Recently, I met for the first time a far-flung cousin of mine, something like my second cousin once removed. During the course of our conversation, he asked me a question that I’ve been asked many times in my life: “What’s your favorite sport?” I’m generally reduced to stuttering by this query; it seems unfair to me, somehow, to be required to select just one sport as my favorite. If forced to choose, I’ll pick football, but to do so implies disrespect for the other sports I love. Even as I name football #1 aloud, as I did during my conversation, I’m silently naming the rest of my favorites in a five-way tie for #1A.
The only difficulty I have with this is that, in each sport, I generally follow several teams. Listing them all would take most of the rest of my column, but a quick count on my fingers (and toes) suggests that I regularly keep up with at least fourteen teams. Throw in two four-day weekends a year for the U.S. Open and the Masters in golf, plus an altogether unreasonable amount of time to manage fantasy sports teams… and one thing becomes clear to me: I could budget sixteen hours a day to track these teams and I still wouldn’t have enough time.
The intelligent course of action is simple: pick a couple of sports, or a few teams, and let go of the rest. As I get older, proponents of this would say, I won’t have time for much of my fanaticism anyway, and so it’s better to narrow my field of vision now than be disappointed when I run out of time later. To these people, I say: I can’t. I’ve tried. Divorces have been attempted, separations undertaken, and not one of them has yet to work out.
My first try was in 1994, when baseball went on strike. Until that fateful year, I had been a baseball fan first and second and sometimes third; the best any other sport could do was barely on the medal stand. Come ’94, though, I was hitting adolescence and some of my friends were playing golf, a newfound obsession for me, so when the season was trashed I figured it was a good time for me to make a clean break, as well. I swore off the game, swore it was boring, swore that I’d spend my time on the practice green instead of on the baseball diamond.
I couldn’t do it. There’s nothing to do between the Stanley Cup playoffs and the college football Kickoff Classic except watch baseball, and anyway I’ve never been able to improve past “duffer” at golf. It only took a couple of years for baseball to creep back into my system, and now it’s firmly set in stone as one of my favorites.
With the possibility of quitting any sport cold turkey pretty much gone, I tried instead to let sports slowly slip away. After the North Stars left Minnesota, I tried this with professional hockey. I wouldn’t pick a new team to follow, wouldn’t plan ahead to watch a game, tried to flip away whenever hockey highlights came on “SportsCenter.” It didn’t work. I’ve now got two NHL teams to track, and I watch the Cup playoffs religiously. I’ve tried it with golf, but the spectacle of the majors and the Ryder Cup sucks me in every time around. My last-ditch attempt was to at least not let any other sports onto the radar, but soccer snuck in while I wasn’t looking and now I follow four teams in that sport as well.
The only sport left is basketball. I’ve never been the biggest fan on the planet, which may help. I’m not very good at the game; even as a kid, I was never more than a benchwarmer, and even though I played on some very good teams, you have to be pretty awful to warm the bench on an elementary-school team. My favorite collegiate team, the Gophers, has gone to hell with no intermediate stops over the past couple of years thanks to early departures and incompetent coaching. Now that I’ve moved cross-country, it’ll be a lot more difficult to follow the Timberwolves. This is my one chance to pare down, and pare down I shall.
Even as I make this resolution, though, I notice that my new cable setup has lots of obscure sports channels, and NBA TV is one of them. And look! The United States is playing Serbia and Montenegro right now!