There are many of you out there wondering, most likely behind the safety of your eyelids, why more than 100 million people tune in every year for nearly half of the daylight hours on a particular Sunday in February to cheer (often arbitrarily) for one of two teams of overgrown men who throw themselves at each other fighting for the possession of a lousy, feces colored, disfigured ball. And to be honest, it’s not a bad question.
You may wonder if it’s for the enjoyment of watching the human body set new boundaries of what can’t be done? Or if it’s for the nail-biting, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding thrill of competition? Is it for the last second, full tilt, 70 yard Hail Mary that is miraculously caught in the corner of the end zone only to be called back for offensive holding on number 76, the 15-year veteran left tackle?
Or perhaps we desperately want our team to win the Super Bowl because we feel that our unflinching, untiring devotion through 24 seasons, 15 starting quarterbacks, 4 jersey purchases, and 0 playoff wins requires some sort of validation to make all the heartache somehow “worth it”? Is it we feel that by screaming loudly and shouting profanity at the refs when they make an obviously correct call makes us part of the team on the field? Is it that our team is somehow connected to our identity, and wherever they go, a part of us goes with them?
Is it that we deep down wish that we could be the one out there in front of hundreds of thousands of fans chanting our name only for them to forget it the day we tear our ACL and get placed on career ending IR? Is it that we feel we never had a chance to achieve our own potential as an athlete, because of our parents, or our coaches, or our genetic punch card?
Is it for the hours spent agonizing over our $50 pool fantasy lineups? Is it for the excuse to order a pizza, cheesy bread, two molten lava cakes, and crack a beer, or 10, every Sunday from September to February? Is it for the friends that drink three beers for every one that they bring, only to cheer against you in the last 2 minutes and revel in your disappointment? Is it for the tailgate? The burgers and dogs? The Tostitos? The Cheese Puffs?
Or is it for the one day you walk into a 7/11 in Nowheresville, West Virginia to find the attendant wearing the same pony on his cap who gives you a toothless smile as he slips you a free Slim Jim? Or perhaps for the a**hole bird fan who double-parks you in at the movie theatre after seeing the blue star on your bumper?
Is it for the escape to a world with wins, losses, and worst case scenario, a tie? A world with both teams subject to clearly defined rules, penalty yardage, and a commissioner who does whatever the fuck he wants, when he wants, and how he wants?
Do we root for our team because we know deep down that no child should ever have to witness the Oakland Raiders win a Super Bowl? Or is it because we truly believe that our organization does things “the right way” while the Pats continue to get away with cheating?
Or do we watch for the friends that watch alongside us, commenting on who should win based purely on uniform color? Or for the trash talk that ensues before, during, and then ends abruptly when the things change late in the fourth quarter? We certainly don’t watch for Joe Buck.
Do we watch because everyone else is watching? Do we watch because we always have? Is it just a stupid game? Is it so much more than game?
To all of you who wonder, I have the answer. Yes it is. And yes we do.
Tonight I will take the field for what will likely be the last time. While my final appearance won’t be aired on national television, nor will there be thousands of fans there to witness it, to me it will be a special moment. I believe we ascribe value to the things we do in life. Many are willing to let others ascribe value for them. They let others tell them what they should love: seeking wealth for the sake of wealth, chasing fame for the sake of reputation, but I am not one of those people. I understand that tonight I play in an intramural flag football game at a small college in Williamsburg, Virginia, but for me it could just as well be the Super Bowl. I cherish every second on that field, every opportunity to bring down a catch or make a tackle. Because I know there is nothing I enjoy more than the thrill of competition. I have never known how to throttle back my enthusiasm, and I have never understood why anyone would want to.
I believe that you (albeit unknowingly) played a large role in molding my competitive spirit. Since the day you came to Denver I have watched you play. Every Sunday my eyes were glued to the ‘24’ printed on your back. At a young age I would mimic your movements in my living room as you put everything you had into that field. With every tackle I cheered, every interception I rejoiced, and every blown coverage I cursed. You don’t know it, but I may be your biggest fan, as well as your biggest critic.
Last year I wanted nothing more than for you to win the Super Bowl that you deserved. It crushed me to watch that game. I can’t begin to imagine the emotions that you went through. But that loss forced me to reevaluate why I watch the game. I no longer watch for the wins, for the records, or for the bragging rights. I watch to escape into a world that makes sense. A world where the rules are written out and understood. A level playing field where all that matters is what you show you can do. It is here that I find happiness,
Above all else, you have taught me that it is actions, not words, that define one’s character. I will never be as athletic, as driven, or as humble as you, but I can strive towards your example. Every workout, every play, every snap. Each morning I wake up to the numbers 2-4 hanging above my head. You are my inspiration. You are my motivation.
Tonight I play in your honor. I promise, win or lose, to leave my heart on that field as you did every Sunday for 15 years. Your example is forever burned in my heart.
I woke up late, it's true. I really have only myself to blame. The night before had ended in a heated conversation with a bouncer, threats of calling the police, and eventually a R$ 229 bottle of Tequila. I had stumbled home just as the sun began to rise on a beautiful Saturday morning in Fortaleza.
I was definitely still drunk when I woke up. But not the cheerful, dancing on tables drunk. It was more of the groggy, misty, why-is-everything-so-blurry sort of drunk. In my hazy state I managed to misread a digital clock: 0930 (1.5 hours late) was misread as 0730 (30 minutes till bus departure). Thinking that I had only 30 minutes to make it to school where our group bus tour of the city was scheduled to leave at 8, I quickly threw on the nearest clothes I could find (not-coincidentally the same ones from the night before), I grabbed my bag, and hustled out the door to shouts from my host mother about how I was running late (or so I assumed, I didn't really understand what she was saying. Now I realize she was probably telling me that I was in fact already late.) Anyways, I hopped on a bus and figured I might be able to make it before they took off. I sent my friend named Ben a text, "hey tell them to wait for me. I'm on my way." He was confused.
Now if it had actually been 7:30 when I woke up, I may have had a chance. But 20 minutes in, at my first bus transfer, I checked the clock again and realized my mistake. Only then did the true gravity of the situation begin to sink in.
On my ninth day in Brasil I found myself alone in the center of the fourth largest city in Brasil. I had not yet found a bank that would take my Chase debit card so I had on me a grand total of R$2 (roughly 75 cents US), sunscreen, flip flops, an empty backpack, extremely limited Portuguese speaking skills, and a used cell phone with low battery, a broken right-arrow button, and only 10 contacts programmed in it, 4 of which were from the previous owner. Luckily one of the numbers happened to be the hero of this story my good friend William, who had also gone out with me the night before, but unlike me had been responsible enough to wake up on time.
In these sorts of situations I believe that there are two types of people. There are those who hunker down and make logical decisions to solve the problems at hand, and there are those who run. I am a runner.
Looking down at my phone I received a text from William (who had been brought up to speed on my current plight via text message, phone calls cost more and I didn't have enough credits on my prepaid phone to complete one). "Go to Dragão Mar" it said. Dragão do Mar was the square where we had been the night before and also serves as a well-known cultural center. Upon reading the text I reasoned that if I could find the ocean, I could find Dragão do Mar (which literally means "dragon by the sea"). In my half-drunken state I fell back on my PGA tour instincts (I don't play golf, but I've watched the masters a couple of times). From this I reasoned that on courses near the ocean, most greens break towards the water. Likewise it must mean that in cities near the ocean, most roads slant towards the water. So when determining which way to run, I figured if it is going downhill it must eventually lead me to the sea. So I started running downhill. (...it could have been brilliant you know.)
Roughly a mile in, nothing was looking familiar. So I ran up to a friendly looking guy and asked, "Dragão do Mar?" and pointed in the direction I had been running. "Não," he responded and pointed in the direction I had come from. Splendid. Note to self, don't rely on golf knowledge for directions.
So I ran back to where I had gotten off the bus and along the way decided that since I knew how to get to the ocean from school I ought to just take the bus to school and go from there. That being said I had no concept of when the tour bus would be going by Dragão do Mar (or if I had already missed it) or if they even would be stopping there. So time was of the essence.
Momentarily foregoing my running strategy, I hopped aboard the bus, shot off a few texts to William explaining where I was, and proceeded to sweat profusely in the 90 degree weather. Twenty minutes later I got off at my stop and started sprinting. In my flip-flops with an empty backpack flapping behind me, I must have been quite the site. I asked nearly every person I ran by to ensure I was still going in the right direction and about 15 minutes later I found myself sprinting down the street to a familiar setting. Dragão do Mar, at long last. I pulled out my phone to ask William where to meet and as I composed the message I realized that the low battery indicator was flashing. Frantically I changed my message from "where should I meet you?" to "I will meet you where Larissa's taxi picked her up last night." Click send. "Sending...sending...sending..." Phone dies.
Well great. So I'm here, in Dragão do Mar. I still have my R$2 and a bus pass with an unknown current balance. Did the message get to William? I have no clue. Had I missed them altogether? Quite possibly. But what could I do? So I sat down and waited. It was hot. I was sweating. I was tired, scared, and desperate. But at least it wasn't raining. And then it started to rain. Downpour actually. I stood up, held my hands up to the sky and laughed. It was a beautiful moment. I realized then that this was exactly the reason I had come to Brasil: to be lost, to be alone, and to be soaking wet.
I am starting to believe that the greatest catalyst for growth is adversity: adversity of the mind as well as adversity of the spirit. If one faces no mountains they never learn to climb. I believe we all ought to seek out challenges with the knowledge that sometimes you will find yourself broken, scared, and alone, and just at that moment when you think you have hit rock bottom it will probably start raining. But do not despair or accept defeat. For I have been there and survived. Looking back I reckon that it is moments like these that we live for, for it is in these moments that we really live.