My wife didn’t even say she was sorry. I know there was nothing she could do about it, and it was nothing she did. After all, she didn’t commit one of five Viking turnovers. But she didn’t bother to even attempt to console me, ask me about it, just let me vent. Not even walking into the room just to sit in silence with me. After nearly twelve years of marriage and sixteen years together, she should have known better.
Sports and music: they are unlikely cousins – two seemingly different disciplines, endeavors, whatever you want to call them – that share one important thing, though. And that is the ability to elicit fierce passion and such a pronounced emotional response from fans. Just like the most ardent follower of, say, Neil Young, who could rattle off his discography chronologically without hesitation, sports fans can dredge up even the most obscure players who have ever graced their team’s roster. We are capable of being identified with a musical artist in the same way we are with a sports team. Such allegiance becomes indelibly linked with us. Even if you didn’t know me well in grade school, chances are you will remember my Minnesota Vikings’ jackets. I often donned the gold armed variety that resembled a letterman jacket that were often available from the Sears catalogue. I wore those old school NFL toboggans with the tassels on top. While at school I had to wear the standard light blue shirt and dark blue uniform wardrobe; at home I donned Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, and Chuck Foreman jerseys.
And even if you were only a high school acquaintance, you probably saw my record reviews in the school paper or heard me comment on why The Style Council should dominate the US Billboard charts or why the E Street Band will be the best concert you ever attend. For better or worse, sports and music often become parts of our identities. We tend to talk about sports and music more than we do our faith, our hopes, our dreams. The same concourses of arenas and stadiums that sell team merchandise are transformed on concert night to an oasis of band merchandise. We wear team or band apparel as a badge of honor, as a means of pride and even self identity.
After the Vikings’ loss to the Saints last night, I knew that I didn’t want to watch ESPN; I didn’t want to talk to co-workers about it. I suppose I wanted to be left alone in my disenchantment and disappointment. I want no pity or deserve none. To suggest so is laughable. There are people still being pulled from the rubble in Haiti. There are children going through taxing and painful recoveries at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. There are families grieving from the loss of a loved one while others are being pulled apart by divorce. There are sufferers of chronic illness; there are the lonely elderly John Prine sang about in Hello In There. Comparatively speaking the fact that my favorite pro football team lost a conference championship game is disproportionate and fairly insignificant. But in my little world, it actually does mean something.
Since I was four or so, I have followed the Vikings. My big brother started cheering for them, and I, like most little brothers, decided to do the same. Nearly thirty-five years later, we are both still fans. And this year would have been different. He will be in Louisville during Super Bowl weekend. We would have been able to watch the Vikings together in a Super Bowl for the first time since January of 1977 when I was six year-old and didn’t obviously yet have decades of fandom under my belt yet. Over the last few years, my brother has flown in from Houston and we’ve seen the Vikings lose on the road in Nashville and Cincinnati. But this time, we would have been able to watch the Vikings play together with the chance to win their first Super Bowl, to pursue, as Peter Gabriel put it, the resolution of all those fruitless searches. But it was not meant to be. Perhaps the destiny and good fortune owed the city of New Orleans was too much to overcome. Perhaps it was just the five turnovers.
In sports like music, the “best” fan is not simply deemed so by those who paint their face in team colors for a game or stand out in the bitter cold shirtless with a letter on their chest in a group of friends spelling out a player’s name. It’s not about who has the most message board posts for a team or band. It’s not even about who can recite all of a songwriter’s lyrics. Music and sports share some intangible power that often defies a well-grounded rationale and sufficient articulation. Why should a game I have no control over make me pace in the basement? How does a certain song nearly bring me to tears every time I hear it? The answers to these questions aren’t as divergent as you may think. For better or worse – usually it’s worse – I am a Viking fan. I can’t just change allegiances.
Similarly, there may be few artists from our youth that have stood the test of time with us, but odds are some have endured and always eill. Sure, we may have outgrown the Bay City Rollers, but there are certain artists we still come back to as adults. I don’t see me ever ridding myself of ELO, for example. Sure, my allegiance to the Vikings has occasionally waned; a 2001 41-0 NFC championship loss can do that to you. But I’ve never stopped being a fan. You may not have enjoyed Bob Dylan’s last record, but a true fan waits with hope for the next one to capture their imagination again. The same can be said for a sports season. Hope is a wonderful thing in any facet of life. It gets us through both the trying times and the thriving times.
One may argue that it’s hard to feel anything for athletes who make millions and get put on a public pedestal in a position of honor that should be reserved for scientists who work on finding cures for diseases, doctors who save lives, and teachers who help intellectually and socially mold our children. Can’t argue with that. That’s why I’ll go the egocentric MTV reality show route, and look at it from a what’s-in-it-for-me perspective. Like many fans, there are times when you feel cheated, like you deserve more. That old “this is our chance and we let it slip away” feeling gnaws at your stomach. And yes, I used the word “we.” I really don’t care what any sports talk show host says, I have spent most of my life cheering for this team; my parents and I have spent who knows how much on apparel; I have invested plenty of energy. It’s OK to say “we.” Oh, and for those who say “you never played the game,” I say “And you point is…?” That’s like saying you can’t be a music fan unless you are a musician yourself.
As I watched some of the second half, my eight-year-old sat by me. That, in and of itself, made it memorable. We were sharing the experience together. For him it was probably a bit comical seeing his dad act, for lack of a better word, silly. He was doing some work, and we needed to review his First Communion book. I told him that we can review the pages during the commercials because during the game, it would be difficult for me to concentrate, but I did make it clear that his Communion book is unequivocally more important than a football game. As a kid, I still remember my mom saying something to the effect of “People can go to a ball game for three hours, but they can’t go to church one hour a week?” Indeed, football fandom has no effect on our soul, and I really don’t suspect that God cares who wins a game. But boy, it can make you heart sick.
Athletes rattle off countless clichés in interviews, one of which is to keep things in perspective. Well, from my perspective, the Vikings blew a chance that historically (well at least since 1977) doesn’t come along often … or never. They were a couple runs away from possibly winning the game on a last second field goal. They passed instead. I know my personal circumstance means nothing to that sullen Minnesota locker room or most of my readers (all seven of you). But the Vikings were arguably moments from allowing me and my only brother the opportunity to watch our team in a Super Bowl together, offering a joyous culmination of games watched and games missed since his move to Texas twenty years ago. The Vikings have been something that has bonded us for as long as I remember. I’d much rather celebrate with him than commiserate with him.
So, how does Prince fit into this whole equation? You know Prince Rogers Nelson, the diminutive singer from Minneapolis? Well, last week, inspired by the Vikings’ trouncing of the Cowboys 34-3, he wrote a Viking fight song called Purple and Gold. I’ll be the first to admit that when I heard this, I thought it, for lack of a better more sophisticated term, was “pretty cool.” And then I heard the song. It sounds like its purpose is to relax and not inspire. Perhaps Let’s Go Crazy with new lyrics would have been a better choice. Of course, it’s all a bit moot. The Vikings had to travel to the Super Dome, so I doubt they’d be playing their opponent’s fight song on the P.A.
The sun did come up today, but I don’t want to talk to people about it (the loss, not the sunrise that is). Thus, I have wasted your time with a selfish effort at catharsis that just so vaguely relies on a musical metaphor to legitimize its editorial’s place as a music column. Maybe I will go home tonight and find a more appropriate Prince song to play. Maybe my wife will offer some sympathy and not remind me that “it’s only a game.” I know it’s just a game. I know getting upset and pacing is a bit irrational, but I know it’s also part of passion, which is inherently a good thing. I know a win would have made me feel less like Charlie Brown, who I sometimes feel like. Who knows when the Vikings will return to the NFC Championship game. I can assure you that lame so-called experts on those ridiculously long pre-game shows don’t know. But there’s always hope. I guess I was also hoping my wife could show a modicum of concern or sympathy, a slight realization that as ridiculous at it may seem to her, that it was truly bothering me.
Amidst all of my valuable sports cards sitting in a small safe are my oldest songs t-ball cards. Those are covered with the sturdiest of protective cases. Unlike my Michael Jordan rookie card, they are not listed in the Beckett price guide, but to me they are priceless. Because we cheer and act strange or get vocal and look foolish during a big game doesn’t suggest our values are eschew. Sports are a wonderful diversion. Music can comfort; it can help us gain introspection. Sports are less sublime. It’s like a pendulum that sways from happy to sad with few stops in between. For many of us, it’s part of our fabric. But like music, sports can be immensely personal. Sometimes a song sounds like it was written for or sung directly to us. Sometimes the outcome of a sporting event feels the same way.