Can you ever become to old to be a sports fan? Brent Stoller talks about his love of sports and growing up.
There are certain things in life we outgrow. Things like an appetite for strained squash, or our yearning to wear Underoos. Me, I’d hoped to outgrow my pencil-thin chicken legs. But alas, a scrawny lower body was tattooed on my DNA, sentencing me to a lifetime of concealment via sagging shorts and bloused-out jeans.
But what about being a sports fan? Is that something we can—or should—outgrow?
To be a fan is to be a child. Your welfare and wellbeing, your existence, is dependent on the actions of others. There’s screaming and pouting when things don’t go your way. You have no perspective, viewing the world through a single-minded prism. And what you obsess over, what incites stomping feet and streaming tears, is nothing more than a playground game.
When you’re a kid, though, there’s little harm in this. In fact, it’s a necessity. It’s a means to maturation, and it’d be detrimental to bypass these growing pains. But at some point, shouldn’t you shift your energy to more consequential matters?
I bring this up because I recently was unable to deny the occurrence of celebrated my 37th birthday. I have also gotten engaged, and in the next few months, I will likely be buying my first home. (Largest purchase to date: IKEA dresser.) And while I had the foresight to hitch my wagon to a girl four years younger, giving me more time to work with, fatherhood will soon be more than just an idea that triggers night sweats and bouts of nausea.
Though it’s tough to admit, I’m becoming an adult.
This runs in stark contrast to my obsession with the Texas Longhorns. Born into a burnt orange family, I take UT sports more seriously than just about anything. This love was instilled in me by my grandfather, a confidant of former head football coach Fred Akers. Because of their friendship, I got what every kid would kill for: an all-access pass to his favorite team. My childhood was spent going to games, playing on practice fields and venturing into post-game locker rooms.
(The only downside was that when taking pictures with players afterwards, you had to be aware of the camera’s entire field of vision. Locker rooms are not discreet, and a photo that could one day hang in your office could get tarnished by certain hanging exposures in the background.)
It’s been a balancing act to manage my fandom as I’ve gotten deeper into adulthood. This was the case a few weeks ago when my fiancée and I had to register for wedding gifts. And due to certain scheduling requirements, we had to do it Saturday morning.
The only problem was that Saturday morning was also when the ‘Horns’ were playing their annual holy war with rival Oklahoma. In the past, this would’ve been a no-brainer. Not even Yom Kippur services had kept me from watching this game. And my brother’s a rabbi.
But this time felt different. Yes, Texas-OU was still Texas-OU, and I understood its importance. But I also understood that I had other responsibilities to consider, that now, it’s no longer just about me. And it’s certainly not about a collection of 18- to 22-year-old strangers who are taking the same kinesiology course I once took.
My father eventually came to this realization, too. His drug was the Dallas Cowboys, and he’d been addicted since he was a little boy. The addiction was hereditary, passed down from his father, a season ticket holder. Cowboy’s games were a way of life for the two of them. It was how you spent your Sunday afternoons, and it was how you spent your Thanksgivings. On their second date, my dad took my mom to see Roger Staubach.
But over time, my father’s priorities evolved, and his devotion to his team evolved with them. He got married and had kids and started a business, all of which required his attention—attention he was happy to devote. Soon, the Cowboys weren’t playing the most important games anymore; his sons were, on basketball courts and ball fields, and those became the centerpiece of his weekends. What ultimately cut the cord was Jerry Jones’ dumping of my dad’s idol, head coach Tom Landry. But in reality, that just expedited the divorce the two parties had been heading towards for some time. Now, my father’s nothing more than a casual observer. He enjoys watching games, but is no longer swayed by the outcome.
And there are times when I’m envious of that. There are times when I wish I could be more neutral, when I wish I could consume it all in the unattached way I consume other entertainment. Because that’s what it is—entertainment. It’s embarrassing to admit how much my teams matter to me, to admit how much I care. Something so meaningless shouldn’t mean so much.
But whenever I contemplate this even-handed approach, I’m reminded of the fall of 2005, when I’d become the Lone Star state George Costanza. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have any place to go, and I didn’t have anybody who was in the mood to give me details. What I did have, though, was the Texas Longhorns. And while I was aimless Sunday through Friday, for three-and-a-half hours every Saturday, my world had purpose. Those games, that team, they gave me something to look forward to, something to be a part of, something to be hopeful about. Thinking back, those few months were among the worst of times for me. But Texas winning the national championship made them some of the best.
And therein lies the rub. Everything we do is grounded in emotional physics. The farther you stray from the center, the more you expose yourself to the extremes. And the only way to experience the highs is by chancing the fallout of the lows. You get out what you put in. This leaves me in a tug-of-war with my fandom—one side that considers letting go, one side that can’t comprehend doing so.
Thanks to DVR, though, I didn’t have to decide during Texas-OU. I could register for gifts first; then I could watch the game. And actually, I enjoyed registering. It’s the ultimate shopping spree on everybody else’s dime. Deep down, you’re aware that just registering for something doesn’t mean it’ll get bought, but that’s for more rational times. In the moment, those stocked shelves represent possibility, that laser tag gun your passport. Battery-powered salt and pepper shakers? Why not?! A juicer? I’ve always wanted to make juice!!!
But as time passed, and the clock indicated kickoff had occurred, focus eluded me. I became less enthusiastic and more irritable. Whenever I’m recording something, I remain on edge, shut out from the world, until I’m safely in front of my TV. I have to, because one misstep, one slip in concentration can result in finding out the score.
(In fact, one store we were in turned the game on. Immediately, a unilateral decision was made that we would not be registering there. I communicated this by walking outside with my eyes down and my fingers in my ears.)
This discomfort was different, though. It was as if I was denying a part of who I am in the name of growing up, because that’s what I’m supposed to do. But what I’ve noticed with age is that, while our minds can only handle so much at one time, our hearts know no capacity. My life is ever-evolving, and with luck, I’ll be given more and more to care about. And as those blessings appear, I’d rather not cast aside one true love for the sake of another. I’d rather just make some more room on the couch for everyone.
Photo: Flickr/ Brian Behrend