Three hundred thousand sports fans in Hartford, Connecticut, put down the kielbasa a couple of Sundays ago and neglected their near-constant relationship with the dented cushions of their couches to celebrate UConn basketball's NCAA championship. It must have seemed a good opportunity to reestablish a relationship with natural light. And it reminded me of the Final Four weekend, when I came face-to-face with the subspecies of men who live vicariously through others' exertion.
It's a little after 8 p.m. on a Saturday. Oklahoma State has the ball. Some tank-topped character in a nationally televised drama with no plot is dribbling up the court. He sinks the shot, and the set of black eyes across the bar bulges with rage, and the man to whom they belong drops his long face into his hands. When the microsecond of grief has passed, the beady portholes to his turbulent soul turn back toward the inset screen above the bar at Fort Lauderdale Ale House (2861 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale).
The Georgia Tech fan, who's dressed in a white T-shirt and appears to be in his mid-30s, is the only person in the branch of the sports-bar chain -- where you can get a pint of manly brew with a side of steamed broccoli -- having such a strong emotional reaction to the first game of the NCAA's Final Four.
His face brightens when a Georgia Tech player brings the ball down court. Then the athlete travels, turning over the ball.
"So stupid. Oh my God!" he yells before swatting his arms over the bar like a baby spilling milk.
After Oklahoma ties it up with a three-pointer, Georgia Tech's Will Bynum sinks a shot to win the game.
The fan throws his arms up like he just won the goddamned lottery. He pumps his fists in the air. "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
The bemused, blond-bobbed female at his side says to their companion, "He's such an asshole."
It's OK, it seems, to yell and moan like a big baby -- so long as you're watching sports.
How is it that sports shake up such an emotional cocktail in men's blood?
To find out, I elbow my way between two guys at the corner of the bar and throw my head in the path of their conversation. Matt is a short, brown-haired man wearing a visor. Joe is his tall, lanky brother-in-law. He takes it in stride when I nab a fried mushroom off his plate before introducing myself.
"So, why do men get so emotional about sports, which obviously have no content?" I ask.
Joe jumps in: "Sports have no content? Right. There's drama in the game itself. You can't sit here and watch one of these games and say there's no content."
"A lot of times people have money on the games too," Matt adds.
I grab another mushroom and give them an incredulous stare.
"What are you," Matt says, "a man hater?"
UConn and Georgia Tech went head-to-head that Monday for the NCAA Final, flushing two more hours of sports fans' lives down that crusty toilet on the periphery of logic to the sewage flow of wasted potential. Whoosh!
So, I went to the Davie Ale House (2080 S. University Dr., Davie), which is generally more packed than its urban twin. Located close to Nova Southeastern University, Florida Atlantic University, and Broward Community College, it draws a younger yet distinctly sports-indoctrinated crowd.
During the second half, the game already fatally lopsided in UConn's favor, I descended upon a table of three broad-shouldered young men who were just teetering over the brink of their mid-20s. John's Dolphins cap covered his dirty blond hair and hazel eyes. Red was a redhead with pale blue eyes. Boston was a built brunet with dark eyes and slightly mussed hair. They seemed partly annoyed (Boston) and partly amused (John and Red) by my presence.
I asked them if they played sports.
"No," they replied.
"Are you gym bunnies then?"
They looked at one another, then at me. "No," John explained. "We all used to play baseball."
Beneath all the batter on their plate lies some kind of unidentifiable meat or vegetable. They're baseball fans, John a Marlins fan. I asked them, "If the woman of your dreams walked through the door and said she wanted to make love during the last game of the World Series, what would you do?"
"Make love?" John questioned.
"You mean fuck?" Red clarified.
"OK, yeah, that's what I meant. But, at this point, what do you do?"
John responded, "I TiVo the game and go for the girl."
Boston said, "I watch the game. I'm asexual." I find it strange that, only moments later, he turned to eye the thin, muscular woman at the bar with dark-framed glasses. "She's got a nice ass," he said, then turned his attention back toward the television.
"All right, but let's say you're on a date with the woman of your dreams, and the Marlins are playing in the final game of the World Series."
Boston said, "There's no way I'd be on a date during the last game of the World Series," and there's a consensus about that.
I talked to a tall, brown-eyed Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan who explained his obsession to me.
"See, you gotta understand. First you pick your team, then you follow them all the way. It's not like I sat down on the couch with a beer and said, 'I like this team.' Naw, I've been watching the Buccaneers ever since I was a little kid."
"Have they ever gone all the way?" I asked.
"Yeah, they won the Super Bowl in the 2002 season," he replied.
"So, how did you feel when they won?"
He answered, "I felt like the shiznid."
"Really," I asked. "Is there anything else in life that compares to the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl?"
He stammers, then comes back with, "You have to have a favorite team to get it."
"But why would I care?"
"Just pick a team," he insisted. "Then you'll understand."
"OK," I said, eagerly awaiting the hundreds of hours of my life I was going to spend in front of the TV worrying about who beats whom, "I'll be sure to get right on that.
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