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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sports, it is not just a game, maybe.

I am a college sports fan, I don't care much for pro sports, but college football and basketball are great distractions for me.   Like any fan, I have my favorite team, and watch, and root enthusiastically for, them whenever I can.   But, there are others I root for, and want to win.  I like the games, and the competition, and the sport.  There are few games, in either sport, no matter who is playing that I can't watch, and enjoy.

College football is winding down and my favorite team is going to a bowl game (a reward for a winning season), but not the conference championship, which is unfortunate, but not tragic.  They lost too many games to qualify for that opportunity, which is ok, they had a lot of injuries, and at times did not play as well as fans might have hoped.  All in all, though, it was a great season, with many exciting moments, and a few losses, but life is filled with ups and downs, and so are games.

Recently, someone asked if I felt conditions in the world of college football had changed so drastically that my favorite team was destined to be a middle of the pack competitor, and would never return to the horror of lofty expectations that haunt so many teams.  It wasn't phrased exactly that way, but, you get the drift.

That is a very difficult question, with many possible answers, but the best I could muster, was "I haven't really thought about it that much.  I watch the game, root for my team, and when they lose I feel sad, for a while, and when they win I am happy, for a while, but either way I am still a fan, and soon move on to other things."  This might be ADD, or a deluded sense of self importance, or maybe just a healthy dose of indifference, who knows?   But, when pressed for an answer after a loss, I always quote the wisdom of Bill Russell, "it wasn't because they weren't trying."

It was a good season for my favorite team, maybe not great, but good, and as is often the case after a good season, there was a lot of talk about firing the coach.  The athletic director said he was not firing the coach, and was looking forward to his continued leadership.  This was a good sign.

There is so much emphasis on winning, on championships, on perfect seasons it really drags a lot of fun out of the games.  And with every misstep during a season fans, and sports show hosts on radio and television cry in anguish, screaming for blood, or at least retribution in the form of a very public dismissal.  Coaches and teams are held hostage to demanding, unrealistic standards.  Sometimes, as a casual fan, the venom gets a little tiring, but as Arnold Bennet said, "pessimism, when you get used to it, is just as agreeable as optimism."

It is always enlightening to talk with fans after a game, win or lose, they can dissect a game and critique every flaw, each coaching mishap, no matter how well planned or thought out, is fodder for public, acidic discussion.  He should have called a screen pass, he should have run up the middle, they shouldn't have blitzed in that situation, why didn't they blitz, For the Love of God, How Could They Be So Stupid???  And they players fare no better, these young men, who have dedicated such a disproportionate amount of their life to becoming skilled enough to participate at this level are routinely roasted for drops, misses and mistakes.  And this is by fans.

So, I salute the University of Nebraska and the Athletic Director for standing by a winning coach, if that sounds like an odd statement you are obviously not a fan.  And congratulations to Coach Pelini on his continued employment, I am happy that our are going to a bowl game, it wasn't that long ago we stayed home.  And congratulations to all fans everywhere who root for teams through wins and losses.  And mostly I salute the players who leave so much on the field every week, it has been great fun, and I am awed by your talent.