“Sports don’t matter.”
At least that’s what I have heard for most of my life. It’s something that English teachers, humanities majors, women, artists and other “intellectuals” would tell us. (In all fairness, I know plenty of English teachers, humanities majors, women and artists who enjoy sports; however, this sentiment generally seems to come from those groups.) To these people, there is no way nine guys hitting a ball with a stick carries any importance in any one’s life, and anyone who would waster their time in watching such endeavors are stereotyped generally as beer-drinking, uncultured, lazy, stupid men who only care about a) football, b) Journey/Boston, and c) power tools. (I blame most of this on Tim Allen. Then again, I blame a lot of things on Tim Allen.) I take offense to this stereotype: I would consider myself fairly well-read, I enjoy classical music, have no clue how to use a saw, and I am still a huge sports fan.
Both of my parents are BYU alums and, therefore, as far back as I can remember BYU football has been a part of my life. Once I became old enough to start following sports I developed a liking for particular teams, but BYU was the team that I was taught to cheer for. It is a quintessential part of my upbringing. I didn’t really become a die-hard, however, until the 2001 season, the Brandon Doman/Luke Staley year.
At that point I was being home-schooled, living in a rural part of the South. I had very few friends and I threw myself completely into the team (as much as I could 3,000 miles away, anyway.) As cliche as it sounds, I was as close to that team as I was to any friend I had. Every Saturday my dad and I would buy the games on PPV through the satellite and watch them. I knew all the players names, their stats, and even followed them all in their NFL careers. That season the team was undefeated and I had my hopes high that we would make a BCS bowl. Then we lost to Hawaii in the last game of the regular season. It was the first time my heart was ever broken. Seeing my team, my friends, lose was almost unbearable to my fragile 14-year-old self.
I took something away from that year though: the love of the sport and the team, something to be passionate about. And in reality, that’s what sports is: a chance to escape the mundane, to be passionate about something, to believe in something. In the eight years since, I’ve experienced the ups and downs, pains and joys, victories and defeats of loving sports — and when I use the word love, I mean it in the most literal sense.
Loving a team is often like loving a person. Just like no one can make you as happy or as sad as someone you love, no one can make you as happy or as sad as a team you’re rooting for. There are singularly sad moments in my life related to sports that stand out to me: Adam Vinatierri, Aaron Boone, Bryon Russell on his butt. There are also singularly happy moments that stand out: the 2004 ALCS, Lee Cummard vs. TCU, LeBron James with 1.5 seconds left. When you become a fan you realize you take the good with the bad. You acknowledge there will be more sad moments then good. You’re accepting that you’re willing to endure, if necessary, a lifetime of sad times to realize that one euphoric moment.
This deal, this unwritten constitution of fandom, is a shared experience. I really began to understand that when I got to college. For the first time in my life, I experienced sharing those sad and euphoric (but mostly sad) moments live with other people. I can still remember the breath being collectively taken out of 65,000 people as TCU ran a kick back for a touchdown, or how the entire campus seemed sad after losing to Utah in OT in 2005. Repeatedly, I have felt that BYU sports has ripped out my heart and stomped on it. Every loss, every stupid mistake, is like seeing someone who broke your heart. It only serves to re-open the wound — and yet I keep coming back. I made my deal with the devil. I’m in for better or worse, through the good times and the bad. All my criticism and negativity only comes from years of losses and a deeply founded love of the team.
In case you didn’t know, BYU‘s football team upset No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday. As I stood in my house watching the game clock tick down the final seconds, I came to the realization that I had no idea what to do. This had never happened to me before. As I walked into the street, people driving by were honking their horns in celebration. As I ran down University Avenue, a group of other fans began to gather at the corner, cheering at the passing cars. At some point another group gathered on the opposite corner and the two groups ran at each other, meeting at the middle of the intersection. In that huddled mass of people I hugged dozens of random strangers, jumped up and down in a frenzy with unknowns, and cheered loudly with people I’ll likely never see again.
For once in my life, after years of having my heart broken, I was rewarded for my faithfulness. I felt true, pure joy, as did hundreds (and later thousands) of people celebrating with me in the streets of Provo. My night took me from University Avenue to the stadium to the airport. I hugged strangers, doused my friends in water and danced in the street. It was one of the happiest nights of my life. I’m sure people at other schools will look down upon our non-alcoholic celebration as tame by usual college standards. To me, it made it all the more sweet: our celebration was not fueled by alcohol, nor by previous experience. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, completely spontaneous expression of pure joy. All those years of losing made that one night special — and something I will never, ever forget.
So maybe you still think sports are dumb, that caring so much about 11 guys trying to cross a line with a ball is stupid. But please, next time we see each other, don’t insult my intelligence. Don’t tell me that sports don’t matter. On Saturday night in Provo, thousands of people proved that it does — and that means everything to me.
Ben Wagner is a correspondent for Rhombus and writes on a variety of topics. Yes, he did start the riot at 700 North and University. Deal with it.
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