by Andy

Sunday, January 24, 2010.  11:51 PM.

I am a True Fan, and I have no choice.  I sat in my seat and I watched.  I watched a team of men clad in purple.  I watched because the results of their effort would somehow define who I was.  

I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to those who are not True.  Maybe even a little sad, or pathetic.  It is all of those things.  Those of us who are True know this.  We know that it is silly for a grown person to be so wrapped up in the local sports team that your actual self worth depends on their continued success.  That is why we pretend that it doesn’t really matter.  We try not to get too attached, reminding ourselves of years past, and the heartache that we’ve suffered.  

But the True Fan cannot help himself.  He sneaks glances, hoping no one knows, at the goings on during the off season.  He does his best to ignore the excitement he feels when the front office puts another piece in place: the best offensive guard in the game suddenly signs as a free agent.  A Heisman trophy candidate falls in the draft due to a late injury, and we snap him up.  A pro-bowl defensive end is secured in his prime because his current team views him as “a young man at risk”.  

We even delude ourselves into believing that the young quarterback, hand-picked by the new coach out of an obscure college, will suddenly fulfill all the promise at which his athleticism hints.  Stranger things have happened; plenty of players have come from such backgrounds, been overlooked by other teams and gone on to great things, why not him, why not our team, why can’t it happen for ME?? 

But no.  Another season slips by, another umpteen articles and press conferences, phrases like “potential” and “learning curve” fill the eyes and ears of the True Fan like salt in a festering wound.  Because as one piece of the puzzle “develops” the other pieces grow old, and the window once again begins to close. 

And then, a whisper.  The whisper become rumor. And suddenly, a white knight in a black Escalade has descended as if out of a dream, and is actually among us.  The True Fan is gripped by a combination of glee and foreboding.  Speculation abounds.  Talk of old age, past injuries, and a “skism” fill the air, and the True Fan clings to his doubt like a security blanket.  But inside him something percolates like Kilimanjaro, and try has he might, he cannot ignore it: HOPE. 

Having not watched a pre-season game in 11 years, he sits through all four, riveted. He listens as the talking heads discuss “timing” and “managing the game”.   The true fan studies every move of the white knight, looking for evidence to convince himself NOT to be sucked in.  He IS old.  He WAS injured.  He himself seems to doubt his staying power.  But there is something there. 

The media bombards the airwaves with the famous scene of the white knight from his younger days sprinting across the field, helmet raised, celebrating another impossible victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and questions if he can still do it.  Others point out that he won’t have to, as on this team his role is different. Counter arguments abound, the white knight will be unable to accept a lesser role, handing the ball off, he will surely bristle under this coach’s demand for control.  In his dreams at night, the True Fan sees the famous scene play out, but green slowly dissolves into purple… 

 Two games of doing exactly what was talked about: managing the game, handing the ball off, fitting in, leads to 2 victories.  But then, week three.  An up and coming team, and up and coming coach, a game plan.  A hard fought battle, but with seconds remaining, a loss seems certain.  But the white knight does not lose.  He is NOT old! He is NOT injured!  He is absolutely magical, as he has always been!  VICTORY!  The True Fan throws off his cloak of shame, all doubt is forgotten, and he is once again a believer!  This is the key piece, legendary and at full power.  He will lead us to victory, and finally all the pain and humiliation of years past will be wiped away forever.   The True Fan thinks this.  He actually does. 

But then the day ends, and there is nothing but emptiness.  The other fans, those who are not True, will speak of moral victories, of coming so far, and how they did their best.  The True Fan cannot speak.  He cannot think.  He can only feel.  Black.  Empty.  Pain.   

And then the demons come.  The True Fan is haunted by the demons.  And the closer the team gets to ultimate prize, the harder the demons laugh.  Our offense outgains the opposition by 250 yards.  The highest octane offense in the league is completely stuffed, held to 7 points in the second half by our defense.  Having had no games all season where we gave the ball away 3 times, tonight it was five.  FIVE!  And yet, despite the ridiculous turnovers, the missed opportunities, the dropped interceptions, despite EVERYTHING, we were right there, seconds remaining, victory within our grasp.  And then, the demon’s master stroke.  It was the white knight himself, after a season so magical, so powerful, so magnificent, had us all believing he was no longer subject to the lapses of his youth, who turned at that moment, and drove the dagger through our hearts.  

To the demons, this is the pinnacle of high comedy.  To the bandwagon fans, these “ironies” are evidence that “it wasn’t meant to be,” and “it just wasn’t our year.”  For the True Fan they are sign-posts on an all too familiar road to the depths of hell. 

Eventually, the demons fade, returning to the shadows from whence they came.  They know that the relative brevity of their stay serves to intensify their haunting efforts, leaving the True Fan to wait in paralyzing fear for their inevitable return.  As they withdraw, and with their cackling laughter still ringing in the ears of the True Fan, the demons speak.  The words, while comforting to, and often parroted idiotically by the average fan, send a cold shiver down the spine of the True.  They envelope his soul in their cold embrace, delivering the message that to the True Fan is nothing more, or less, than a dark, hateful promise of agonizing pain that is yet to come: “Just wait till next year.” 

I am a True Fan.  And I have no choice.

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 10:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Exercising the Demons – They Are To Me

By Andy
Growing up in my house, there was very little that you could actually call your own.  It was not a matter of being deprived as a child, no; the mound of meticulously wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree each year was always shocking in both it’s size and scope.  We were always fed well, and there was never a lack of t-shirts or Levis to wear to school.

In a house with nine children, however, the idea of ownership of anything was up for debate.  Within days of each Christmas, most of the presents had found their way into one of several large cedar chests, where they could be retrieved and played with by anyone willing to dig them out and set them up.  The copious piles of clothing stacked in huge rumpled mounds in my and my brother’s room were worn by all, but the only legitimate ownership claim over any of it was that of our senile cat, who routinely urinated over everything.

I have no doubt that for the most part this Bolshevik utopia was not by design, at least at first.  Toys, sports equipment, clothing… it was all originally purchased for a particular person. But somewhere along the line, probably before I was even born, my mother realized that the shirt she’d brought home from Korner Plaza that was too small for JP fit Joe just fine, and just like that a new strategy was born.  This method of community clothes worked for as long as the warm weather held.  But as is often the case in nature, once winter set in, the pickings got slim, and the animals would turn on each other.

We all had our own coat, of course.  Hats and mittens were always in abundance to the casual observer, strewn around by the back door in quantities that could seemingly outfit a regiment.  Seemingly.  But woe to the child who dared luxuriate too long over his cocoa puffs on a frigid winter’s morn.  The reward for such lolligagary was to arrive at our back door mud room/morning staging area and be greeted by an impenetrable vortex of flailing activity, all knees and elbows, boxing you out until it moved off like a swarm of locusts, leaving nothing it it’s wake but the chewed stalks of what once might have been a bountiful harvest.

And as Ramses the second once stared blankly over the vastness of his kingdom’s ruined fields, panic creeping up to seize his throat, at last heeding the words of Moses to “Let my people go”, so stood I, age 9, gripped by that very same panic as I stared blankly at the mismatched, hole ridden mittens made of yarn, and giant green hip wader rain boots that beckoned me, at last jarred into movement by my own verbal prodding from a higher power: “GET IN THE CAR MORON, WE’RE LEAVING!!”

Certainly it doesn’t take a psych major to know that such circumstances are bound to leave a scar or two. In fact, “scars” is probably the wrong word to describe them, as that word brings to mind something permanent. I prefer the word “demons”, for as any victim of an older sibling, a locked door and the Linda Blair classic can tell you, a demon can be exorcised.

Mine are not the demons that lead to a penitentiary stay or a career as an exotic dancer, at least not yet. They are the stuff of childhood, the regular bumps and bruises of growing up. But every so often, they will manifest themselves to me in odd ways. Such was the case recently as I stood in a local sporting goods store, staring at a certain item, with what could best be described as lust in my heart.

The item was not something I had been longing for, at least not consciously, and it was in no way on the list of things I had entered the store to purchase. But when I saw it, I was suddenly stricken. I think I drooled a little. The demon’s alarm clock went off, and they slowly, groggily rolled over to hit the snooze button.

I was with my wife, and we were nearly done shopping for some Christmas presents for our children. She followed my eye line to the display.

“Do you want those?” she asked, matter-of-factly.

And then they were there, the demons, leaping forth from their slumber, realizing they were very late, but still determined, screaming out responses in my head, desperate to preserve themselves: “No, you can’t! Those are not for you! GET IN THE CAR MORON, WE’RE LEAVING!!”

“Uh, no, that’s… we should probably go,” I mumbled.

My wife checked her watch. “We have time”, she said, sitting on the near by bench. “Try on a pair.”

Dragged out into the sun by the melodious sound of my beloved’s voice, the demons began to blister. They howled in pain.

My hands shaking, I opened the box at the top of the display pile, and took one out. I held it in my hand like the Holy Grail for a moment, before putting it on floor, and slipping my foot inside. A warm embrace. Literally.

In a perfect imitation of my oldest brother’s angry snarl every time he caught me handling his catcher’s mit, the demons hollered, “Gimme that!” I actually felt a slap on the back of my head.

But the exorcism had momentum now, and it was picking up steam. I dropped the other one to the floor, and stepped into it. A maniacal grin was slowly spreading across my face.

“How do they feel?” my wife asked.

“Uh huh” was all I could manage, standing stock still.

Shriveling and gagging now, the demons were desperately formulating there next move. And I nearly fell for it.

“Walk around” my wife prodded.

I turned, dumbly, and clomped down the way, enjoying the sound of the heavy rubber heals skidding on the floor with every step, the music of my childhood.

“Fine,” the demons were whispering now, quickly changing their strategy. “He can have them. But we’ll have the last laugh yet!”

I turned, and clomped back to my wife’s side.

“Well?” she asked.

“Let’s get em” one demon whispered in my ear.

“Let’s get em” I parroted.

“These are not the droids you’re looking for. Move along.” the second demon chimed in.

“What?” I said aloud.

Each demon clapped it’s claw like hands over the mouth of the second, but the momentary distraction was all my savior needed to smite them both.

“I said those are size 13” my wife said again, pulling another box from the display pile. “They’re enormous. Try these.”

She handed me a pair of Caribous by Sorel, the greatest winter boots ever conceived, size 10. A perfect fit.

As I strode out into the bright sunshine of a glorious winter’s afternoon, two demons writhed, shrieked, and finally vanished, their cackling laughter replaced at last by the sound of the halleluiah chorus echoing in my head.

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 12:52 am  Comments (11)