Saints and glimmers

Who dat

“Rough day, huh?” asked the smirking mid 40s-ish man wedged in next to me on my train ride from the City back to New Jersey on Sunday night. I was confused for a second; it had indeed been a long day at work, but how would he know that? Did I look that worse for wear?

Then I realized he was referring to my attire: a Reggie Bush Saints jersey, the first one I grabbed in my haste to catch the train in the morning. The Redskins had upset New Orleans that afternoon, and he clearly hoped to wallow in my misery.

“I’m not a Saints fan,” I said. “I’m actually a Dolphins fan, so I guess that’s even worse, though I honestly still don’t care all that much.”

Seemingly dissatisfied by my answer, he turned back to his middle class-ish family with a grunt and resumed discussing fantasy football banalities, explaining to his daughter how he had cut Peyton Hillis for Brett Pettigrew as if it were the secret to eternal life, and extolling the virtues of “RD2.” I secretly hoped he meant this guy.

My train companion wasn’t the only person who attempted to draw a pained reaction from me about the Saints’ defeat. Two other people brought it up during my trek home, both similarly befuddled when I told them I couldn’t care less about the Saints. This Sunday, I’ll leave no doubt and wear my horrible Dolphins David Boston jersey.

These reactions from strangers didn’t stun me: The teams we root for are woven into our DNA to the point that people associate us with them, even if all they know about us is what shirt they see us wearing.

And yet, it seems so ridiculous to think back to how a loss by my football team used to make or ruin my entire week. Through high school and college, my favorite teams became a convenient stopgap during the decade or so until I could begin to carve out an identity. To thrill in their victories was a drug of sorts; I walked that much taller, felt that much cooler wearing a Dolphins jersey if they’d beaten the Jets the day before.

Along those lines, I was totally crushed my senior year of college when Miami blew a 30-8 fourth-quarter lead in the accursed “Miracle in the Meadowlands.” Why? Probably because I was supposed to be. I stormed out of my dorm to stew alone at a lecture hall way on the outskirts of campus, wallowing in my misery until everyone else had gone asleep and it was safe to return. It wasn’t uncommon that I’d have to take Tylenol PM to get to sleep after tough losses.

Eleven years later, I simply don’t have the time, energy or desire to become that upset over things I can’t control. I didn’t see any of the Dolphins’ Week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Texans on Sunday – I had to work, and the game wasn’t on television in New York City. But I found myself thinking back to the last time they’d lost an opener to a much worse Texans team – nine years ago, the season they signed Junior Seau – and I just can’t reconcile at this point how upset I was over that.

In my industry, I’m constantly around people who live and die with their favorite teams every inning of every day, and it’s become more and more a foreign concept to me. With the possible exception of the Knicks, who I’ve sort of come to despise, I’d prefer the teams I’ve rooted for since I was a kid to be good. I mean, why not? But I’ve long since stopped assigning a significant part of my identity to their success or failure. I still like watching sports, and I use my favorite teams to focus my attention, it’s just that I’ve come to believe there’s so much more worth spending time and energy on.

The last time any of my teams won anything – Duke in 2010 – I spent much time becoming invested in their quest. When they beat Butler, meaning that one of my teams had finally won the big one after all these years, I felt like my celebration was a bit forced. It simply didn’t mean as much as I thought it would. I woke up the next morning with little having changed; life moves on.

A month and a half after that, I met my future wife, and I started really living.

I understand mine tends to be an off-putting stance. Your typical bro in a Joba Chamberlain t-shirt desires everyone to feel pain when sports logic dictates they should, and likewise for elation, since it validates having given themselves over to those emotions. Rooting for sports teams is nothing if not collegial; at least in theory, we’re all in it together, even if we root for different teams. A lassez-faire attitude is the glitch in that matrix.

Tebow hug meYet, while watching people strut through Penn Station on Sunday night puffing out their chests in their Mark Sanchez jerseys, I found myself offering the occasional nod of affirmation, though I’ve never particularly liked the Jets – or many of their fans, to be honest. The paramount importance I used to assign to games isn’t so far back that I don’t remember how that felt.

And besides, when it comes down to it, how can anyone judge what makes someone else happy? For me at this point, it’s a long run at night, a haunted house, boxing on the couch with my soon-to-be wife, yogurt with berries before bed. For someone else, it might now and forever be sitting in the bleachers, rhythmically chanting Nick Swisher’s name, waiting for him to tip his cap. Much like beauty, happiness is firmly in the eye of the beholder.

I’ll probably never again find my entire life ruined emo-style because one of my teams lost a game, or conversely elevated to heaven on earth by a victory. But it’s also not my place to think someone else is wrong for putting themselves in that position.

And after having spent times at both extremes, I’ve started to understand that it doesn’t matter so much exactly what makes you happy, provided that you are.

Esoteric

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