I will tell you.

You feel happy.

You feel happy right that second, and you feel happy for a long, long time to come. Even when you feel sad, you feel happy about the fact that a long time ago, in California, the Cincinnati Reds swept the Oakland A’s in the World Series after most people said they would never win at all.

It’s a smugness I’ve long puzzled over. I wasn’t on that field. I had nothing to do with it. Despite my stubborn self-reassurance that the world will forever be different because I was born into it (and, okay, you too), I am pretty sure Todd Benzinger and Jose Rijo could’ve managed without my existence.

Bengals. Same deal. I should not still feel anguish over even the thought of Super Bowl XXIII. I have a home and a job and a fridge with food and a husband who folds the laundry.  I should not care about Boomer Esiason’s feelings. Boomer Esiason probably doesn’t care about Boomer Esiason’s feelings as much as I have cared about Boomer Esiason’s feelings.

Why? Why? Oh, civic pride and group identity and the whole sharing experiences thing. I know. But this weekend, as I watched Georgia’s quarterback burst into happy tears and Alabama Twitter fans demand the head of Nick Saban “because he clearly doesn’t care anymore,” the smug and the agony came into clear focus all over again. I have returned to this topic over and over again in this space because, at the tight middle of our souls, it is what has brought us all here.

I’ve read that this is all brain training. Discovering the truths of neurochemistry where winning is concerned was an immense relief to me. It makes biological sense for our brains to flood the zone with serotonin as a reward for victory; such a thing keeps us alive. Feeling shame and discomfort upon taking the L also keeps us alive. Do you like that feeling? Do ya? Then avoid it next time, and live to subdue the mastodon.

So all these emotional outbursts are just brain chemistry trying to keep the raw antelope meat coming in an age of GrubHub.

Or are they?

What happens when the biological processes of the hunting grounds and gathering fields are transported to the baseball diamond and the football field? You get Dave Lapham, that’s what happens, and you cannot bear it and so you Clete out.

Logically, realizing the biology behind winning is better than assuming life is now unbearable because of the lax OBP toted by a person who you have never met, a person who doesn’t even know you exist. There’s a reasonable reason for those tears– the happy, and the sad.

Sports at nearly every level in 2022 is corrupt, cynical, spoiled, overfilmed, over-hyped, overpriced. It’s a trick of editing. It’s the slow-mo and the well-crafted trailer before the first pitch leaves the mound.

But as I watched the crying quarterback and the falling confetti, the fans falling over one another in a collective scream they will remember for the rest of their lives, as long as their minds will allow, I thought of the mastodon.

And I realized, when the whistle blows and the final out clicks across the scoreboard, that the screaming up at the confetti, either in joy or in pain, is what divides us from that lumbering and extinct creature.

12 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    Ah, that magical 1990 Fall Miracle … we savor that 30+ years hence. Because it was more than the “W” … it was ethereal in how it unfolded. And we are right to do so.

    Just as you noted with the “L” installment last week, it’s all a part of the 162-game season with a hope you get to play beyond. The Bearcats didn’t ascend that hill in the final effort; the Dawgs did. While I barely watched or kept track of the SEC Title Game Part Deaux … I was more satisfied to wake up Tuesday and find the Elephants had failed.

    Great column again, MBE! You are keeping this fan engaged during a very difficult desert time. I’d call that a “W” for both of us!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thank you! I didn’t expect to Have Emotions during that game, but I did. Gosh darn it, Crying Quarterback!

  2. Ryan

    Today’s Enquirer describes more fun-filled changes for baseball, among them: 1) expanding playoff teams to 14 (why not, hockey does, and what’s so important about the regular season?) and 2) advertising patches on the uniforms (it looks so nice on NASCAR drivers, I don’t know why all major sports don’t do it)

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      blaaaarrrrggggh, the ads…. didn’t like ’em on the jockey pants, don’t like ’em on the unis. Although there’s so much patch-crap on there now, we probably won’t notice much.

  3. Scott C

    You have just described a phenomenon that no will ever be able to totally explain. But why try? We feel good when we win personally, I still remember hitting the game winning homer that clinched our church league title 40 some years ago, it still brings me happiness. I remember that eagle that won our team a captain’s choice tournament in the rain 30 years ago. I remember that hole in one… wait that hasn’t happened… yet, but that is why we continue to try through all the bogey’s and double bogeys and others. When our teams win we can celebrate because we suffered through all the bad times with them. That is sports and that is life. Thanks for your fresh perspective.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I saved the Blo-Pop wrapper from the candy we got as a prize for winning the 7th grade gym class volleyball tournament FOR A REASON

  4. LDS

    “Sports at nearly every level in 2022 is corrupt, cynical, spoiled, overfilmed, over-hyped, overpriced.” One of your best lines. And nothing I’m seeing reported regarding the CBA negotiations leads me to expect any improvement. Sadly, MLB is following the NBA into the abyss. How long before the Reds have a version of LeBron James’ loudmouth?

    • Rednat

      i would say dumbed down too. just compare the 1990 nl league championship series between our reds and pirates. that was athleticism on full display. compare that today’s game. homerun, k, bb. rinse and recycle. boring.

      • Homer (Not Bailey)

        Throw in a few more “bb’s”, a whole bunch more “k’s”, then a whole bunch more “k’s” for good measure.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well, my nephew’s pick-up basketball team seems to be having a good time. I think I’ll focus there 🙂

  5. Bred

    “Sports at nearly every level in 2022 is corrupt, cynical, spoiled, overfilmed, over-hyped, overpriced.”
    While I agree completely with that statement, and believe most people share that opinion, it does not seem to alter our behavior as we still cling to our rituals. The outsiders, those not formally connected with the team as referenced above, often care more than those who play the game. The fan syndrome phenomenon defies logic or certainty of the emotional outcome. Being pack animals we need to belong to something larger than ourselves.
    This psychological need to belong and can cause an introvert like myself to experience life as if I were an extrovert. In a mass of shared emotion it is easier for me to abandon the self and not stress about misspeaking or making jokes that I later worry might have offended someone. Personally, I think this phenomenon extends beyond sports. When I go to the doctor, I want the doc to be on my team, like me, but if under his care, I end up taking the one eyed nap, the doc will not lose sleep. We both lost, but only one of us suffers the consequence. Maybe I’m more demented than I realize, but I even want the grocery store checker to like me and be on my team. For me it goes on and on. Perhaps that is one of reasons why I always tip 25% or more.
    You articles never fail to provoke a thought or three. Thank you!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said. The pack animal mention is especially poignant, and something that’s rapidly disintegrating.