“Sporting Extremes”? Nope. Not talking today about extreme sports like BASE Jumping or Extreme Pogo (which is a thing!). As I joyfully settle in for another NHL hockey and college football season (the best time of year in my opinion), I’m thinking more of the extremes to which we fans go – or find ourselves – for the love of our sports of choice!
Real extreme sports may be about risking life and limb, battling the elements and facing down danger – but being extremely into sports can kinda be like that too.
Take battling the elements. Please…
Last month, my friend Pam invited me to an LA Dodger game (although from her perspective, it was more a New York Yankees game) – and I got to enjoy a delightful day of Americana!
Somewhat less than ideal though was the 100+ degree heat.
But even in our outfield seats that took the sun’s full force the entire game, we and the whole Ravine-full of extreme fans remained undaunted! For a break, we’d retreat to the concession area beneath the bleachers, fortify ourselves with soda or beer, and head right back into the fray. At the top of the 9th when a final push up that last proverbial hill was required, the fans in their Dodger blue – plus a fair amount of Yankee faithfuls like Pam – ignored the blazing heat and summoned the strength to rise and cheer like crazy for their respective teams! I was on my feet too – but kinda pulling the hardest for no extra innings…
We faced other dangers besides extreme heat that day – although Pam had us covered. Ever prepared, she’d brought a mitt to avert any danger from home runs or practice balls that might have hurtled our way. But you know, I was prepared too – I was completely ready to yell “Yours!” if the need arose.
I will say it was ungenerously generous of Pam to have purchased tickets with an “all you can eat” add-on that allowed us as many Dodger Dogs, sodas, popcorn and peanuts as we wanted. Since I’m trying to watch my figure, that was where the real danger lay!
Still, it was well worth any challenges to get to spend a day with great friends, stuff my face with peanuts as fast as I could shell them, belt “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch, and hold my breath in excitement while the Dodgers held on for the win! The prelude to a World Series match-up? We shall see!
As it turned out, no baseball fielding was required that day – but years ago, my great aunt Martha could have used Pam’s ready glove. I’ve blogged before (in The “We” in “Team” Bit) about how extreme sports fandom actually runs in my family and how Aunt Martha was a serious San Francisco Giants fan. I think she was in her 70’s when an errant ball tagged her at a game (I was told the incident even made it into Herb Caen’s San Francisco Chronicle column). But Martha wore the wound like a badge of courage and kept right on rooting for her Giants!
There was no media coverage of it, but I also sustained an injury while viewing a sporting event.
Back in 1990, my family met up in Seattle for the Goodwill Games – a well-meaning but short-lived competition put on by Ted Turner as a response to the Olympic Games boycotts in the ’80’s.
The Goodwill Games was a marvelous chance for my sports-mad clan to assemble for a bit of quality time and to get a first-hand look at some of the great athletes of the age! After a fantastic day watching international stars of track and field, we got to see legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski put a terrific young squad through its paces on the basketball court!
Our family had seats just a few rows up directly behind one of the baskets – it was like we were right in the action! At a critical point in the game, diminutive and dynamic Bobby Hurley was weaving his way through a forest of big guys – all right in front of us!
And it brought me back to my days of following UC Berkeley basketball! As Dad was a professor at Cal, I was taken along to games from the age of two – and I became an even bigger fan while a student there!
My big brother Rich was a great Cal Bear supporter too – at least he was when we weren’t playing his Oregon State Beavers. I used to fly up to Oregon and meet Rich to watch Cal play OSU and the Oregon Ducks on the road – and they were just the best of times!
But Rich was an extreme fan. And being next to him during the heat of a game could be like getting caught up in a twister.
I knew the risks…
But I wasn’t thinking of them that night at the Goodwill Games as Bobby Hurley made his way past hulking bodies and outstretched arms, launched himself up (I swear he closed his eyes at the last moment – perhaps in a quickie prayer) and ever so gently laid the ball in the hoop.
Just feet away, Rich and I went nuts! We jumped up, arms waving and fists pumping as we cheered for Hurley and our American boys!
Nobody on the court got a foul on the play – but Rich could have as his wildly pumping elbow smacked me right in the eye. It wasn’t at all intentional, of course (a one-and-one at most), but Rich felt terrible that he’d given his sis a shiner. In the moment, I didn’t feel that great about it either. But after a little time to recover and reflect, I knew I’d never have wanted Rich to dial down that exuberant – if occasionally extreme – passion he had for sports.
After all, black eyes heal. And a person can get rehydrated pretty fast. But what a loss it would be not to share and revel in the most extreme sporting risk of all – putting our hearts on the line for a team!
The passion Rich had for Bears, Beavs, Blackhawks and Seahawks was palpable, deep and something to behold (if, ideally, from a safe distance). And passion like that causes true sports fans the world over to go all in with their favorite teams every season and embrace whatever highs and lows may come.
It’s that kind of devotion which, just about a decade ago, made Pam retire from a friend’s birthday celebration in a rented Irish castle to huddle over her phone, anxiously waiting for each screen refreshment to reveal the fortunes of her beloved Yankees in the World Series. (And I totally respect that!)
It’s why when Mum, a Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan, snuggles into her partisan sheets for a nap, she dreams of the Hawks’ hoisting the Stanley Cup again. After more than 80 devoted years (Rich’s zeal for sports didn’t just come outa nowhere!), I think it’s safe to say they will always be in her heart!
And it’s why I’ll be journeying to Colorado with more dear friends in the middle of winter to cheer on my Los Angeles Kings in a hockey game to be played outdoors. There may be a different set of elements to battle – but I can hardly wait!
A very happy fall season both to sports fans and not-so-much-ones alike! And if you do follow a sport that’s winding down or gearing up just now, may you find it all extremely good fun!