I’m no stranger to sports fandom heartache. I was there in 2012, in my dad’s living room, watching on his fancy big screen TV in high definition as Sergio Aguero scored the goal that put Manchester City 3-2 up over QPR, securing them the Premier League title over Manchester United in literally the final moments of the season. I’ll be dead honest, I hadn’t been expecting us to win the league that year, but it still hurt.
I was in the beautiful Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit for the 2010 World Cup, proudly hosted by my home country, where Italy needed a dodgy penalty to draw against New Zealand. New Zealand. They failed to secure a single win in the group stages and didn’t proceed to the knockout round. They didn’t fare much better four years later in Brazil.
And I was there for Super Bowl XLIX, watching live at some ungodly hour, all on my own, when the Seahawks went into the fourth quarter with a ten-point lead over the New England Patriots. I was still awake when the high and mighty Tom Brady brought the Patriots back to overtake the Seahawks and give his team a four-point lead, with the score at 28-24 with just 2:02 left in the game. But when quarterback Russell Wilson marched us down the field to the one-yard line with 26 seconds to spare, with arguably the best running back in the league in Marshawn Lynch in the back field, I was feeling
pretty confident I’d be riding on a high for the rest of the night. So, when Wilson chose to throw a slant pass that was neatly intercepted by Patriots’ defender Malcolm Butler, I swiftly entered a cycle of the seven stages of grief that I’m still not entirely sure I’m out of.
Heartache. Real, true and pure heartache. Pain that honestly hurt worse than the end of some relationships, and I don’t say that lightly.
Obviously there have been the highs too. You could say I am a United fan by sheer chance, luck or fate. It certainly isn’t choice. I was raised to be a United fan. Just as your parents pass along good morals and principles, hopefully some money for a good education, and a second or third-hand car to get you from A to B, so too do they pass along your allegiance to a team. And if it weren’t for my dad being from Northern Ireland, and the greatest footballer ever to have lived also being from Northern
Ireland, who just so happened to play for Manchester United; who knows, I may have ended up a City fan. And that day in 2012 would have been one of the greatest days of my life. But fortunately for me, Manchester is red, and I’ve lived to see a whole lot more success, and experience the euphoria of watching a trophy being lifted more times than I can count.
The Italy thing is a bit more weird. I have no ties to Italy, beyond my love for pizza and spaghetti bolognaise. But I have always loved football; and boy did I love Roberto Baggio. And one of my earliest memories of intensely watching competitive professional football was seeing him miss the penalty in the 1994 World Cup, handing the title to Brazil. Since then, I have been a die-hard Italy fan. I watched the 2006 World Cup final in a packed pub. When Fabio Grosso scored the winning penalty, I cried like a baby. In public. Which, for someone with social anxiety, I will tell you, is quite a feat.
To be an American Football fan in South Africa takes dedication. And money. First of all, you need a Game Pass, there’s just no way around it. You can watch the Red Zone live, but with the time difference, there’s just no way around those Thursday night, Monday night and late Sunday night kick-offs. Then, you need to sacrifice social media time on the days after games you’ve missed if you’re only going to be able to watch them when you get home from work, which is most Mondays for me – try doing that when part of your job description is “social media manager”. So why the Seahawks? More like why anyone else? The Seahawks embody what it is to be a team. They play for one another. They are a brotherhood. Their players are passionate, courageous, generous, talented and they care about their fans. Oh yeah… and my brother supports them.
So, I was also there for Super Bowl XLVIII when the Seahawks absolutely annihilated the Denver Broncos, winning 43 – 8, in a game where the Seahawks were largely viewed as the underdog going in. The score tied for the third largest score differential in Super Bowl history. This was the first ever Super Bowl victory for the Seahawks and my fandom arrived just in time for me to be a part of it.
So, do the good times outweigh the bad? Normally I would say yes, without a doubt, but in these last two weeks my heart has become so weighed down with fandom pain that I don’t know how much more I can take. It all started on the 9th of November, week 10 of the NFL season, Thursday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks versus the Arizona Cardinals. Now if you want to know everything that is wrong with Thursday Night Football, all you have to do is click here: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/richard-sherman-seahawks-thursday-night-football/ It’s a night when players’ seasons end. Players who haven’t had time to recover from Sunday’s game, forced to play three days too soon. And on the 9th of November, that is exactly what happened to the very man who wrote that article.
On a seemingly innocuous play, Richard Sherman, All Pro Cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Fine, it had been bothering him for weeks and he had been playing on it hurt. But that’s the type of guy Richard is; will never let him team mates down, will never let the fans down. Plus, I don’t think there are many who would deny that Richard Sherman at 60% is still better than most Cornerbacks at 100%. But Sherman is more than just a player on a team. He is the heart and soul of his football team. Even though he could barely walk, he was hobbling up and down the side lines, shouting instructions and encouragement to his team mates. He is a bigger loss than just a Defensive Back, his immense presence on that field will be sorely missed. When he gave a short press conference after the match, he was fighting back tears the whole way through, until he could hold them back no longer, and broke down. Me, on the other hand, I cried the whole way through.
Now I take you to Monday the 13th of November. Italy vs Sweden; the second leg of their World Cup Qualifier. They lost the first leg 1-0. As time wore on, they became more and more desperate, but the ball would not hit the back of the net. The final whistle blew. For the first time in sixty years, there will be no Italy in the World Cup. But that’s not the part that hurts. Gigi Buffon made his debut for Italy in October 1997 at the age of 19. He had decided to retire after the World Cup, now that decision had been made for him. What a cruel and unfair way for a career of such brilliance and dynamism to end. He gave an interview on Italian TV, openly crying, I have no idea what he was saying, but I cried along with him. Absolutely heart-breaking.
And now I move on to the paragraph that will take all the strength in the world to type. It also began on the 9th of November, Thursday Night Football, although I didn’t know it at the time. My favourite player, “Bam Bam” Kam Chancellor went off injured near the end of the game with something called a “stinger”. It wasn’t a term I was familiar with. I went to bed thinking it was maybe the American version of a dead leg. I didn’t think about it again until Pete Carroll’s Tuesday press conference when I found out a stinger was in fact “a common nerve injury resulting from trauma to the neck and shoulder, often resulting in burning pain accompanied by numbness and weakness”. Not quite a dead leg. Carroll’s reluctance to provide much of an update on Kam’s status had me worried. And worried I was right to be. Yesterday it was announced that Kam’s season is over, due to a neck injury, with a chance he might never play again. This time I cried for about an hour. And every time I think about it I have to fight back tears.
I can’t post a picture of Kam looking any other way, because I can’t imagine him any other way. I don’t want to.
Every week these athletes put their bodies on the line, and for what? For our entertainment? I know they love to play, but at what cost? And do they know the potential cost before they get suited up each week? I was talking to my brother earlier today and he said it’s genuinely becoming a moral dilemma over whether or not we tune in to watch on a Sunday, when we are literally watching guys’ lives fall apart on screen. The number of elite players to have suffered season ending injuries this season is staggering. I honestly don’t know how much more my heart can take.
They say things happen in threes. Sherman, Gigi, Kam. Let that be the end of it. I have always firmly believed in regression to the mean. This has been a period of extreme heartache for my sports fandom. Surely things will return to some kind of normal now. And please may the next extreme be a positive.