I didn’t know how badly I was broken until I found myself on Wednesday evening leaping off the couch, pumping my fist and yelling “YASSSSS!” while watching my St. John’s Red Storm back in action.
But wait … what the … what was this feeling? It was … unfamiliar.
Celebration? Could that be it?
Was I really celebrating something as uncelebratable as a 1-point win over St. Peter’s in Game 1 of a season that quite possibly may never count or conclude?
I was indeed! I felt ... joy — joy to my world! — and good heavens, did I need that.
All it took was this unanticipated reaction to realize just how much I had missed that feeling. Such is sports in 2020, a time when all of us have seemingly turned off our feeling-faucets once or twice... or 261 times. (Such is being a St. John’s fan as well, but that’s a whole other story). For all intents and purposes, my love of the game(s) went dormant at halftime of the first quarterfinal of the Big East Tournament, with St. John’s winning the pseudo-National Championship by holding the lead over Creighton in what was to be the last gasp of a 2019-20 college basketball season about to be euthanized on television.
We have all experienced loss in some form this year. For many, tragically, it’s been the ultimate loss. For others, job security perhaps? Stability. Comfort. Convenience. Fun.
Remember the fun?
Sports were often fun. A distraction. Something to think about when you didn’t want to focus on the task at hand. You know, the day of a big game when you’re wondering how your leading scorer will perform? Will the coach come up with the right gameplan? You envision scenarios that have your team taking the last-second shot and hitting it. You worry that they might miss and the season could be over — all that investment, all those nights jumping off the couch or wanting to crawl under it — gone with the clang of the iron.
But even in the misery of those moments, sports has what plants, erm people, crave. It is THE drug of choice for a staggering number of Americans. Hell, worldwide. We invest our emotions in them to feel better (though, sometimes we feel worse). We watch them and think about them to divert our attention away from icky things. We come back to them, time and again, for a sense of belonging.
And when we lost sports in March, it was devastating. Truly. It’s okay to admit that losing something as trivial as sports hurt. It HURT. In an instant, all of us were forced into mass withdrawal. And it was more horrible than I think we gave it credit for at the time because we were (rightfully) simultaneously petrified of being intubated and/or dying. We had groceries to wipe down with Lysol and toilet paper to horde. I, for one, did not process it all until suddenly I had taken my first hit anew, and all of it came rushing back.
Baseball returned and I said no, not ready. Doesn’t feel right. The NBA Playoffs were fun, but the Knicks weren’t in it, the Nets were out in a hot minute and the whole thing felt like an exhibition anyway. Ditto the NHL Playoffs, sans my Devils. I really dug the Yankees run in the MLB Playoffs, but it never felt anywhere close to my past mania. The NFL? I’m a Jets fan. Hard pass.
But sitting there in front of my TV the other night, watching the first St. John’s game back after that hellscape of a week in March — when COVID-19 killed my favorite sports event of the year — even though the benches were in the wrong places in an fanless Carnesecca Arena, the blood of my lifelong sports mania began to rush back into its proper places (and NO, I’m not being dirty!). The NCAA Tournament defines my sports calendar year. I take off work for it, sometimes travel for it, savor every second of it and count down the days till the next one. Finally, I could see another in sight …
And sports felt right again — finally! But at the same time, something still felt so very wrong. I KNOW they shouldn’t be playing yet. I KNOW things will go horribly wrong this season and students — the players and possibly attendees where it’s stupidly allowed — will be put at risk. Hell, just a day removed from the preseason No. 1-ranked Gonzaga’s dunking of No. 6 Kansas, the Bulldogs saw their first COVID-19 scare of the season. Thanks for playing.
This is how any non-bubble sport is going to be, double that for one whose players are housed on college campuses. If there is travel involved, the virus will be caught. If even one person doesn’t follow protocols, an entire team and staff is at risk, and then so are their opponents. Our own Carron J. Phillips rightly pointed out last week that everyone should have just listened to Rick Pitino and delayed the season start into 2021 to allow for a potential vaccine. Then we could all enjoy May Madness, which would be fine-and-dandy by me. And is actually still a distinct possibility in my eyes, especially with Gonzaga’s high-profile scare on day three of the budding season.
So, will I watch every single St. John’s game played this season, however many that is? I will indeed. Will I enjoy them? Yes. Well, it’s St. John’s, so definitely not all of them. Will I treat every game like an NCAA Tournament game? Yeppers. Will I spend the days in between praying that those young men stay safe? I will do that, too, even though that’s a new routine. But it’s a necessary one right now, and I hope all fans do the same for their side. If we’re gonna get through this it’s gonna take smarts and teamwork — even from fans! It’s also gonna take a little inconvenience, and that’s just tough titties because we know the alternative.
A hastily canceled game at the half. Euthanasia. Mass withdrawal. Unprocessed grief.
Hard pass on all that again.
So let’s root for wins and safety this season, yah?
And, obvs I was kidding about the 17-15 Johnnies being National Champs, buuuuut let’s also face it: a loss to the Peacocks in their first game back really would have taken some of the shine off that “title.” Avoiding such embarrassment alone was worth my jump for joy. And I’m glad I did, because my heart needed the kickstart. I just didn’t know it yet.