Friday, July 2, 2010

I Watch Sports Because I Like Being Angry

Ghana has just been eliminated from the World Cup in penalty kicks against Uruguay. This might be the single most tragic sporting event that I have ever seen. On Facebook, a friend of mine wrote, "More proof there is no god." Upon reflection, however, I replied, "this is more proof that there is a god, and that he likes to see us suffer." With that in mind, allow me to recount some of the greatest personal tragedies that I have suffered in the cruel world of sports.

January 22, 1989 -
Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16. This is the game that started my long history of sports heartbreaks and near-misses. I was four years old when this Super Bowl took place, and on that day I decided that I was a die-hard Cincinnati Bengals fan. I probably didn't even know where Cincinnati was - I still have a hard time spelling it - but as soon as I saw those helmets, I knew who I was rooting for. Plus, they had players with the names "Icky Woods" and "Boomer Esaison." How cool is that? And when the Bengals took a 16-13 in the Fourth Quarter, I was certain that they would win. But then Joe Montana led the 49ers on a historic 85-yard drive, connecting with Jerry Rice for the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game. I broke into tears at the end of that game. It would not be the last time.

June 14, 1992 - NBA Finals, Game 6: Chicago Bulls 97, Portland Trail Blazers 93. This game is the reason why I still can't bring myself to root for the Bulls. People often forget how good the Portland Trail Blazers of Clyde Drexler and "Rip City" actually were. On the road, and facing elimination, the Blazers came out hot and were up on Chicago by 15 going into the Fourth Quarter. But then they flopped, scoring only 6 points in the final 4 minutes, getting outscored 33-14 for the period. This series also started the strange tradition of the Blazers getting "commercialized" - that famous picture of Jordan smiling and shrugging is from game 1. But how many people recognize Cliff Robinson standing around stupidly in the background?

June 4, 2000 - NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 7: Los Angeles Lakers 89, Portland Trail Blazers 84. Speaking of which.... In L.A. the Trail Blazers went into the Fourth Quarter with a 75-60 lead over Kobe and Shaq and the Lakers. Portland had completely dominated the game, and looked certain to advance to the Finals, where they would be the heavy favorites over the Indiana Pacers. That's when my Grandma - who I love very much and am very grateful towards, and who happened to live in L.A. and be a Lakers fan - called and offered to buy me tickets to the Finals if the Blazers won. If. She cursed them. Portland went on to choke up the largest lead ever in a Game 7, and L.A. went on to win their first of three championships. Oh, and this:

That's Rasheed Wallace, Portland HOFer Scottie Pippen, and Brian Grant all getting dunked on. Nice going, fellas.

May 31, 2002 - NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 6: Los Angeles Lakers 106, Sacramento Kings 102. The rest of the games on the list are not quite on the traumatic scale of the first three; either I get older, and so the stakes are not as great, or I don't feel the same kind of loyalty that I developed as a kid, or simply that the magnitude of the collapse wasn't as epic. For example, I've never been a Kings fan, but I supported them because they were from a small market, because they were "scrappy"*, and because they were playing against the Lakers. But this game is on this list because it was the infamous Tim Donaghy game, when the Lakers shot 40 free throws, 27 of them in the Fourth Quarter. People from Portland had been complaining about the refs' bias for the Lakers for two years. After this game, other folks began to see what we had been talking about.

Or what about:

October 16, 2003 - ALCS, Game 7: New York Yankees 6, Boston Red Sox 5. This one lost some of it's tragic element the next year, when Boston got revenge. Of course, I doubt that real Red Sox fans would agree with me on that one.

July 9, 2006 - World Cup Final: Italy 1, France 1. (PK's 5-3.) The head butt hear round the world. I put this one on the list because this is the game that started my deep hatred of penalty kicks as a way to determine the winners of soccer games.

January 1, 2010 - Rose Bowl: Ohio State Buckeyes 26, Oregon Ducks 17. At first, I was devastated by this loss. Then I realized that the Ducks had made history just by winning the Pac- um ... X.... Then they started stealing laptops. Can't wait for September.

And now...

July 2, 2010 - World Cup Quarterfinal: Uruguay 1, Ghana 1. (PK's 4-2.) I generally don't byt the whole "they deserve to win" argument that sportscasters often make. New Orleans didn't need a Super Bowl. They need federal aid. Cleveland doesn't need an NBA title. They need a functioning infrastructure. But even I get sucked into the whole narrative of a game meaning more than just a game. Especially when the sport is taken to a national level. Ghana deserved to win this match. And they were robbed.

The Universe is cruel.

* This may be one of the reasons why I keep being crushed by my teams' ultimately coming up short. I have since learned that "scrappy" is usually code for short, untalented, dirty, and, unfortunately, white.


r wright said...

I recall the Trailblazer game that we watched in person, against the Phoenix Suns, who had Barkely at the time. PDX up by 1 point with.6seconds left. Inbound pass-alley oop-and Suns score. The whole coliseum went silent!! Remember? You were SOOOO bummed!

Joel said...

Yeah, I thought about that game. I remember how hard I cried. I guess I kept it out because it wasn't, like, a championship game. Pretty traumatic experience, though.