It has been stated that our societal love of sports comes from a shared perception
that the game played is an acceptable metaphor for life. Perhaps that also explains my over use of baseball analogies in everyday conversation. When we watch our favorite sports franchise we project ourselves onto the athletes and use the opposing team to personify our daily struggles. We root for the players we feel represent us and form a bond. That bond allows us to feel the highs of their success.
We know that being a fan means we are spectators—our support does not actually influence performance. But we allow ourselves to give into the fantasy, so that we can feel on some level that we have conquered our challenges and emerged champions.
But it’s a gamble, as any Chicago sports fan knows. And we were delivered
another dose of “til next year” disappointment last Sunday. The stakes could not have been higher. The oldest rivalry in sports, the hallowed grounds of Soldier Field, the NFC Championship game with a spot to the big dance on the line.
I doubt any of you out there were able to escape the hype going into this game, even if you wanted to. The build up was brilliant. The Packers came into town as the
hottest team in the NFL, with a QB who was handing out his own Kool-aid, and a group of linebackers straight out of a late 80’s hair-metal music video. But no one predicted things would go as wrong as they did.
Jay Cutler, who had been knocked down more than any other QB during the
regular season, was injured late in the first half and forced to leave the game. A game his team was loosing 14-0. If a game is analogous to our daily lives, then a season must be our year. All year long Cutler had battled the force of opposing pass rushers. He had taken shot after shot, hit after hit, and Sunday in the championship game his knee gave out on him. He was unable to return to the game and forced to watch from the sidelines as his season, his year ended in defeat.
My immediate reaction to the sight of backup QB Todd Collins under center was, “What? No! Jay get back in there. Please! C’mon Jay, say it ain’t so."
It would seem I was not alone. Across town and throughout the nation people wanted to see Cutler battle back into the game, and when he didn’t, the national vibe turned ugly.
There was a sense of betrayal, because it seemed that Cutler wasn’t doing enough to reenter the game.
Betrayal born from that bond formed with professional athletes. A backlash felt when the individual we had projected our dreams and desires and hopes onto was unable to live up to the expectation. So we got mad. And in our anger, we all missed out on what was nearly the upset of the century.
Caleb Hanie, a third year pro with rookie experience, came into the game with only
a little more than a quarter to play and nearly tied the sucker. Had it not been for one pass picked off and jiggley trotted into the endzone, the Bears might have been able to force overtime in last Sunday’s game. It was a remarkable comeback, and an astounding effort despite the outcome. Yet after the stadium had cleared the focus wasn’t on Hanie’s performance, but on the sour taste left from Cutler’s absence.
When this kind of negativity is felt as a result of a football game, it becomes necessary for us all to take a step back and breath. Yes, it would have been entertaining to watch the Bears prove the commentators wrong and go to the Superbowl, but c’est la vie. If we are going to continue to place an over emphasis on sports, then let’s at least try to focus on the positive stories. Caleb Hanie damn near shocked the NFL last Sunday by running a no-huddle offense down the field and putting up 14 points before the final whistle.
That’s is determination.
That is what it looks like when someone is handed a situation and asked to be great. To perform better than anyone expects them too, everyone but themselves. If we are going to continue to believe in the fantasy of major league sports, then let’s make it a two-way road. We project our hopes and struggle onto the field, and take away the positive life lessons we observe during the game.
Until then, we can strive to be better people, and wait until next year.