A Post-Script on the Importance of Sports

I didn't intend to write about sports twice in one week, but it has been forced upon me.  I have thought for a while now that Every Day Should Be Saturday may be the best blog on the Internet.  On one level, it is a blog about college football, but on the other hand it is a Proustian reflection on the meaning of life.  The primary author/founder Spencer Hall is an unbelievably good writer, and his piece today is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.  Seriously, go read it and then come back.

I can't write like he can, but his piece triggered two thoughts about college football.  The first has to do with my father.  Some of my earliest memories of him involve Penn State football.  He loved Penn State, and he loved Joe Paterno.  More importantly, he believed in Joe Paterno, the person.  In 1987, Penn State played Miami in the National Championship Game.  Penn State were the good guys, and Miami were the bad guys.  Miami was a much, much better team, but Penn State found a way to win that night in Arizona.  I was 8 that night, and it felt like the world was a fair and just place.  I don't think I've ever seen my father as happy as when I saw him watch those players carry Paterno off the field on their shoulders.

Three years ago, it was revealed that Paterno's #2 man on that night in Arizona, and for years after that, was predator of the most despicable kind.  Paterno knew about at least one of the incidents, and he did little to bring it to light.  That's the most charitable view--there is a very real likelihood turned a blind eye or actively covered it up.  I remember talking to my Dad on the phone when this scandal was breaking.  I can't remember what he said, but I could hear in his voice the disappointment.  He believed in a guy, and one way or another, that guy let him down.  My Dad is a proud man and a good man, but this wounded him deeply, even if he would never admit it to anyone.

Joe Paterno is dead now, and he is beyond our concerns.  But I know this--I will never forgive him for letting down my Dad.

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As for my own college football team, Northwestern, I often wonder why I follow this school.  I never graduated from NU, and my memories of my time there are mostly unpleasant ones.  My time at NU felt like that drive from St. Louis to Iowa City Hall talks about--and endless journey with no recognizable landmarks and no sense that I was getting anywhere or approaching some destination.  I understand it now--I was depressed, and the depression got progressively worse as I went along at Northwestern.  I have some very, very close friends from my time at NU, and I treasure those friendships, but otherwise it was mostly painful and lonely and confusing.

So, there is no obvious reason to tap into that experience (even if it is in a small way) every Saturday in the fall.  But I do, and it wasn't until reading Hall's piece that I understood why.  Like Hall, there is a part of me that needs to run.  I've moved from one end of the country to another.  I've changed jobs, careers, lives.  With each move, with each change, I have started over from scratch, cutting almost all ties with what came before.  In a way, that's part of the point.

But there is also part of me that never wants to run anymore, ever again.  That part of me is afraid that all I will do for the rest of my life is run.  And I think it is that part of me that forces me to root for Northwestern.  To prove to myself that I can maintain a thread with what came before.  Northwestern is my connection to the past, to a sense of stability that I haven't really had in my adult life.  If I stopped following Northwestern and starting rooting for Ohio State (hahahaha, just kidding---I would never do that), I would truly be a nomad.  And I don't want to be a nomad anymore.

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