On Black Friday, a holiday that apparently overshadowed Thanksgiving, the mall near my home opened at 12:01 a.m. so that crazed shoppers could be the first to save big by spending a lot. In sports, many wealthy shoppers are calling the Twin Cities area to make a deal for ace starter Johan Santana. For some fans, Christmas is about the giving. Away.
After writing or reading those previous two paragraphs, it's clear that fans have legitimate beef with the sports world. We could complain about many of sports' realities, groaning at the moon-scraping contracts, the prima donnas, the media machine, endless losing seasons and the truly senseless catatrosphes like Taylor's death. It's true, there are many problems in sports.
But instead of letting Black Friday steal the spotlight, why don't we reclaim Thanksgiving and some of the Christmas season's spirit of thankfulness? Let's remember the compelling and inspiring aspects of sports that always bring us back despite all of the "issues."
Luckily, there are always fresh stories and fresh stars. Though Santana appears certain to leave Minnesota, fans have enjoyed the considerable talents of Adrian Peterson. For me, even though my hometown Seattle Sonics also appear likely to vacate the premises for Oklahoma City, I find joy in the arrival of Kevin Durant, November's NBA Rookie of the Month. The opportunity to see Durant wear a jersey with "Seattle" stitched across the front already fosters anticipation for a March Target Center clash between the dreadful Sonics and the forgettable Timberwolves.
Durant is my age. Perhaps we get some vicarious thrill from imagining ourselves in the often-large sneakers of sports stars. No matter what, just when the crime blotters and ridiculous business aspects of sports overwhelm the news pages, numerous young athletes literally leap and sprint onto the scene. The talents of players like Peterson and Durant inspire spontaneous outbursts of awe.
After we watch Durant or another sports star, we can walk to Tostrud and shoot some hoops ourselves. Slap on a headband and a T-shirt that says the word "basketball" somewhere, and consider yourself a real athlete. For fans, sports are accessible at many levels.
Even watching sports can be an interactive and physical event. A few friends barely survived a recent trip to Philadelphia for the Seahawks' victory over the Eagles. They were in good enough physical condition to survive the Philadelphia fans' reputed brutality. They may have received the same rush from the win as Shaun Alexander.
On Sunday, fans and pundits across their nation enjoyed the BCS selection show. Once again, both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country lost. On the same day, Oklahoma crushed top-ranked Missouri 38-17. Meanwhile, Ohio State and two-loss LSU benefited from the carnage to vault into the BCS' top two spots, though surely they would have each lost if the season lasted another day. Unbeaten Hawaii doesn't have a berth in the championship game.
Fans may have many reasons to complain about the BCS process, but no one can complain about the compelling bowl season ahead. Parity and upsets provide such great joy for fans, especially because football teams play just one game to determine who advances. The Super Bowl is not a series of seven games. Even the Patriots could lose sometime this season. Rankings and even the bitter BCS make upsets special. Remember Boise State's "miracle win over Oklahoma last season?
Sports fans consider themselves intimately connected with their sport and team. It can be pure, innocent fun to care about teams a little bit too much and talk about sports a little bit too much, but some moments help us realize the real implications and meaning of sports in our lives.
On Nov. 27, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died from wounds he suffered when shot by an intruder into his Miami home. Five days later, the Redskins had to play a mere football game. Thanks to a beautiful act of love, we have proper perspective on the bitter realities of the franchise's stereotypical name and players' ridiculous salaries. On their first defensive play of the game, Washington deployed only 10 players, choosing to leave Taylor's starting spot vacant. Simple. Powerful. Though it may have cost the Redskins a 22-yard run in a game they lost, the act meant something significant to every single person in that stadium, and even to those who only witnessed it on television.
Sports are significant because they link humans who might never associate around a common cause. Unity is more important that the common cause, which is why it doesn't matter that the Redskins lost 17-16 on Sunday. Taylor's life matters more than all that money, all those problems and all the frustrations of a loss. That's the way it should be.