san francisco 49ers

Exit 144. Why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?

This post is about five days late.  I know.  It was a hectic week.  Remind me next time I plan to go to two basketball games on weeknights to make sure that progress reports aren’t due the same week.  And for the non-sports people, keep reading, because I make a non-sports-related point at the end.

The Super Bowl was this last Sunday, with the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the 51st iteration of the American football championship game.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, playing in his record seventh Super Bowl, achieved his fifth Super Bowl win, one of only two players (and the only quarterback) in football history to win five Super Bowls.  I had it on for background noise, but I wasn’t too emotionally attached to the game.  I didn’t particularly want to be for either team.  I’m kind of tired of the Patriots, since they have been so successful in the last couple decades.  (I will admit, though, that five years ago I was rooting for the Patriots in that Super Bowl, because that was the year that Sterling Moore, who I had as a student many years ago, played for the Patriots.  They lost that one.)  And I have a hard time being for any Atlanta team, because I’m still upset at the 1993 Atlanta Braves baseball team because of what happened with the San Francisco Giants that year.  Sports fans have long memories.

As the game started, I found myself mildly pulling for Atlanta, mostly just because they were the underdogs.  And they looked like they were on the way to a huge upset, leading 28-3 shortly after halftime.  But New England pulled off an impressive comeback, tying the score about a minute before time expired, and going on to win in overtime.  Many sports commentators and announcers, including Joe Buck who goes on and on and on and on and on with any talking point he can find to mask the fact that he doesn’t know squat about sports, were gushing over the fact that Tom Brady is now the supposedly undisputed greatest quarterback of all time.

And that is why this game hurt.  As I’ve said before, my understanding and following of football greatly increased after an attempt to try out for football in 1991, but growing up, when football was on TV, we were watching Joe Montana play quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.  He has also been considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, before Tom Brady happened.  Joe Montana never won five Super Bowls like Tom Brady did, but he won four, and he was only in his 11th season when he won his fourth Super Bowl, whereas Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl in his 15th season.  Montana never made it to a Super Bowl and then lost, which Brady did twice.  And Montana did everything with fully inflated footballs.  But his reputation as the greatest of all time is in question now.

But then I got to thinking, why do sports people argue so much about who is the greatest of all time?  Part of it is just competition and team loyalty; if one of the greatest players of all time played for your team, you’re going to be biased in favor of them.  But there is more to it.  Being the greatest of all time is not based on one single clear cut statistic.  Different players and teams have different strengths and weaknesses.  A quarterback who is great at leading his team in the regular season might not be good at handling the pressure of a Super Bowl.  A basketball player who is good at slam dunks and playing close to the basket might not be good at making free throws or long three-point shots.  A baseball player with the ability to hit home runs might lose focus in high pressure situations and strike out more often with the game on the line, not to mention the fact that he is probably a slow runner as well, missing a skill needed in other situations.

In the world of sports on in any other part of life, different people have different strengths and weaknesses.  This is what makes it difficult to compare who is the greatest at anything.  Instead, we should all appreciate the fact that everyone is good at something, and that we all need each other in some way.

Exit 93. It’s just a game.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  (For my unfootballed readers, that means the day of the National Football League championship game.)  I’m going to have it on in the background, but I have no preference as to who I want to win this game.

There are a number of significant events in my past that I associate with happening on Super Bowl Sunday.  One of them in particular, even though this year is a milestone anniversary for it, wasn’t on my mind much if not for two posts I saw on Facebook within a few hours of each other a couple weeks ago.  One said that the current date of January 28, 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the last Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl win.  (“20 years of choking,” the caption said.)  The other was from a friend from college, who found and shared some 20-year-old pictures of a retreat he had been on with his Bible study, also in January 1996.

Time for some back story.  In the fall of 1995, I was a sophomore at UC Davis.  I had gotten involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after several of my friends from the freshman dorm had invited me.  I thought I was a Christian, but over the next several months, I made a lot of new friends who took their faith much more seriously, and I learned what it really meant to follow Jesus.  I decided to follow Jesus for myself on Thursday afternoon, February 15, 1996.

During that transition time of learning about Christianity and making new friends was the Super Bowl.  The San Francisco 49ers (my team) and the Dallas Cowboys were two of the most consistently dominant teams in football at the time, and they had developed quite a rivalry.  I lived in northern California, where the 49ers were of course the dominant team geographically, and the Cowboys are one of those teams that have fans all over the country, as well as bandwagon fans since they were so good during that era.  I hated the Dallas Cowboys.  There had been at least two seasons still recent in my memory when the Cowboys had been the team to beat the 49ers in the playoffs.

On the Friday night before the Super Bowl, I had gone to InterVarsity, and for some reason I was in a bad mood.  I was probably feeling discouraged about not having plans afterward that night, or not having a girlfriend, or something like that typical of me.  Two guys who I didn’t know very well at the time started talking to me, and eventually they invited me to their house to watch the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

One of those two guys was the one who posted the picture of the retreat a couple weeks ago.  I replied to that photo, “I wasn’t there, but one of my friends who hates the Dallas Cowboys even more than I do posted today that the last Super Bowl win for the Cowboys was 20 years ago today (’20 years of choking,’ the meme says), which was that same year, and I remember that Super Bowl being the first time I ever hung out with you guys.”

The other guy who had been there on that night in 1996 to invite me to their house replied, “Was that the game you got really mad at? Or was that a later one?”  He was right.  I do tend to get pretty upset at big games that don’t go my way.  And that one didn’t go my way.  Like I said, I really hated the Cowboys at the time, and they won that game.  I’m naturally competitive, I grew up in an environment centered around sports, and I tend to be short-tempered after a long childhood of being bullied.  But none of that was going through my mind a couple weeks ago when I made my post connecting these two events.

“Probably,” I replied.  “But twenty years later, the fact that I had new friends sticks out in my mind more than the specifics of the game.”

I think there’s an important lesson for me to learn in this.  It’s just a game.  I’ve seen my share of great games over the years, and I’ve seen my share of disappointing heartbreaks.  But realistically, those moments aren’t the ones that really affect my life.  And I meant every word that I said there: most of my memory of that Super Bowl Sunday 20 years ago involves the fact that I was around new friends, people with whom I would spend quite a bit of time over the next few years.  And that is what I should be focusing on.  Yes, it is fun to see my teams win, but the times I spend watching games with friends, celebrating with friends after a win and commiserating after a loss, those are the real memories that will last.

Exit 40. Something which I have not done in as long as I can remember.

An hour or two from now, I will have completed something which I have not done in as long as I can remember: I have not watched one minute of the NFL playoffs this year.

I apologize for those of you looking for non-sports-related content on here.  I have some things I’ve been thinking about that I will have more fully formed opinions about next week.

This is the second Super Bowl I have intentionally avoided.  There was one Super Bowl a while back when one team was the team that eliminated my 49ers, and I had had a bad experience with a fan of that team at that time, and the other team, I can’t stand that team or their fans for a lot of reasons.  But I didn’t avoid the playoffs entirely that year because, obviously, the 49ers were in it at one point.  I didn’t watch the Super Bowl at all that year; in fact, I went to Costco in the middle of the game, and it was more empty than I’ve ever seen it.  It was nice.

Usually, I watch the Super Bowl even when I don’t care about the teams involved, and usually, I even come up with a team that I would prefer to win, even if I don’t really care that much.  But the way I see it, with the Seahawks, and the Patriots, and Katy Perry doing the halftime show, everyone loses.

This also marks two years in a row that I have not been to a Super Bowl party, and at least five years in a row that I have not been to a Super Bowl party locally, because most of my local friends these days aren’t into football.  I didn’t realize until I was an adult that there were people in this country who didn’t follow sports.

Now if you’ve been a fan of one of those teams for a long time, then I hope you enjoyed the game.  (I still don’t know what’s going on in the game, so I don’t know if your team won.  I’m sure I’ll hear soon.)  I’m okay with that.  If you’re a fan of Katy Perry and you wanted to watch the Super Bowl for the halftime show, I’m a bit less okay with that, but to each his/her own, whatever.  If you’re a bandwagon fan who just moved to Seattle or Massachusetts, and all of a sudden you love your team after years of talking about how much you hate football, then I personally find people like you kind of annoying, but that would be true regardless of what team was involved and how that team did that year.  You can redeem yourself, however, by staying true to your team in the future, even through the bad years.  And the Seahawks and Patriots will have bad years again.  You bandwagon-jumpers wouldn’t understand this, but just wait and see.

It felt really weird to be ignoring the NFL playoffs while scrolling through Facebook posts of excited and disappointed fans talking about their teams’ games.  I’m just kind of fed up with the NFL in general right now.  Part of that is, of course, the disappointing season the 49ers had.  There is a lot of talent on that team, and it got wasted due to internal team strife, conflicts between players and coaches, rumors started from the outside, and bad calls.  But also, things are just getting ridiculous.  When we have players being punished by the league because they are required to speak to the media against their wishes as an obligation to the fans, players trash-talking each other on Twitter and acting like 10-year-old playground bullies, and all the increasingly convoluted rules about what is and isn’t allowed on the field, it just takes the fun away from the game.  I enjoy football, but this year just left something to be desired.

I’ve been occupying myself with basketball season just fine, and occasionally hockey (but not as much as usual because I don’t have cable).  And baseball season is just around the corner.  The cycle keeps going on and on.  The wheel in the sky keeps on turning.