Today is my 27th birthday.
I made it this far, and there’s something to that. Some don’t. Some won’t. I’m grateful. Birthdays are like season openers — everybody gets one.
In conversation the other day, the idea of sports as a linear thing spouted out of my lips. The constant through my life remains. There’s little value placed on devout fans and followers. We just are.
Every weekday, I roll out of bed and go to work as a sports editor for my hometown news website. Every weekend, I find a game to watch alone or with the stellar company of friends. Weeks go by as quickly as the years I’m searching through now. It all stays wound. It all keeps ticking.
Perpetuate the comfortable and it eventually becomes the norm. Nothing has been able to touch the peace I find when the games start. Life becomes real life at some point, and here I am, still hitting the road to watch competition — either for work or pleasure. It still consumes me the way it did as a kid reading through college basketball preview magazines, drawing uniform designs on old T-shirts.
The more things change, the less you feel the same. I’ve never seen something as beautiful as a jump shot off a screen in the offense’s rhythm. I doubt I ever will. When I see the purity and the grace, the gravel court in my backyard comes to mind. Ground balls with my late father in the yard are never more than a cut-off man away. It’s in travel where distance becomes real. It’s in wasteland where oasis reveals itself.
I recently visited Portland, Oregon and in my travels I found a park. It was beautiful. The weather complied. Music poured through my headphones, perfect for the moment. I felt the emotion. It wasn’t until I saw a boy playing hoops when the emotion released. I sat on a bench and sobbed. Life’s beauty opened up, and it took a few layups to make me realize it.
Sports fans don’t need detailed descriptions. They’ve seen and felt, danced and cried. I feel akin to them. We’ve all struggled and survived. Willful dedication moves the fan above most on my list.
To my brethren, I say, think back on your experiences. Know that you hold dozens of master’s degrees in whatever sport you love most. If a sports university existed, we’d all be experts in our fields just like those with Ph.D.’s. Memories intertwine into a web of knowledge owned without realization. Each game fills a spot in your mind. It comes back when you see another like it. Experience takes us further than the lack of it would hinder us. And the only reason we do it is because we like it — we don’t know any other way.
Not one day goes by without a 600-percent evaluation of everything in my life. While many friends have engagement photos, birth announcements and anniversary posts in their timelines, mine is filled with photos with friends at sporting events. I’ve stayed in my lane, and one day those friends will be the ones who fall into line with the normal peers. Good for them. I’ve never found much desire to join the beaten path.
I don’t come up with solutions. Normally, I find more problems. Where am I going? Who am I going there with? How am I going to get there? How long will it take? They go on, and I go on with them, as the affair no longer involves a human being but, rather, an ideal.
I’ve tried — and will continue to try — to create a perfect existence, one free of unhappiness. To this point, the spot is warm and tidy and allows me in and out whenever I please. There’s no sense being happy all the time, but there must be a place to go and lie down for a while with a smile on your face. Figuratively, that place for me is the same it ever was — in front of a game.
My car is getting old. I don’t own much. Work is work, although my passions of sports and writing make it lovely. Bills come and go. My jaw clenches a little harder with each one. It’s real-life stuff, and the real world doesn’t just seem as romantic as it should be. The wind whistles, the birds fly away and you find yourself in a spot looking at the scenery as if it were painted on a canvas.
When the game comes on, you don’t worry about who’s not around or where they went. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter always get there by halftime. That peaceful spot — with those folks, in those recliners, watching those games — is the epitome of my existence. There’s no shame in admitting it.
As a child, I always envisioned the hardest parts of being an adult. I held a mental image of someone struggling at a desk with a loose tie and a furrowed brow. The grind had to be difficult, it was the way of the world. In my mind, the grind always equated to the job. Once that cubicle-doomed man left the office, all would seem like recess. The birds would start to chirp, and the sun would come out.
Now I realize that the grind is everything and the instances that give reprieve are what make it worthwhile. No longer do I look to quitting time for salvation. I instead find the TV and whatever game can take me away. It’s escapism.
When I escape, I don’t look for a bottle or the seemingly impending doom ahead. I’m still a child somewhere deep down, and the real world looks too rough and tough to let me come along. There’s impracticality in the way I live my life, but I can’t say I ever lived it for anyone but myself.
One day, I hope you meet me and ask what I was doing when I was 27. If I’m the same core person I am now, I’ll have no idea where I was living, who I was seeing or anything else of the kind. Slowly, I’ll put together that in 2014, the Eagles finished the end of their season in the Wild Card round against the Saints. I’ll know I was at that game and the Snow Bowl in late-2013. A couple of dots on the line and I’ll remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.
I can take my linear map and create it all over again. The escapism is real. It will take me back to point A without regard for the point B where I stand. Memory will overtake me the same way the next game always does. Life will revolve around more than just sports, but sports will never escape my grasp.
I’m 27 years old. I feel 57. I don’t have the answers. You might. I hope you do. I know you’ll find them if you haven’t already. I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe I’m destined to sit at sports games or in front of the tube, and that’s okay.
Sports have been the answer this long. Some of you who read this have had them as an answer much longer. It’s worthy of appreciation, one sports soul to another.
You might wonder why none of the other stuff really matters to me, and you wouldn’t be alone. As some in my past would say, I just don’t get it. I don’t know what to say. Just put on the game, and let me find peace. Let me forget how old I am. Let worries fall away, slowly and surely, for a few hours at a time.
Find me there and know I found happiness amidst the struggle. Let me tell you about the time …