Sports are worth the roller-coaster ups and downs

From where we were in the stands, it was unclear what had happened. But the scoreboard made it clear. One drive in, the Bulldogs were already down. Fifty-nine minutes remained, but the tide never turned.

I don’t need to remind Yalies of The Game — a game we’d all like to forget. But as our most important sporting event of the year, it would be inappropriate to pretend it didn’t happen.

For 12 months, we build up The Game. We look forward to taking on our historic rival, to hosting thousands of enemy students in our dorms for the weekend, to welcoming back our alums and — for those of us who make it past the tailgate — to a football game of which we can be proud. This year we had reason to expect all of that.

This was supposed to be our year. Heading into the weekend undefeated, the Bulldogs were playing for back-to-back Ivy Championships. With the Bulldogs poised to beat Harvard for the second straight year after going winless in the five previous matchups, the campus could sense the importance of this year’s Game.

Despite a failed push to bring ESPN GameDay to New Haven, Yalies appreciated the history that the sports network couldn’t. With a win, the Bulldogs would have sent Harvard home without a championship, and Yale would have held the title alone for the first time since 1980. Most important, Yale would have finished a season undefeated for the first time since 1961.

But this was also supposed to be our weekend — not just our Game. We would win, and we had to win.

And then we lost.

Late on Saturday I began calling friends to make dinner plans. I had set my alarm for 5:30 to wake me from the nap I took all afternoon — I was so depressed after The Game that I went to sleep. And it wasn’t just me. It seemed that half of my friends were also asleep, happy to miss dinner and keep their naps going. And the other half was headed out of New Haven, ready to get home for the holiday.

There was no point in sticking around that evening. The whole school was drained. Normal campus life was nowhere to be found. The electricity of that morning, the tailgate and the early moments of the game were nothing more than a memory.

This was supposed to be our weekend.

Meanwhile, Harvard students infested our campus. To me, their smiles were jeers and their laughs, howls. I hated them as they bounced down York and Elm streets, eating in our restaurants and asking directions to parties. Somehow I managed to put on a smile as I ran into a high-school friend who now wears crimson. But I couldn’t maintain it when we split ways.

This was misery, nicely summarized by the numbers 37 and 6, and contained within our campus. There was no escape.

And yet all of this is good. Everyone should suffer as we did. None should be free of despair, and all should, at least once, be forced into sleep simply to avoid thinking of pain. I say this not out of a jealous desire to spread misfortune. This is what being a fan is.

Non-fans wonder why we devote so much emotional energy to sports. To outsiders, sports fandom is irrational and unhelpful. They watch us, their friends and loved ones, waste time and energy on events unrelated to our lives. That’s how they see it, at least.

But they’re missing out, not us.

That emotional connection, complete with its roller-coaster ups and downs, is invaluable and irreplaceable. The experience of the sports fan is unlike any other. By following our teams and becoming so personally invested in their performances, we allow ourselves to test important emotions without real-world implications. We feel genuine joy and sadness as a result of the movement of a ball on a field.

There will always be more games played, and one win or loss will have no bearing on future games or years, except in our memories. In real life, experiencing such emotion often comes with irreversible loss.

Non-sports fans can lead rewarding lives. But I believe there are special experiences to be gained by following sports teams seriously for many years. Pick your high school, college or local team, and start following. Get into the team and the sport. Let out your passion. There will be good times and bad. Both will be valuable.

All of the University felt the pain of losing to Harvard. Thousands of us felt it because — sports fans or not — Yale lost that day, and in embarrassing fashion. But the many Yalies who ignore sports the rest of the year might find some benefit to tuning in more often — to sports both inside and outside Yale.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears every Wednesday.

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