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Note: This was originally posted on August 6, 2009. Image

What do sports mean? It’s just a game right? Not to me.

Sports are many things to many people – obsession, indifference, camaraderie, diversion, god, community, simple entertainment, or – tragically – a passive-aggressive form of spousal abuse.

For me:

Sports are the moments they create. I’m not talking about the moments on the field. I’m talking about the moments that arise in the stadiums or – far more often – the basements or the living rooms where they are watched with family and friends.

Sports are sitting on my dad’s lap, watching the Red Sox on the nearly 100 degree Thursday that I got home from the hospital as a newborn baby. (I remember it like it was yesterday!)

Sports are the comforting hug my dad gave me after Aaron Boone broke our hearts in 2003 and my Michigan-born cousin, Brittany, insightfully declared, “It’s okay guys. It’s just a game.”

Sports are the very different hug we shared a year later. “Well,” Dad told me, “the Red Sox won the World Series and Grandpa got to see it. Sleep well tonight.” As short-term New England expatriates in Maryland, we searched the greater-Gaithersburg area to find the World Series T-Shirts we had ached to wear for so long.

Sports are my Mom, without a second thought, delaying the birth of my brother Grant by a day so we could watch the Patriots win their first Super Bowl together at home in our living room. The doctor said that they needed to induce labor, and that they had an opening on Sunday night. My mom said: “Sunday night? Don’t you know that the Super Bowl is Sunday night? How about Monday?” That Sunday night I sat with my knee in an immobilizer after ACL surgery and saw my Dad leap for joy as an Adam Vinatieri field goal split the uprights. The mighty Rams were defeated and Lonie Paxton made a “snow angel” in a dome.

Grant was born during the parade.

Sports are every member of the family sitting in the same seat for every game of an entire playoff run. They are making signs that we hung over the TV, with the full persuasion that the sign was a major contributor to the victory. Tom Brady was 10-0 in the playoffs until the one year we didn’t make a sign. Just saying….

Sports are my sister Abigail doing every detail of the scorebook on every Red Sox playoff game for the last four October runs. She doesn’t alter her efforts based on the state of the game. She’ll sit in front of a heart-breaking demolition, where the Red Sox are being mercilessly blown out, and record every pitch. The scorecards she has framed make it all worth it.

Sports are a Wes Welker game-winning touchdown launching a six year old Grant off the arm of the couch with a shout of glee and a carelessly abandoned certainty that I will catch him.

Sports are many things to many people.

To me – sports are family.

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Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Baxter Photography

Can I really complain? I have lived through one of the most successful eras for any city in the history of American sports.

Good grief, my grandfather waited eighty-one years before he saw the Red Sox win once. Qualms should be absent from this area of my life.

Many would inform me that six championships in a decade “ain’t that bad Jack.” (I would clarify that my name isn’t Jack. They would inform me it was just a figure of speech. Then I would understand and move on.) Despite this prosperity of success – what would a sports fan do if he couldn’t complain once in a while – I’ve experienced some pretty painful losses with my teams as well.

I’m still in disbelief that Desmond Howard returned that kick-off for a touchdown in the 1997 Super Bowl – just as the Patriots were getting traction. Chuck Knoblauch did not tag José Offerman in the 1999 ALCS.  Don’t tell me otherwise.  The stench of watching Aaron Boone’s 2003 game 7 home-run soar softly into a raucous, Bronx crowd was only diminished by the sheer glory of the next year – not, however, by the approximately sixty-eight freeze pops I ate attempting to drown my sorrow that night.  Don’t judge me. Was the Patriot’s 2008 perfect season really foiled by a circus catch from a guy who was cut by the same team the next year? Really? I refuse to believe that.

Where does last Sunday’s loss to the noxious New York Jets rank among these travesties? How am I coping? Hear me out on this but…I’m okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t have a visceral distaste for the Jets (always have, always will). I also don’t mean that Rex Ryan isn’t a vulgar, buffoon who talks a whole lot for someone who, last I checked, has ten empty fingers. Do I think the Jets constantly faking injuries to slow down the Patriot’s hurry-up offense was a classy strategy? Funny you should ask.

So, here’s the revolutionary thing – I’m fine. Really.

You see, when your team wins the big game the response is straightforward. You are gleeful, celebratory, glowing like all this stuff is really, really important. Dramatic losses on the other hand…

Losses are living organisms. They’re like snowflakes – each different than the other. It’s impossible to predict what your full reaction will be until the clock hits zero and your team is emptying their lockers.

In the worst cases, you get a rotten feeling in your stomach, as you watch the other team celebrate. The nausea and numbness lingers into the next morning as you replay in your mind the alternative outcomes to each play and how your team could have (and clearly should have) won. Then the martyrdom sets in. All the time I spent watching them this season, all the fun conversations I had with friends and family, how could it end like that? Why do bad things happen to good people? Clearly God doesn’t care about sports if Rex won. Even years later any mention of “that game” will tighten your jaw and force you to “politely” step out of otherwise good conversations.

For my generation this was Aaron Boone, for my father’s it was Magic’s skyhook and Buckner’s blunder, and his father’s generation still doesn’t know why Johnny Pesky held on to the ball in the 1946 World Series.

Then there are other times when the loss is disappointing but it rolls off me like water off an aquatic bird whose feathers were created to have water roll off their backs.

Now headed into Sunday’s clash with the Jets I had it pegged as an inescapable specimen of the former of these two options. How could it not be, right? Given Rex Ryan, given the trash talk and the insults and the threats from the Jets players, and given the Patriot’s being picked to win by everyone and their mother and their mother’s cribbage partner Gina, it seemed as sure as the outcome of flipping a two-headed coin that a loss would have me gorging on freeze pops and wearing sweatpants for a week.

Don’t get me wrong. I am bitter about it. I do not really want to talk about it and I hope the Jets are dismantled next week.

Yet, wonder of wonders, as Jets players did triple back flips on the Pat’s home turf and the CBS scoreboard informed us that 28-21 was indeed the indisputable final score – there was no wailing. No gnashing of teeth. No cursing the heavens.

But there was a baby.

A grinning, cooing three-month old boy who seemed deeply satisfied just because I was holding him. His world was unshaken by Tom Brady’s ineffectiveness against an unexpected zone defense.

It’s much easier to remember that your team’s loss is not actually that important when you are surrounded by everything you care most about. We all use the word “devastating” far too readily.

The little guy growing up with me as his dad is bound to be passionate about sports and have a few games that wrench his gut. I’m fine with that.

For now, though, he’s simply a happy reminder of what matters.

Thanks Charlie. It’s just one more thing you’ve made much better.

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