came to me early, and has never left. My passion has grown exponentially. In fact, in spite of so many unsavory aspects that have infiltrated sports over the course of my lifetime, I retain some idealism and my fires have not extinguished even a little.
I have spent significant energy trying to locate similar animals, to share this intense passion with others. To varying degrees I have found it. My long ago deceased older brother would have been a perfect fit, combining his own shrewd sports knowledge with the fact he was my idol and brother. But life, and death, intervened.
I’ve made some decision in my life that clearly were disrespectful of my passion for sports. Both ex-wives were not even casual sports fans, which begs the question: WTH was I thinkin’? How did I expect them to spend THEIR time while I pondered, read, talked, wrote about, watched and played sports? Talk about short sighted.
In my Jersey days (in the early 1990s) I spent a lot of time in a local sports bar. You’ve never experienced a true sports bar until you do it in North Jersey. There is an almost required brashness, an unspoken rule that you have to walk in with your balls on display; a place where size not only matters, you better have it. Which made it rather difficult for women back there that were avid sports fans.
I had a fun encounter with a red head from Boston one quiet afternoon. We were seated next to each other watching hockey highlights and I dropped a casual sports reference which she volleyed back almost immediately. I pushed my chips to the center of the table, going all in, throwing out a semi-obscure question about where Irving Fryar (former Patriot) went to college. “Nebraska”, she said immediately.
We spent the next hour discussing things such as Boston sports, New York sports, and California sports. She hung with me, making me swoon when she could name Joe Montana’s first two wives. I could see her thinking, ‘This guy really knows his stuff’. I saw her then narrow her eye and, like open Levelor blinds, I saw through to what she was really thinking: ‘Get this rube off of sports, and then what’s his game like? Can he conjugate a verb, name the last nine vice presidents, and make lasagna that would have me consider disrobing?’
Sensing this, I took my sports train and switched tracks, casually asking, “Let me guess, your mom was probably not much of a sports fan, but your brothers and your dad were, and by simple assimilation you were swept into their world, discovered how cool it was, and that would explain why you are in a Jersey sports bar exchanging informed opinions with a stranger?”
She casually raised one finger to the bartender, pointed to her shot glass and my high ball glass, pivoted her eyes back to me, and said “Are you married, honey?”
I bought the round.
That encounter, though fun, flirtatious and fabulous, merely underscored how rarely I was able to establish such chemistry through sports talk with men OR women.
I will cop to being a sports snob, an unavoidable position for me. But I’ve had my comeuppances. In that same Jersey sports bar, later that year, with a mere two plus years of recently acquired hockey knowledge under my neophyte belt, I sat next to two lifetime New York Ranger fans. I managed to hold my own for about an hour until one turned to the other and mentioned casually that Ottawa had waived their young left winger, sending him to Des Moines (wait, there’s hockey in DES MOINES??). Fearing the worst, I pulled the rip cord, pointing to the well-endowed bartender and asking, “Do you think those are real?”
When in doubt, channel your inner Sam Malone, I always say.
(In reverse order: Biden, Cheney, Gore, Quayle, Bush Sr., Mondale, Rockefeller, Ford, and Agnew....and I make a helluva lasagna)