"Diary of a Sports Fan"
I'm not sure how many of you know this, but I'm
a major sports fan. It's genetic. And right now,
with both the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals
on television every night, I'm in Play-Off
The sports thing started with my mother's father,
who loved sports and introduced my mother to all
the New York teams. She, being the most willing
of his three children to like whatever he liked,
began rooting for the New York Giant football team
and her beloved Yankees at an early age. When she
married my father, love of sports was undoubtedly
part of their marriage vows, because my Dad was
an athlete as well as a huge sports fan. Living
in New York, they ultimately established a routine;
they had season tickets to the New York Knicks,
the New York Rangers, and, most valuable and almost
impossible to attain, the New York Giant games.
One didn't need season tickets for the Yankees;
you could always get a seat in that awe-inspiring
shrine to baseball known as Yankee Stadium.
Sports, and rooting for "our" teams, was a family
ritual; it was a necessary component of family bonding.
In fact, when the Yankees were in the pennant (which
happened with amazing frequency) I was allowed to
cut school to attend games. There's nothing else
I could have dreamed up that would have convinced
my mother to let me skip a day of school! Of course,
I was in love with Mickey Mantle, and followed intensely
the homerun race of 1961 (thanks, by the way, Billy
Crystal, for providing me with an adult perspective
on that whole Maris/Mantle thing). My brother, who
was not particularly concerned with conforming to
family rituals or working on family bonding, nevertheless
managed to redeem himself by going through what
must have been the excruciating pain of being coached
by my Dad in Little League. Ultimately, he distinguished
himself on the ice playing hockey, one of the few
sports my father had never played. Today he too
is a sports fan, especially when it comes to the
Detroit Red Wings.
When I got married, it was to an athlete. And not
just any athlete, my "ex" was a star, the Captain
of the NYU Baseball Team with the highest batting
average in the country, a member of the 1964 Olympic
Baseball Team. He was going to be a major leaguer.
I served him up to my father on a silver platter....
"Here, I've brought you a wonderful new present."
And my father could not have been more delighted;
let the bonding begin! Unfortunately, a severe shoulder
separation in his second year in the minors thwarted
my new husband's lifelong dream, but the sporting
rituals were as deeply ingrained in him and his
family as they were in me and mine, and thus was
tradition carried on as we raised our own family.
We got lucky in that department. Our daughter and
our son were both natural athletes, involved in
everything from gymnastics to soccer, baseball,
swimming, track. You name it, at some point they
played it. Eventually, my teenage daughter's focus
shifted to acting and boys, although she remains
to this day a major sports fan, while my son became
the principle family "jock." But sports was one
of the few things that brought everyone together,
even after "the divorce". If my son was playing
in a soccer game, it brought Grandma, exes, significant
others of exes, in-laws, ex in-laws, all together
on the field, bonded for those exhilarating hours
into one big happy family.
But way before that, we were also fans. Our nuclear
family picked up the family tradition and had our
own season tickets to the Knicks, Rangers and Giants.
Going to Madison Square Garden was as commonplace
to us as a picnic or a hike in the woods were to
other families. It was even part of every Christmas,
like stockings and church and the Christmas tree
and presents. After Christmas dinner, we attended
the Christmas night basketball game played every
year at the Garden. And, we were all there when
the Knicks won the NBA Championship (against the
Lakers) in the '69-'70 season. I still remember
Walt "Clyde" Frasier, Bill Bradley in his pre-Senator
days, Dave DeBusschere, the indomitable Willis Reed
at center, Dick Barnett, and of course, those strange-looking
broad shoulders of Phil Jackson.
Imagine. I, who can barely remember what I did
yesterday, remember that team with total clarity.
I remember the incredible thrill of pride felt by
all Knick fans when Willis Reed limped onto the
court for Game 7. I have remained a Knick fan to
We were also at the Garden for Ranger games, watching
our team make the playoffs nine years in a row.
That team also resides comfortably in my memory:
Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield, and goalie Eddie Giacomin.
But they never won the Stanley Cup during that time,
so the ecstasy of 1994, when my mother's idol Mark
Messier scored the winning goal to capture the Stanley
Cup is also indelibly etched; that Ranger victory
was a family celebration that reached from New York
to California to Florida, uniting us all as we wildly
Way back when I was around thirteen or so, I remember
our entire family secretly huddled around the television
in an upstairs room while we were supposed to be
attending some relative's milestone birthday party.
How could we, when the NY Giants-with Frank Gifford
and Kyle Rote-were in a sudden death game for the
NFL Championship? And how could we do anything to
alleviate our misery when the Giants finally lost
to the Colts in overtime. So, the elation we all
felt in 1986, when the Giants finally won the Super
Bowl behind the brilliant Phil Simms was just part
of our tradition. It was a family affair, a glorious
triumph we took personally; we had earned it together.
Here's an interesting thing about being a fan.
If you have rooted for one team all your life, it's
extremely difficult to change teams when you move
to another state. At first, it's inconceivable.
Then, at some point, when you realize that you never
get to watch your team play, you begin making tentative
efforts to adopt a second team. At least, that's
what sometimes happens. In my family, those of us
who have relocated to California slowly found ourselves
adopting the Lakers and the LA Kings as our "second"
teams. Basically, that means that we root for them
unless they are playing against our "first"
With each year, it becomes easier. You become more
and more familiar with the team ethos, the players,
the coaches, and you begin to bond. Which explains
my excitement now, during the NBA Finals pitting
the Nets against the Lakers. And, once you've adopted
a second team, it's not all that big a stretch to
have a third team, kind of in the back-up position.
For me, that has only happened in hockey. If it's
not the Rangers or the Kings, then I root for the
Red Wings. First, because they're a great team,
second, because they're my brother's first team,
and third, because I need to root for someone.
After all, it's the Stanley Cup!
But in other cases, it's impossible. None of us
has ever adopted a second team in football or baseball.
We could no more root for the Dodgers than we could
take up trout fishing. We are, eternally, hard core
Yankee fans. And no football team other than the
Giants will ever find a place in our hearts. But
that's the way it is with sports...part tradition,
part emotion, and part just love of the game.
For people who have never rooted for a team it
may be hard to understand. That agonizing anxiety
when a game is tied with minutes to go. The knots
in your stomach. The absolute "LIVE-ness" of sports;
everything can change in a moment, and as a fan,
you never know when that moment will come; the outcome
is almost never certain. Then, of course, there's
the unbridled elation of victory. The contest, the
competition, the sportsmanship, the teamwork. Watching
athletes battling with ferocious intensity, and
then hugging opposing players once the contest has
ended. Or lining up to shake hands as they do in
hockey. There are so many rewards for being a sports
fan. And so many life lessons to be learned. And
so, right now I'm in heaven. Let the Finals begin!
me your opinions at Lynn@netlistings.com