Team Spirit

So I’m sitting on my front porch this afternoon when all of a sudden I hear someone screaming. “OhmyGod! OH MY GOD! Oh! My! God!” Did I mention that this is just one person? The screaming is followed by a round of solo applause. Then quiet returns to my street.

I’ve never really gotten the sports thing.

One of my earliest memories is driving home on the Garden State Parkway from visiting one of our grandmothers in Elizabeth, the smoke from Daddy’s cigarette blowing into the back seat, the Yankees game droning on the radio. The sound of sports on TV, punctuated by the cheers and groans of my father and my brother, accompanied my childhood. I learned to turn it into white noise and tune it out.

But even as I tuned it out, some essential elements seeped in. Most importantly, I knew the Yankees were our team, right up there with the Democrats, the Jews, the public school system and the A&P.

When I got married, my husband put my no-sports stance to shame. Not only did David ignore sports. He hadn’t even grown up in a family where anyone followed them. To this day, if he finds himself in a group of guys shooting the shit about the World Series, he’s liable to say, “That’s baseball, right?” Sure, it’s an exaggeration. But it gets the point across. We take pride in such moments.

Sometimes David accuses me of being more interested in sports than I’ll admit. That’s because every now and then I’ll let myself get drawn into the drama. I usually pay enough attention to know who’s playing in the World Series, and if the Yankees aren’t, I’ll find a reason to root for one of the teams that is. I favor cities in blue states. I like underdogs. And I automatically favor anyone who’s playing against the Red Sox.

Not that I actually ever watch a game. Baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf. If it’s on a TV and I happen to be in the same room, I might gaze at the colored jerseys and the pumping legs for a moment, but then I’ll space out. But when the morning news wakes me up, I’ll listen for the scores, register a moment of mild happiness or disappointment when I hear who beat whom, and then get on with my day. It’s sort of a nice feeling, to be mildly glad or sad about something that makes no difference whatsoever.

The one big exception to all this sports indifference came four years ago, during the last World Cup.  Our family was spending two weeks in France, which was working its way to the finals. The whole country was berserk with football fever. Soccer wasn’t just  filling TV screens. It was spilling out onto the streets. Buildings were bedecked in red, white and blue. Sidewalk racks overflowed with souvenir soccer shirts. People walked around with the tricolor draped over their shoulders like Superman capes and cars raced by with French flags fluttering out their windows.

The night France played the quarters we were dining outside in a village in Provence. We knew Les Bleus had won when someone started circling and re-circling the tiny town, honking and waving flags.

The night France was in the semi-final, we were driving back to our gite from Avignon. Our route took us through the centers of a series of villages. We knew Les Bleus had advanced to the final because each village center we passed through was more packed with more inebriated revelers waving larger and larger French flags. Traffic slowed to a near halt. People shouted and pounded their fists on the hoods and roofs of the crawling cars. I wished we had a flag of our own to wave so no one would mistake us for citizens of whatever country France had just beat. Instead, I leaned on my horn, and we got home safely.

By the time the final game was played, we were in Paris, and feeling firmly committed to Les Bleus and totally anti-Italian. Our daughter bought a blue football jersey with Zidane’s name and number. She wore it to dinner at an outside table in St. Germain, where the streets were packed with people who’d come to watch the match in public. I was nervous about what might happen in the aftermath, so we went back to our hotel and watched it there. And we actually did watch it, although four years later, the only thing I can remember about the game was Zidane head-butting the Italian and being expelled from the game, and then Italy winning. We were momentarily disappointed. Then we went to bed, relieved that we would be able to sleep through the night without being disturbed by partying sports fans.

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