More Than A Game: A Pats Fan’s Take The Morning After

Posted: February 7, 2012 in ALL II
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My dear friend and biggest New England Patriots fan I know Andy is obviously struggling.  Another tough loss to the Giants left him devastated and gave him time to reflect on the sports/life intersection.  It was one Super Bowl ago where the tears ran down my face.  For Andy, a feeling more hollow.  Without further ado, reality.

I woke up around noon today and the only thought running through my mind was “please let it all be a bad dream.” Tom Brady didn’t give up a safety on our first possession…our first offensive play of the Super Bowl. Wes Welker didn’t drop a ball he probably catches 99 times out of 100. Mario Manningham didn’t tight rope walk the sideline and turn into the second coming of David “Bleeping” Tyree. Unfortunately all of these things did happen and as a diehard Patriots fan I am left to pick up the pieces and try to make some sense of it all.

I don’t profess to be a person of “faith.” I don’t follow an organized religion and I couldn’t tell you with a shred of certainty whether or not God exists. Yet, one of my neighbors the other day made a good point when he said, “Sports have become 21st century America’s new religion.” Having spent some time marinating on it, I think that’s pretty true, at least for me. Every Sunday for 3 hours I sit and pray that Tom Brady will be on target. I beg, I plead, and I occasionally even bargain with the football gods to deliver me a win. The Patriots are my religion. They represent where I am from and are a major part of my identity. Last night, when Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass fell to the ground I felt completely empty. The flashbacks of the Super Bowl That Never Happened (42) made me feel like the Patriots had abandoned me (again).

Some people will take my comments as borderline blasphemous. Others might dismiss me as somebody who “takes the game WAY too seriously.” However, don’t sports and religion serve two very similar roles in our lives? Personally, I think diehard fans like myself use sports as a way to escape from the day-in-day-out realities of life. When things are down, we always have our sports teams to get excited about and provide a much-needed lift. Isn’t that the same thing that people do on Sundays when they go to church? Don’t some people use religion as an opportunity to escape from things and feel just a little bit better about life? Don’t religions offer people a community to be a part of and identify with? It seems to me that both sports teams and religion are proxies that add meaning to our lives. For people like myself, sports are so much more than a game and it bothers me greatly when other people simply dismiss my passion as overzealousness and immaturity.

One of my best friends from home offered me the following illustrative vignette that demonstrates my point pretty clearly. He told me that yesterday he went and visited his late father’s grave before the game. In the cemetery he recalls seeing a number of people visiting various family members and friends wearing Patriots jerseys. Every time he made eye contact with one of these fans he said they gave one another that look of “I know why you’re here…me too.” The religious undertones of a scene like this are obvious. However, on a deeper level this sort of scene demonstrates the centrality of sports teams to many people’s lives. I would even argue that sports teams connect us to one another in a way that many religions no longer can. They give us a sort of group identity that distinguishes us from others and makes us feel unique.  Do sports teams fill a void left behind by organized religion? This is certainly a question worth pondering and one that I would cautiously answer in the affirmative.

The parallelism between sports and faith are undeniable. The highs and lows of being a sports fan are much like the highs and lows of being a person of faith (and of life in general). This morning (I suppose afternoon at this point), after a second devastating loss to Eli Manning, I feel like my faith in the Patriots is being tested. Everything I had hoped for over the past 6 months has suddenly and irreversibly been ripped away from me. In sports, as in life, we are presented with high and low points that test our faith in something (whether it be ourselves, our community, or in God). I can either abandon the Patriots now at their very lowest point or I can reaffirm my commitment to the team. This season we got agonizingly close to the mountaintop and we came up just short. One or two plays last night proved to be the difference between pure joy and absolute pain. As a fan, in much the same way as a churchgoer, I have to believe that good things are on the horizon for the 2012-2013 New England Patriots. A perfect 19-0 season is on the cards. It has to be…


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