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Monday, January 14, 2013

How Sweet It Is

At one point during yesterday's game, my husband looked over at me and said, "The last time I heard you breathing like that, you were in labor."

Labor, indeed.

The four quarters of the Atlanta-Seattle game were much like child-birth. The anticipation and excitement and nervousness going into the event. The thrill of things proceeding just as you'd hoped at the get-go. The inevitable complication and agonizing descent into effort and teeth-gnashing and hand-gripping and oh-my-God-I-can't-take-another-second. The shallow breathing, the bearing down, the we-can-do-this. The sweet, sweet result. Oh, the result.

And I'm just a fan, sitting on my couch, swearing in front of my children. I had nothing riding on the game other than emotion. I don't know how the players themselves get through the game, or speak into a microphone afterwards, or get out of bed and do things like walk today. If the game was like child-birth for me, it must have been like passing a kidney stone while competing in an Ironman backwards wearing Lady Gaga's meat dress for them.

I don't mean to overstate the significance of the game or the victory. This was a divisional round game. It wasn't the Super Bowl. I get it.

But it meant more than a divisional game usually does. There was more on the line than the NFC Championship. There were careers on the line, reputations on the line, legacies on the line. With 31 seconds to go in the game, tens of thousands of fans and dozens of players shared the same, internal you've-got-to-be-kidding-me moment. This seriously can't be happening to us. To them. Again.

With those 31 seconds to go, I was swearing to myself that I would swear off sports media forever. I was steeling myself for the face-to-face expressions of sympathy about the game at work. I was trying to figure out how I'd keep myself from letting my feeling badly for these guys completely consume me. I was wondering if this meant that Tony Gonzalez's 5% card was about to be played.

With those 31 seconds to go, the Falcons did what they do. They pulled it together when they most needed to. They made clutch throws and clutch receptions and a clutch kick and a clutch interception. The sweet, sweet relief. Oh, the relief.

Games like the one yesterday are why sports-lovers love sports. It's riding through the pain, feeling your loyalty tested and your faith questioned. It's watching heroics on a scale we can understand and enjoy. It's the euphoria of being proven right, of being rewarded for standing by, of being sublimely happy for people you've never met. It's losing your mind for three hours for a cause that is both collective and personal.

The athletic elements of the game speak for themselves. The human ones are just as special. I'm not just talking, here, about the fans' connections with the players. I'm also talking about the fans' connections with each other.

The broadcasters repeatedly commented on the noise inside the Dome, and how much the fan involvement was rattling the Seahawks, especially their offensive line. I heard from people inside the Dome that they had never seen the stadium so behind the Falcons. The players later confirmed this in their tweets of appreciation. It may seem silly to read so much into the cheering of thousands of John and Jane Does, but I think it is a special display of spirit and pride to think about people rallying in such a way for a cause that is theirs by adoption.

Sports are one of the few - perhaps only - "entertainment" vehicles that allow for this comradeship. You don't see far-flung masses of strangers banding together to support a movie or dress in the colors of their favorite book. But if I am any example - and I only humbly submit myself as one - sports have a way of generating connections like no other pasttime.

Through this blog, and by extension, the social media I use to shamelessly promote it, I have "met" dozens and dozens of other Falcons fans. Not only do I appreciate them for their loyalty to my attempts at writing, but I've gained a whole new level of enjoyment and appreciation of the games I like to watch because of them.

Jay Adams can play-call an entire game on Twitter, giving both insight and humor to the effort in 140 characters or less. When the Falcons win, I'm happy because it means good things for Jay.

I do a digital jump for joy with women like Kelly Hawley or Jeanna Thomas or Gretta Childs or Beverly F or Mrs. L. I think how-do-you-like-me-know thoughts with guys like Jason Henderson and Brian Schreiber and Keith Dragon when I think about the trash-tweets I received over the weekend. Then I think about what Coy Wire would tell me to do in this type of situation, and I promise to improve my mental attitude.

Perhaps most emblematic of this by-product of sports-fandom, though, is my electronic pen-palship with Shannan. Months ago, she commented on a blog post of mine (it was about laywers; she's a lawyer too, her comment was hilarious). I Googled her, found her work email address, brazenly emailed her, and we've been emailing/tweeting/texting ever since. She happens to be a 12-season Falcons ticket-holder.

We probably "talk" a dozen times a week, and several times on game days. In fact, we're convinced if we DON'T text in the opening moments of a game, it's bad luck. When we're not talking sports, we talk about our kids, our jobs, and writing. (Because in addition to being a full-time lawyer and raising triplet sons, she's writing a book and has a superlative blog of her own. Find all of this goodness at @shannanunc.)

Before yesterday, we'd never spoken live. But she called me from the still-rocking stadium as the team was joyfully running back into the tunnel. She was crying with relief/happiness, and I was just screaming and still swearing. How perfectly appropriate that our first nearly-human interaction was sparked by the Falcons.

So thank you, Falcons, for winning. Thank you for giving so many of us a way to interact with people we'd otherwise never even know about. Thank you for creating friendships and allegiances and a community where they/it would never otherwise exist.

There are a lot of ways to win in sports, and you've given us all of them.

How sweet it is. Oh, how sweet.

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