Sports addicts are different. We don’t enjoy sports like typical fans. We live them. Which, of course, sounds completely melodramatic and borderline psychotic to a non-sports addict. And yes, most of us acknowledge our insanity. Fighting it is futile.
Sports addicts crave information. We watch and re-watch every game multiple times. I use my DVR slow-motion to analyze key plays: the guards pull, the safeties overreact to the play-action, the linebackers lose track of their responsibilities, and Justice catches a 7 yard curl. Athletic symphony.
We devour every article, we worry about grades, and we fret over just how healthy individual team members might be. When our wives are trying to talk to us about our very own children, we blurt out random concerns like, “Boy, I sure hope Conner’s foot is healing.” Or, “We’ve struggled with the zone blitz - Vandy likes to zone blitz.”
We also invite these athletes into our lives. Not the real people, of course. We’re delusional, not stupid. We accept them the way they appear on the field, on TV, in the media room. We refer to them by their first names and our families know whom we’re talking about.
I was sad when Arizona recorded the last out of the 2012 College World Series. Not because our young bats went cold at the exact worst time. And not because that amazing three-year ride came to an end. But because I would miss Michael Roth, Christian Walker, and Matty Price (he’s Matty in my house).
In 2010, when we came out of nowhere to win that first National Championship, it was a tough time in my life. I was losing my job and moving all the way across the country for another one. So I trekked up to Omaha. I had nothing to lose. And the boys played the same way.
Next year, I was in a much better place. I had a better job and loved the new digs - it was a good year. So I went to Omaha again. Life had come full circle. With my own eyes I watched Scotty Wingo stab that bases-loaded screamer, scramble to his feet, and throw home. I saw the ball’s angle drift lower and lower. But Robert Beary scooped it like it was nothing. Let me repeat: he scooped it with a catcher’s mitt! Our cheers were slightly muted. More a sigh of relief. Bases were still loaded and just one down.. Then 4, 2, 3. Time to go bananas. And we did. What a ride.
I now live near a town Scotty’s minor league team visited. I shelled out the $6 and cheered for him. How could I not show up and support him? It’s what any sports addict would do.
And last, sports addicts connect life-events to sporting memories. I remember well my Senior year Homecoming dance. I left my date to dance with other dudes while I watched Game 6 of the World Series with the football coach in the Band Room. I watched in horror as my beloved Braves choked away a 2-0 series lead to the Yankees. The Yankees! I’ve never forgiven Derek Jeter or Jim Leyritz. My date went home disappointed. I went home despondent.
I proposed to my wife twenty minutes before John Smoltz blew out his elbow.
My favorite Williams-Brice memory came on 9/29/2001. We stood and honored those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks which rattled us just 18 days before. Then we watched our beloved Gamecocks fall behind Alabama, only to win it with Phil Petty’s 7-yard fade to Rod Trafford. My dad and I stayed until the band played Amazing Grace. To this day my dad refuses to admit he had tears.
The last I time missed a Gamecocks’ football game was later that same 2001 season. And I mean really missed the game. My work often demands that I miss kick-off. Blessed be the DVR. And I’ve always managed to avoid hearing the score, probably because people around me know I’ll go bananas if I ever do. Ever since the final regular-season game of 2001, that glorious victory over Clemson, I’ve watched or listened to every Gamecock football game. And, as most sports addicts know, an 11 year run requires some extreme measures on occasion.
That day - the game I last missed - was the day my family buried my grandfather in a no-name town on the Kansas-Nebraska border. For forty years he battled alcoholism’s demons. But he sobered up. And he made his last ten years count. Before his liver gave out, he led over 40 other alcoholics through AA and beyond.
It was a glorious prairie afternoon - 70 degrees and no wind. The late-fall sun cast a golden hue over the entire landscape. We put my grandpa in the ground right about the same time Corey Jenkins dove into the endzone to seal the victory.
I caught the box-score the next morning while rushing through an airport terminal. In 2001, it was still rude to check your phone at a family gathering.
That was the last time I flat-out missed a Gamecock football game. That is, until tomorrow. You see, I’m going to the Rose Bowl. Live and in the flesh. It’ll be my first time.
Like many of you, I fell in love with college football watching Keith Jackson call the Granddaddy of Them All ... in the shadows of the San Gabriel mountains. It’s been a dream to attend the Rose Bowl Game. And everything this year broke right with my job, my family, and my finances. I don’t care that Wisconsin made it in. Or that Barry Alvarez is coaching the team. It’s the Rose Bowl. And that’s special.
I must admit - I feel a little guilty. Just ditching my Gamecocks like that. Several of my sports addict friends assure me this one’s justifiable.
But I’ll be keeping a close eye on the score and a toasted right hand. Look for the guy and gal at the Rose Bowl in Gamecock hoodies. That just might be us.
Go Gamecocks. Beat Michigan.