Why I Love to Watch Sports

A while back, my friend Kim asked if I could write a “Why I love X” article for a sports-related weblog for which she writes the occasional piece. At first this did not seem like a difficult task. After all, I have more than my share of sports-related obsessions. The Tour de France, the 1980s Celtics, the Tom Brady Patriots or the tortured teams of the Boston Red Sox. The list goes on and on. However, I found that each of these subjects seemed to me missing something of the big picture. The larger reasons why we are drawn to these grown men taking childish activities so ludicrously seriously. But I found my inspiration in two pieces of television that happened this week. The most recent 30-for-30 film about Marcus Dupree, and last night’s NBA game between the Celtics and the Heat.

Warning: Don’t read the rest of this piece if you wanted to watch the Marcus Dupree film and not be spoiled about the content.

OK. First the fun part. No story of the NBA off season was bigger this past summer than the story of Lebron James leaving his boyhood state of Ohio and “taking his talents to South Beach.” This whole debacle even took over the 247 Brett Favre coverage for a while. But, even as the media feasted on the spectacle, there was in the background a general feeling that there in Miami was being assembled a team that would come out of the gate and dominate the league. After all, just a few years ago in Boston, three high profile free agents came together and those guys came out and immediately dominated the league. This feeling was so universal among anybody who cares anything about sports in general or the NBA in particular that it seemed like the entire script for the 2010-2011 season had been written: Miami comes out and steamrolls its way through the league and forward to an eventual NBA championship.

Not. So. Fast. This, my friends, is the first thing I love about sports. There is no script. At the end of the day, you have to play the games to find out what will actually happen. This is why sports is inherently better than everything else on TV. With everything else on TV, you pretty much know how it’s going to go. Even so-called reality shows pretty much fall into a fixed set of pre-formed plot lines. With sports, you just never know. As an example, I will delve into one of the more painful episodes in my time on this earth, the Super Bowl that was played in February of 2008 between the Patriots and the Giants.

The buildup to this game was epic in its depiction of a one-sided contest. I believe that Pats were favored by something like two touchdowns, even though they had not exactly blown out the Giants in the last game of the regular season. We all know how the game went:

Anyway, how are the Heat doing this season? Well, here’s a hint:

So remember: you have to play the game. I think of this as the small-scale reason why I like sports.

The film about Marcus Dupree provides a more “big picture” reason. In my opinion, the film itself is not all that notable. We follow the by now standard arc of “boy is given unbelievable physical gifts” to “boy runs into buzz-saw of big time sports” to “young man is out of sports due to somewhat freaky and tragic injury and is never heard form again until I, the Filmmakerâ„¢ see fit to put together this grand tribute.” The film feels a little too proud of itself.

But, here is the inspirational part. The film starts with footage of Dupree playing high school football. And to you, the viewer, this footage is indeed breathtaking. Here is a kid who essentially scored every time he touched the ball. He runs around people, over people, through people and just plain past people. He is inhumanly big and fast. You stare in amazement, knowing that you are a witness to feats that you yourself never have any hope of duplicating. This feeling of amazement is why we are fascinated by athletes. We need to watch them leap over huge men and dunk the ball, or ride a bicycle over a mountain at 15 miles per hour, or run through and entire opposing defense while carrying a football into the end zone. I’m not sure exactly why we need to do this (some people don’t I guess), but I think that that feeling of complete astonishment is valuable.

It’s also hard to explain. But in my mind the best moment of this film is when it comes close to showing you what that feeling is like, on film! Near the end of the film, after we have followed Marcus through college and into the pros and then finally into his life after football, there is a fascinating sequence where the producers of the film show him the footage of himself in high school. And then something amazing happens.

You see this look wash over Marcus Dupree’s face while he is watching the old film. And it’s exactly the look you had at the start of the film when you saw it for the first time. Here we have a visual explanation for why people are in love with sports and the athletes that play them. Dupree stares into the film editing machine and he says to himself “that’s amazing.”

That’s what we all do every Sunday, or with every walk off home run, or when Rajon Rondo posterizes that stiff Chris Bosh and proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that all the hype in Miami was just empty promises.

That’s why I love sports.