By: Chris Dagonas
If you have followed this column, then you have likely noticed that I support the Miami Dolphins NFL “franchise”. That team has not made the playoffs since 2008, and has not won a playoff game since 2000. So basically, for almost my entire adult life, I have been a football fan without ever really participating in the excitement of playoff football. This is consistent with my support of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, and Raptors, but that is a column for my psychologist. Perhaps one day, I will experience that again, but until then, I can live vicariously through various friends whose teams are respectable. This past weekend, I did just that, taking in two high-scoring games with two good friends.
On Saturday evening, the Green Bay Packers travelled to San Francisco to challenge the 49ers. My friend and Same Page contributor Nick Setacci is a Packer fan, and I have endured more than my fair share of abuse from him (yeah, the Dolphins) over the course of our friendship. Nevertheless, I have a soft spot in my sports heart for the small-town Packers, with their long history and community ownership. So despite the ceaseless taunting, I was in support of the Packers. Prior to kickoff, Nick was feeling pretty confident, and I agreed with the basic chatter that the Packers looked better on paper, Rodgers was superior to Kaepernick, and so on. At the end of the first quarter, our spirits were high and things were looking pretty positive. The Packers had a 7-point lead and were looking the better team. Several high-fives and “Oh Yeah!” shouts were to be heard. Niners second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick was looking nervous. As we now know, he began to settle in and get very comfortable with hosting a playoff game. During the second quarter, as the momentum began to swing toward the 49ers with first down after first down, our spirits began to dwindle. And we weren’t feeling as happy either. (A little alcohol joke there. Spirits…you know…ah, anyway). Kaepernick scrambled and threw his team back to a 24-21 lead by halftime, and the 49ers didn’t look back. Rodgers and company couldn’t figure anything out against the defense. As for Nick, he grew more and more despondent as the night wore on. A Jeremy Ross fumbled punt return gave the Niners excellent field position in the second half, and that was probably the play that sealed the Packers’ fate. The Niners scored a touchdown soon after, and though Nick was a sad sight by the end of the game, his night, – and most of his winter – effectively ruined, I still felt a bit of envy that a game could mean that much to someone. I would love to have that dejected, playoff loss feeling, if it meant the possibility of the opposite outcome; the elation of a playoff victory.
Which brings me to game number two. On Sunday afternoon, just before the Golden Globe Awards, I happened to be sitting with a group of friends. One of those friends is a huge New England Patriots fan, and again my allegiance to the Dolphins has subjected me to years of taunting at the hands of this friend. She has been able to hold the dominance of her team over mine in an even more meaningful way than Nick has, as the Patriots rule over the same division as the Dolphins. All that meant was that, despite last week’s prediction, I was rooting for the Texans to knock out the Patriots and their smug coach and his smug quarterback and all their smuggery. The Patriots raced out to an early lead, and despite some nervous minutes at the end of the first half, we quickly knew that the Patriots were too well disciplined on offense to be stopped. Brady’s offense, despite missing Rob Gronkowski, was able to surgically slice through the Texans time and time again. It began to get a little infuriating by the third quarter, when the Patriots built an eighteen-point lead, and my Pats’ fan friend was whooping and hollering on the couch beside me. I couldn’t help but feel happy for her, as her support of a team was being vindicated in front of our eyes. Watching your team win a playoff game in front of friends is perhaps a level or two below watching your child accept an award at school, but it’s in the same ballpark. You exude a certain pride, especially if those friends do not support your team as feverishly as you do. So as a fan of sports on the grander scale, I readily laughed off her Dolphin jokes and returned her high-fives, promising to myself that I would wash my hands twice before touching my Dan Marino jersey again.
Of course we know by now that the Patriots won, and will move on the host the Baltimore Ravens next week. Meanwhile in the NFC, the 49ers will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons. The Ravens and Falcons both won in extraordinary circumstances, the former in double overtime, and the latter with a last second field goal for a two-point victory.
So in the space of one weekend, I experienced, through two friends, the complete range of emotions one can experience with sports. The highs of success, the lows of failure, the disappointment of a game, and a season, gone awry, and the thrill of moving on to play one more week. This is why professional sports will never die, despite lockouts, skyrocketing salaries, and costs of sporting events always rising. To passionately support a team can be a fully engrossing, stressful, hollow endeavor, but it is one that we need to feel connected to something. To the point where I can feel empathy for one friend whose team has crashed out, and share joy with another whose team has advanced (despite my personal feelings toward those jerks). And all the while wish that it were me, and my team (any of my teams, seriously) that were on that roller coaster together.
I realize that I was 1-3 at predicting games last weekend, but two of those games that I missed were decided by 3 points or less, so you gotta cut me some slack there. I did not see the 49ers beating the Packers that soundly, so I’ll admit my error. Nevertheless, I will be bold enough to return to predicting this week. The Patriots defeat the Ravens, while the 49ers roll past the Falcons, setting up a Super Bowl storyline where Tom Brady would meet Tom Brady 2.0 in Colin Kaepernick. It’s a comparison I make not based on their styles of play (obviously) but rather on the manner in which they achieved their star roles. In both cases, a steady veteran quarterback was injured, a young quarterback played well in the starter’s absence, and then a coach was forced to choose between the veteran and the upstart. In both cases, the coaches went with the upstarts. It paid off for Belichick and Brady, now Harbaugh is trying to cement his legacy in San Francisco behind the play of Kaepernick. Enjoy the games this weekend!