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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 14
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
The Power of Commitment
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Barfly Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
The Land of the Behemoth
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

"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 Heaven.

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 this day.

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 cheered.

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" team.

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!

Send me your opinions at Lynn@netlistings.com

Sports Illustraded For Women

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