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Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

Life lessons from a sports fan(atic)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I'll admit it. I let it get the best of me sometimes. After it's all said and done, I honestly can't believe that it has such a hold on me. Whether it's good, or bad.

It alters my mood. I let it expose my weaknesses and give it way more attention than it almost assuredly deserves.

Being competitive and passionate about sports and my team knocks me for a loop.

And I experienced both the best and worst of that obsession Monday night.

The excitement I felt for Monday's BCS National Championship had been building for the last 44 days prior. After my team above all teams, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, defeated hated rival USC and learned their fate of playing for a national title, Jan. 7 seemed lightyears away.

Each and every day that passed I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. The first Monday of the year was when I would be able to furiously unwrap my gift and I wanted so badly just to peak through the wrapping paper before the big day hit.

Finally! Finally the day was here. And even through my excessive coughing and feeling like my head was about to explode from congestion, I was beaming.

While I was to the point of giddiness, on the inside my stomach was churning. I knew what my team was walking into. A juggernaut football program that had more crystal balls in the last four years than I have real.....well, you get the picture.

My worst fear was that my Irish would be totally embarrassed by an Alabama football team that have annihilated deserving title contenders in the past.

As I sat down with some of my closest friends to watch what would be history, one way or the other, the excitement and pure joy of watching a monumental matchup quickly and painfully turned to despair.

Every carry Alabama running back Eddie Lacy tore through Manti Te'o and the Irish defense, one of the best in the country mind you, was like a steel-toed boot to the midsection.

Five plays and the Irish were down 7-0. 15 more, 14-0. After 23 plays, 21-0.

It became extremely clear that Notre Dame's chances of winning their first national title since 1988 were dashed, stomped and beat to a pulp in less than 16 minutes on the field.

At that point, I began to sulk.

Although miracles do happen and I hung on to every small play that would go in the Irish's favor, when your (very attractive) girlfriend is trying to comfort you like a child who lost his favorite toy you know you've hit rock bottom.

I caught myself being the fan(atic) that I routinely poke fun at. That I shake my head at and say, "Wow, that guy needs to tone it down a notch."

I felt like a fool. Yes. I was 'that' guy.

I was the guy who became bitter. I was the guy that started taunting. I was the guy that tried to think of anything I could to belittle the other team and their fans just because their score was higher than my team's.

Just as it did for the Notre Dame players on the field, the guy amongst his friends wearing an Irish jersey was embarrassed.

It's been said many times before, fans live and die with their teams. I was dying with mine.

My guess as to why I, and others, become the sad little man that I was Monday is because with every game we watch and every player we come to idolize, you become a part of that team. It sounds silly, I know. But every sports fan that has stuck with reading this far into my column can probably think of a time or story when this same thing has happened to them.

I found comfort from an unlikely source following 'The Beat Down'. The gracious and classy post-game interviews from Notre Dame players put my situation into perspective.

If they can sit there in front of millions of viewers and say on record how they simply missed their opportunity. How much they admired Alabama for the dominant program and the team they were that night. To say those things, plus many others, and show the character they did after getting humiliated on national television, surely I can do the same.

I learned that it's okay to have passion and to root for a team with all you've got. It's okay to share in the glory of winning and the shadow of defeat. But there's a way to go about it and I can't thank the young(er) men of the Fighting Irish to show me the error of my ways.

Although it didn't end like I wanted it to, there's nothing to hang my head about and the season the Irish had.

It was the first undefeated regular season in 24 years. Finished in the top 5 of the AP Poll for the first time since 1993 as well as in the top 5 (first in some rankings) for the 2013 recruiting class.

I know how this all sounds.

Here I am with a weekly column and I just rambled on and on about how I love Notre Dame and how upset I was his little team lost.

True.

But I also feel like it's my duty to share my experiences so that maybe, somehow or someway, reach out to people so we can relate to one another.

There's so many of us that love sports and have the same passion for them as I do. I humbly shared one of my lowpoints so that, possibly, readers can not do what I did and that's let a simple game and a team that I love drag the worst out of me.

To the fans, parents and athletes I cover on an every day basis, remember, it may be your life, your livelihood or your passion, but treat it for what it truly is.

A game.