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Three Good Reasons Why Sports Are More Than Just A Game

Stix Symmonds@@stixsymmondsCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2011

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Defensive end Adrian Clayborn #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in action during the Insight Bowl against the Missouri Tigers at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Here it is: the explanation for our fascination with college football, and sports in general.  Well, it’s my explanation, anyway.

From the time I was eight years old, I couldn’t wait for Saturdays in the fall.  That was (and is) the magical time of year when young men suited up in plastic armor and engaged in fierce battle for the simple glory of knowing the feel of victory.

Over the years, other sports have piqued my interest.  I’ll tune in every spring for the Daytona 500; I usually watch the Super Bowl and I’ve attended a couple of St. Louis Cardinals—Chicago Cubs games.  Nothing ever quite got me going like college football, though.

I get excited about it.  From the moment the ball first leaves the tee, I hang on every pass, cringe with each hit and celebrate every touchdown as though I were on the field with the players.  Sometimes, I might go a little overboard….just a little.

My wife gets a little annoyed.  She will be busy working on a project or playing a game on her computer when I suddenly erupt in an explosion of noise and motion.  She jumps half out of her skin, then gives me a look that says “was that really necessary?”

On many occasions I’ve been chastised (generally by the female variety of our species, but not always) for getting overly excited by something that’s “just a game.” 

Of course, strictly speaking, they're right.  Every year these players go to war with each other and yet there is still violence in the Middle East.  There’s still a maddeningly slow economy here in the States.  There are still homeless people, people dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse and cancer still doesn’t have a definitive cure. 

At the end of the day, it really is “just a game.”  No sport has effectively addressed the most disturbing issues that plague mankind.

But at the same time, it’s so much more than that.

I can’t pretend to speak for every sports fan out there, but this is what it means to me:

Life Lessons

How many times in life do we work closely with people of various backgrounds, from different economic situations, with different religious views and different regional experiences?  If you’re anything like me, the answer to that question is “rarely.” 

As I watch my favorite players take the field (or diamond or ring or whatever) it doesn’t escape me how diverse the players are.  Some come from broken homes and very tough financial situations.  Others come from two-parent homes that never wanted for anything.  Still others come from somewhere between the two. 

There are Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Pagans, Atheists and every other religious system all in the same place, working toward the same goal without making a big deal out of their differences.

In a strange sense, these athletes are showing us how simple it is to “just get along.”  They have a common goal and that’s what they focus on.  They learn to trust each other, work together and look past the things that make them different.  They learn to understand each other, at least insomuch as is required to get along and work together peacefully. 

Besides the larger-than-life, sociopolitical parallels that could loosely be drawn from sport, I take everyday reminders from watching sports.

My favorite team(s) typically does pretty well at their sport.  “Pretty well” isn’t the same thing as “perfect.”  They don’t always win.  They can’t always be the victor.  That’s just not realistic.

In a society that insists on telling kids how special they are and how they are winners just for trying, the reality of sports is much closer to the reality of life.  Sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose.  You’d better learn to deal with it because life won’t pat you on the back and say “it’s okay, at least you showed up.” 

In being fans of a sport or team, we have to learn to handle disappointment.  Champions fall as new ones are crowned.  Some teams never seem to get above the mid-level of their sport.  We have to learn to accept what is realistic and celebrate the moments when they succeed while handling the moments when they fail. 

Hope and the Underdog

I remember watching the Buster Douglas—Mike Tyson fight in 1990.  Douglas was a huge underdog going into that fight.  He hadn’t beaten anybody truly exciting and Tyson was the most feared fighter in the world.

Yet, unlike so many of Tyson’s other opponents, Douglas wasn’t intimidated by the heavy-hitter.  Unlike so many before him, he didn’t back down from the bruiser.  He didn’t fold the first time he got hit by one of Tyson’s crushing blows.  He kept his head down, kept swinging and kept moving forward on the terrorizing champion.

In the end, it was Douglas still standing while Tyson dropped to the canvas.  Sure, you can point out that it was a little controversial as to whether Tyson beat the count or not.  Does it really matter?  Go back and look at the expression (or lack thereof) on Tyson’s face when he went down.  He was knocked out. 

Another of my favorite sports moments was the 2005 Capital One Bowl.  Down 25-24 with less than a minute on the clock, a miracle happened on that football field.

Iowa’s quarterback, Drew Tate, seemed to forget that the clock was running.  He casually stepped up to the line of scrimmage as the numbers dipped down inside five seconds and there was still more than half the field to go.  It looked like Iowa was going to come up short on a very big stage.

Just then, Tate snapped the ball, dropped back and tossed a perfect strike to Warren Holloway.  Holloway caught the ball ten yards from the goal line and simply refused to go down until he scored the winning touchdown.  Iowa won 30-25 that New Year’s Day. 

What made that play so special wasn’t just the victory, though.  In Warren Holloway’s five years on the Hawkeye roster, he had never caught a touchdown pass prior to that day.  He had rarely been used at all, and mostly in “junk time” or when they needed an extra body for a play or two.

That day, he was called on.  That day, the ball came his way.  That day, he wasn’t content to be merely an “extra body”—he was the star. 

In sport, any average player can be the star on any given day.  There is always hope for those who stick with the program, work hard and believe in themselves. 

In life, as in sport, we never really know when that moment might arrive, or if it will at all.  We never know when our particular skill sets might be valuable and might save someone’s day. 

What such moments as Buster Douglas’ improbable win and Iowa’s last-second miracle show us is hope.  It doesn’t matter how bleak things may look.  It doesn’t matter how many people are saying we can’t succeed, there’s always hope.  We can be that “Average Joe” that steps up against the big boys and comes away victorious.  If we don’t back down (which isn’t the same as refusing to compromise) and keep fighting, we can overcome even the greatest of odds.

In those breathtaking moments when we sit on the edges of our seats, waiting to see what will transpire, we see what is possible for all of us.  We don’t have to spend our lives standing on the sidelines, cursing what is wrong with the world.  We can get in the game and make something spectacular happen.

It’s Inspiration

Never underestimate the power of inspiration.  All of the things I’ve listed so far lead up to this final point.

Sports showcase the very best within us.  It shows us the will to win.  It reminds us that anyone with a common goal can find ways to work together.  It demonstrates the power of the underdog and the folly of underestimating our opponents.

It’s inspiring, and when we’re inspired, we’re motivated.  In those quirky little moments inside our own heads, we remember how common sense was trumped by sheer will.  We remember how nothing is ever as certain as it may seem, and we use that motivation to make something positive happen in our lives.

Sound hokey?  It may sound that way, and maybe it is just a little.  But at the same time, it can be those hokey little motivations that pull us above our station.  It’s those cheap little inspirations that give us the courage to meet head-on what we might ordinarily be afraid to face. 

Sports remind of us our limitations, but also show us how to overcome them. 

College football is a sport of young men who have barely experienced the world.  They’re fresh out of high school and have largely been sheltered by one institution or another. 

And yet, despite their youth and despite their inexperience, they show us what is possible within all of us. 

Sports will likely never solve any of the world’s greatest problems.  Wars won’t be averted over a simple game of football or a rousing match of cricket.  Diseases won’t go away just because we compete in America’s pastime.  Hunger won’t subside because two people entered a tennis court and dueled it out over several sets.  Life doesn’t work that way.

However, sports can do more than entertain or provide an escape.  They’re more than just a way to pass the time.  They are a microcosm of the struggles we face every day, played out in a fashion that leaves few lasting damages.  They’re hope, inspiration and life-lessons, all rolled into a contest that means nothing on the grander scale. 

Just because the outcome may mean nothing on the grander scale however, doesn’t mean that a game is “just a game.”