My mother once told me when I was young that I’d never be a good husband unless I shed the sports obsession I possessed.
I didn’t tell her that my dad — her husband — was the one who instilled the mania in me in the first place. He regaled me with tales of watching the Yankees when he lived in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. With my father’s fodder about seeing DiMaggio and Mantle play baseball, how could I avoid the fervor?
The obsession didn’t parlay into actual skill. I couldn’t play the games well. I had the coordination of a drunk at last call. I tried sports, but I was sloppy and, like the drunk, probably shed a few tears.
So, I watched sports and studied the players, the statistics and the strategy. I figured out how to compute a pitcher’s ERA when I was nine. Quite an accomplishment for a youngster, but none of my friends cared. They were busy playing the sports I read about.
And the obsession grew. When I was in high school, I wrote Major League Baseball previews for our school newspaper. I bore down on homework on Mondays, wrapping it up unusually early so I could watch the Monday Night Football games.
I even ended a high school relationship in conjunction with sports.
It was March 26, 1979. Indiana State was playing Michigan State in the NCAA basketball finals. My girlfriend and I were circling the drain for some time, but neither had the gumption to really end it. Finally, that evening, I decided to break it off. I told my dad I was leaving, but I’d be back in time for the tip-off.
“You’re going to miss the game,” he said, concerned that the breakup may take a while.
“I’ll be back,” I said.
And I was. I met my girlfriend at, fittingly, a church basketball court and ended a two-year fling with little negotiations. I returned home and watched the game. I’ve looked back on that day and realized it was the day I became a man in my dad’s eyes.
Fast forward 30 years. Same girlfriend. We got back together after the three-decade break. Again, we were circling the drain. Again, I decided I had enough. She and her kids came to my house to live when a ice storm killed their power. It was Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009.
I pulled the plug this time during half-time of the game and was able to catch the second half unscathed.
Once, years ago, my wife forced me to quit watching a college basketball game featuring Minnesota and Arizona because I was getting too animated and she feared my heart would end before the game did.
It’s all about sports. Maybe I use the game as a crutch to avoid the situations that I could possibly have avoided if I were not so gung-ho about sports. Maybe had I spent more time in reparations and negotiations with the high school girlfriend back in 1979, or 2009 for that matter, I could have salvaged the relationship.
But then I would have missed the game.
Maybe my mom was right.