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.