Yesterday we watched the first half of the Superbowl with friends, then headed home for a late bedtime. As I tucked Zion in I asked him who he wanted to pray for. "The Patriots", he answered. I don't know if it's because they were losing or because, thanks to his friend Nathan, he was newly converted by a fan, but either way I thought it was a fine idea. So I prayed for the Patriots to be happy and proud of the way they played, whatever the outcome—Falcons too—and for all the fans to be ok with the result too, and not take it too personally. For my part, at 9:30 last night I was feeling pretty fine about a Patriots loss.
It's not that I don't like the team. I was an impressionable young lad in 1985 and got caught up in the excitement of the playoff run that year, and as a young adult suffered attentively though the Bledsoe years. I feel like I came by fandom honestly—the Patriots may be the Yankees of football now, but I liked them when they managed to find new and exciting ways to fail every season.
Rather, the problem is the national picture these days. It's bad enough that the owner, coach, and quarterback are Trump supporters—in the run-up to the game I also read how white supremacists (you get to hear all about what white supremacists think, these days) were excited to root for a team with three white wide receivers. On the flip side, I was glad to see that in the face of that sort of support the Falcons were wide national favorites. So while I couldn't help rooting for the home team while in the presence of the TV yesterday evening, it wasn't hard to come up with upsides for a Patriots loss.
Then of course they came back to win it (as I discovered this morning) and the whole process repeated itself in reverse. Yay hometown heroes! Rejoice (in a time-shifted fashion so typical of our modern era) with my local friends and neighbors! But there was also a little dismay that terrible people would also be happy about the outcome.
Oh well. Through all those twists and turns (well, really just the one) I managed to survive because it turns out I don't really care about football that much anymore. It's been a long road—starting with a disappointing outcome back in 2009 that clearly made a big impression at the time—but I can now be in a house where the Patriots are playing in the Super Bowl and be content with, rather than watching, reading Green Eggs and Ham to the two-year-olds. As I did last night. (Somebody had to! Those little guys don't have the attention spans you need to stick with that telecast!)
Football is in many ways a beautiful game—acknowledging too its deep problems around safety and racial integration and labor issues—and I happily watched the second half of the game this evening. But being a fan is hard! Only one team can win it all, and everyone else has to go home unhappy. And even when our team does win, the reflected glory doesn't stick around for that long. Hooray, we're represented by the best team in the history of football! We still had to get up this morning and go to work (speaking generally, that is; I was busy with homeschooling). And even the winning players will need to start thinking, soon enough, about what they're doing for next season.
To bad we can't just enjoy sports—as spectators, as players—for the amazing displays of human possibility they represent at the highest level. And at lower levels, because it's just plain fun to play ball! But we can't. So, prayers for the Patriots were right on, Zion. And for the rest of us too.