Why do we cheer? Why do we invest so much time, money and above all, emotion in what, for all intents and purposes, is a simple game played by others for their own benefit? It can't be for the players themselves. We don't know them, as much as we pretend to. We've never met them except in autograph lines, or perhaps at rare sightings at local restaurants. We know that the faces will change from one year to the next, whether because of free agency, the pursuit of bigger paycheques, or by our own actions (all of you who bellowed that the Captain should be traded back in November, please raise your hand).
So why is it that when they win, we are lifted along with them, in paroxysms of joy and ecstasy? And when they lose, we mope and grouse, devastated, through our day to day lives until the moment our heroes win again, thereby cleansing the sour taste of defeat, putting a spring in our step and a smile on our face. We are fully aware, that our own actions, thoughts and even prayers have absolutely no impact whatsoever over what happens between two teams. And yet we continue to wear our lucky socks, don the jerseys, engage in countless rituals, meaningless though they are, in order to ensure victory. It's irrational. We know it's irrational. And yet we do it. Why?
These are the thoughts that occurred to me when Alfie scored. Well, a little while later, really. At the moment Alfie scored, my wife and I were on our way to Ottawa and a long planned dinner date with our best friends. Having watched the entire game at home, I was forced to choose between standing up our friends, thereby incurring the scorn and calumny of my beloved, and watching what could be a multiple overtimes at home. Guess which option I picked?
As we made our way up Highway 31, the game on the radio, Alfie delivered me to the promised land. I yelled, I honked, I yelled some more. I swerved into the oncoming lane. My wife yelled. I yelled a little less and concentrated on what the hell I was doing. My wife yelled a little less. But as we got closer to Ottawa, oncoming traffic began honking at us, having noticed the flags flying from our windows. Soon, we were sitting at stop lights with complete strangers, honking and screaming at each other. Go Sens! All the Way BAYYYYBEEE!! WOOOOO! And I began to wonder a little bit, why? Why am I so goddamn happy because our professional athletes beat another city's professional athletes? Why?
Every first year sports psychology student worth his or her tuition will answer by citing things like "tribalism" and the comfort we find in a "community of the like minded" or, Heaven help us, by falling back on the tired cliche about how we, as fans (from the root fanatic after all) are somehow reliving, vicariously through mercenary athletes, the glory that escaped us in our own minor league youth, be it on the ice or the football field or baseball diamond.
And guess what? I have come to realize that I don't care right now. That's for the After. I don't care about what primeval motivations may be lurking in my reptilian brain. I'll examine those a little closer in the After. The Ottawa Senators are in the Stanley Cup Finals. MY Ottawa Senators are in the Stanley Cup Finals. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to stop my wife from washing my lucky socks.
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