Why We Love Sports

phila flyers

With the NHL preseason a few weeks away, I must admit that I have never been much of a hockey fan. Basketball, baseball, football, and soccer are all sports I follow intensely, but hockey never really piqued my interest. That all changed over the course of a few months earlier this year.

On February 21st, 2014, I sat in my room after a long day of running errands with my girlfriend. Exhausted, I opened my laptop, scourging the Internet for various sports news. While I read about the Sixers’ historically bad losing streak, my phone buzzed. The text I received came from my dad and read, “Linda (my stepmom) is in the hospital. She had a stroke, but she is OK.” In that moment, my heart plummeted. I immediately called my dad and he gave me the details about what had happened.

My dad and my half-brother, Joey (only 7 at the time), seemed to be handling it poorly. My dad, who wound up spending the next few weeks injecting Linda with an IV every eight hours, seemed to be in denial about the whole event. Joey would not give me more than one-word answers. I called Joey daily but his head was high in the clouds, wondering, “if that could happen to my mom, what will happen to me?” To help Joey get his mind off Linda’s stroke, my dad bought him the NHL package. An avid hockey fan, Joey watched the NHL package constantly, sitting three feet away from the screen while watching teams from all over the league. For the first time, I actually began to follow the NHL.

I supported the Philadelphia Flyers on behalf of Joey. The Flyers began the season slowly, but managed to finish strong and get a first round matchup against the New York Rangers. The series was back and forth, but the Flyers found themselves down 3-2 in the series heading back to Philadelphia. Since Game 6 was at Wells Fargo Center, my dad and Joey went to the game. I feared the worst given that Joey had cried following an overtime loss to the Devils earlier in the year. However, Wayne Simmonds came through, scoring a hat trick and leading the Flyers to a 5-2 victory.

Game 7 was at Madison Square Garden. I wound up watching the game at Epicurean, just under my dorm room in Darnall where I heard of Linda’s stroke. The game started slow with no goals in the first period. However, the second period was a different story as the Rangers attacked the net and scored twice. Down two goals, the Flyers needed an impressive third period to score on Henrik Lundqvist. On top of that, the Rangers have never lost a Game 7 in MSG.

I called Joey to tell him that I still had hope and from the tone in Joey’s voice, he did too. Jason Akeson gave us more reason to believe by cutting the Rangers’ lead in half with more than fifteen minutes left in the game. For the rest of the game, Flyers’ goaltender Steve Mason looked stellar, so all the Flyers needed to do was score. Unfortunately, the goal never came. Philadelphia fired shot after shot, but it did not seem to matter; the Rangers were going to win the game. The final horn sounded with the Rangers celebrating their narrow victory while the Flyers skated off the ice, fatigued and dejected.

After the loss, I was a little choked up. It was unfair. Joey loved the Flyers and rather than lose in a sweep or in a lopsided game, they lost in the most gut-wrenching way. For all Joey had gone through that year, why did the Flyers have to lose that way? I asked myself existential question after question with no answers. I did not talk to many people that night because I was so confused and frustrated.

Soon after, I went home after finals. I did not get to see Joey until my sister’s college graduation later that week. When he spotted me, his mouth formed a gapped tooth grin and he gave me a huge hug. We talked about all different things: school, girls, friends, etc. Finally, I brought up hockey. Joey began ranting about the LA Kings and how he wanted them to win. When I asked him about the Flyers, he said, “Well, they can win next year.” That is when I realized why we love sports: hope. The highs and lows are all worth it because at the end of the day, we know that our teams can win a title in the near future. Joey, who had just turned eight, recognized an idea that never even passed my mind. A loss only stings in the moment because there is an offseason to rebuild that optimism. The Cubs may be 106 years removed from a title, but in 2003, they were a win away from a National League Pennant. Down 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS, the 2004 Boston Red Sox saw hope in the gloomiest of situations and won the World Series. Billy Cundiff missed a kick that would have sent the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl, but the next season the Ravens came back and held the Lombardi Trophy. Those tough losses may bother us for a long time, but the elation that victory brings us triumphs over all else.

We separate ourselves from our personal reality and immerse ourselves in football or baseball or hockey. At the end of the day, there is always that hope that gives us reason to watch sports tomorrow. I know when I head home this winter break, Joey and I will be sitting next to the television watching the Flyers pursue the Stanley Cup. And even if they do not do well, they can still win next year.

Image courtesy of: http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/229/files/2014/04/wayne-simmonds-nhl-stanley-cup-playoffs-philadelphia-flyers-new-york-rangers.jpg

Nick Barton 
Georgetown University Class of 2017

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