1/10/2020 0 Comments
If what’s in motion tends to stay in motion, then this blogging thing is a runaway train. Come Wednesday or Thursday my knuckles start tingling, and I find myself asking strangers if they, too, can hear the faint chorus of disembodied keystrokes on the wind. Last night I awoke muttering, sitting straight up and typing voraciously on my wife’s tibia (surprisingly ergonomic, by the way). The Things I’m Thinking About drips with this unconscious devotion to the game, but every season needs an intermission. These last couple weeks, legion of several fans, has been my All-Star Break. The holidays were a rest for my weary metacarpals, but I did not sit idly by. I was cataloguing every Christmas party, poring over extended-family dynamics, and combing through my reflections so that I could make The Thing I’m Thinking About a gift that keeps givin’ all year long. After three weeks of research and crude experimentation, this is:
The Sports Fan’s Holiday Survival Guide, courtesy of WhichCarolina.
May it serve you well in the New Year.
(Full disclosure, I’ve been trying to write this all December but, go figure, the holidays kept getting in the way.)
The Sports Fan’s Holiday Survival Guide
There’s a pesky rumor in circulation that work ends when the ‘ol company PC powers down and we shut the door on another year of vocational bliss. For the sports fan, this notion is folly. Between bowl games, the NFL, basketball, and fantasy playoffs (if you’re lucky enough), the good sports fan has never had more responsibilities, or more forces prying them away from their noble work. The stresses and expectations of the holidays threaten to steal our joy; to leverage, cheat, and rob us of our rightful compensations for a year well-spent. Sports fans need not despair, however, because in your darkest of holiday pageants and deepest of perfunctory board games, this guide will get you cuddled up to a bowl game faster than you can say San Diego County Credit Union. Without further ado (and with no particular structure)…..
Fundamental #1: You Deserve This.
The first and greatest hindrance to your wildest bowl viewing dreams isn’t any outside force: it’s YOU. Kenneth Burke was right when he wrote that “Man is rotten with perfection”. Inadequacy is adulthood’s sternest ache. “Am I fully devoting myself to my family, my wife, my job, my fitness, my community, my friends, my sanity? Wait, am I spreading myself too thin?!” These thoughts are poppycock, and must be squelched. Otherwise you’ll find yourself staring down a three-hour Michael Buble Christmas Special under the vague, misbegotten pretense of being a dutiful grandson. You are a good father, mother, brother, sister, son, friend, or whatever the hell you claim to be. You have been good all year, and if you haven’t, save change for your New Year’s Resolution. You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone and you deserve your games. If you don’t accept this truth deep in your being, your misplaced sense of sacrifice will have you playing sherpa to your wife’s gift exchanges, while I watch the Pinstripe Bowl with a clear conscience. (This logic extends to other holidays as well. Employ it with impunity.)
Fundamental #2: Know Your Environment
If you’re visiting a relative, or spending the holidays at a destination, always gain a clear understanding of the Wi-Fi, cell coverage, cable, and T.V. situation. If you don’t know what you’re walking into, how are you supposed to prepare? If there’s no internet or cable access, then a new location is in order. Strongly offer to stay at a nearby hotel or VRBO, preferably within walking distance of sports bars.
Thoughtful excuses like “Then everyone will be more comfortable” or “It’s probably best if you don’t have to deal with the kids ALL the time”, will provide the moral gravitas to justify your change of venue. If you’re BFE because that one relative wants to “get off the beaten path where we can really spend time as a family”, and no place meets acceptable sports-viewing standards, then you’re left with one option: BAIL.
The car broke down, the kids are sick, something about the dog isn’t quite right, or my personal favorite: there’s someone who just needs you more right now. It’s easiest if you just make this person up. Create a friend who’s going through a horrible breakup, or a neighbor who needs help getting through a minor, but debilitating surgery. The kind of self-righteous relatives who would book a place with no bowl game access won’t openly engage in the transparent hypocrisy of disputing you. By the time they get the gumption to voice they’re disappointment, you won’t be able to hear them over the roar of the Holiday Bowl.
In the event that you do find yourself in adverse circumstances, the ESPN App---college football’s most spacious gateway---will save you in most pinches. However, disjointed phone viewing is hardly what you deserve. Bowls are best on the big screen, and your power is in your tools. Chromecasts, antennas, extra T.V.s, even spare satellite dishes are all part of the responsible sports fan’s arsenal. They’ll combat clear and present dangers like disputes over television rights, lack of cable, or your host’s ignorant insistence that their Sling package “will get you all the games”. If you play your cards right, you’ll even come off as the helpful, resourceful guest who just wants to facilitate everyone’s good time. Which brings us to…..
Fundamental #3: Turn negatives into positives
The conventional holiday inconveniences---travel, crowds, childcare, dog watching, work schedules, etc.--- are friends to the discerning sports fan. With care, they can all be leveraged into a larger bowl game time-share. The great gambit of these situations is the potential to brand your selfishness as helpfulness. Not enough room at the dinner table? You’ll gracefully bear the indignity of eating on the couch, with Chris Fowler to keep you company. The kids want the Grinch, but Grandma won’t turn off the Hallmark Christmas Marathon? Save the day with the 50-inch flatscreen you thoughtfully lugged across three states. When you quietly change the channel to the Sun Bowl, what’s anyone gonna say? It’s your own damn T.V.!
With a little mettle and creativity, one can leverage this strategy into hours of unencumbered bowl viewing. Of course you’ll take the dogs to run around at the park a few miles away. Aren’t they on vacation too? You know they’ll never see that park, but the dogs aren’t talking, and they’ll certainly blow off some steam in the car while you’re hunkered at a brewery over a basket of corn nuggets. Crack a couple windows. They’ll survive.
At the heart of Fundamental #3 is the need to manipulate your schedule and location. However, not every situation allows for this ideal faux-philanthropic ploy. Desperate times call for more direct measures. Which leads us to….
Fundamental #4: Cultivate usable excuses
When the holiday schedule has turned against you, and kickoff is closing in, sometimes you’ve no choice but to lean on every shirker’s last line of defense: the excuse.
The misconception about excuses is that they’re cheap. This sells them tragically short. Good excuses are paid for with consistency and attention to detail. A bowl devotee doesn’t give excuses. He builds them. Before arrival, casually reference the stomach virus making the rounds at work, and the cold that’s threatening to evolve into a sinus infection. Mention your recent, but somewhat close friend whose girlfriend or job situation is on the rocks. These early investments in excuses will pay huge dividends later, when bowl games are afoot while you’re seemingly fated to watch your nieces faceplant on a miniscule downtown ice rink for the next two hours.
Well-scaffolded excuses are your last line of defense---the battlements of your bowl game fortress---thanks to their flexibility. Their effectiveness requires no context. Sorry you can’t drop anchor for an afternoon of meticulous gingerbread house construction, but you’ve been really good about exercising lately, and you need a long run. Get your wife, or some other concerned feminine confidant, to comment gravely on your pre-hypertension. Then take the car to “go running” on a “trail” or “greenway” that looks conspicuously like a Mugshots (the Holy Grail of Sports Bar chains). You can even make the “healthy” decision to order the lemon pepper wings. The only thing you should be exercising is your right to the Liberty Bowl. This will give you time for the whole game. It takes a looooong time to run 15 miles, and they’ll believe you did it, because you’re so sweaty. Just make sure they hold the ice in the to-go cup of water that you’re going to pour over your head in the driveway.
If this is too involved, sneaking away for a half-hour here and there is a breeze if you have a friend who’s going through a breakup. You haven’t known him long, but he recently moved, and it sucks, but you’re all he’s got right now. What’s his name, they ask? Just consult your preferred niche of obscure athletes for an ample rolodex of fake friends. I usually go with second-tier college basketball stars from the early 21st Century, like Randolph Morris or Nick Caner-Medley. The best part about these guys is that their backstories are already written. “Oh, Nick? Yeah he came down from Maryland. Hasn’t been here long, but we actually know each other from playing pick-up”. It’s a point in your favor if their name is hard to spell, so it thwarts internet searches from prying relatives. Just don’t use Kelenna Azubuike; they never believe he actually exists.
Excuses like this (along with stomach problems, overreaching bosses, progressing sinus infections, etc.) get you out of your anti-sports environment quickly and easily. While they may require theatrics, and aren’t necessarily comfortable, they’ll steal some time to be quarantined with your phone, or sequestered in front of the upstairs TV. It’s a victimless crime, and Nick Caner-Medley will just be grateful for a mention in 2020.
Fundamental #5: Know your personalities
Like any endeavor on this mortal plane, success essentially comes down to people skills. The earlier Fundamentals ™ describe strategies for success, but their skillful employment depends on the personalities you must juggle and massage. Here is a helpful (but not exhaustive) rundown of the types of people you might encounter, and how to use them for the sake of bowl games (March Madness, World Cup, NBA Finals, etc.)
The Sidekick(s): Wars are won with allies. If your lone voice of reason is the only foil to the dumb power of the holiday vortex, then yours is a fraught struggle indeed. Every pre-game show, every kickoff, every whooping appreciation for a backdoor cover will brand you, the sports fan, as a stranger in a strange land. You can finaggle your way to a TV under these circumstances, but not without feeling the gauzy glare of an in-law spotlight. And while becoming a social pariah is a small price to pay for your cause, it’s best to avoid it. After all, nothing throws shade like a family tree.
That’s why it’s best to find a comrade, an ally who will lobby for your sporting needs. Mobilize cousins, brothers-in-law, and the elderly looking for an excuse to take a nap. It’s harder to deny the will of greater numbers, and when Aunt Margie trains her glare on the unwilling cookie decorators, she’ll have someone else to look at.
The Passive-Aggressor: Everyone has that family member (conventionally an aunt) who skitters around in a blistering huff, commenting on everything that must be done while you situate yourself in a recliner for the Fiesta Bowl. This person will be everywhere and nowhere, taking people’s cups to the sink without asking, making a fuss over coasters, and scrubbing the kitchen table until it has to be refinished. Their pace is fueled by disdain for your sports-induced stupor, and they will do everything in their power to illustrate all the constructive things you COULD be doing.
There’s an elegant solution for handling this individual: don’t do anything. They’ll likely keep scrounging around for ways to make you feel guilty in seething silence, meanwhile you won’t have to do a chore for the entire visit. It’s a win-win. They get to occupy the lonely moral highground they secretly crave, and you get to watch games in an ever-cleaner house. Don’t be afraid of this relationship reaching a breaking point either, because I’ve personally witnessed this system work seamlessly for thirty years.
The Activity Person: Nearly every family has someone who always has to be doing. They can’t sit still unless they are sorting something or playing something, and they don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t share their perpetual motion. These people enjoy control. They schedule everything, organize everything, and assign religious significance to games of Scattergories and Pictionary. At first glance, they can ruin a slate of bowls, but in reality they are easily dispatched.
You have one play: ruin their activities. Certainly you won’t mean to---you would never do such a thing---but you just aren’t very good at games, or taking walks, or whatever fresh hell this person has contrived. You always have trouble remembering the rules. Sometimes you accidentally do things to help the other team, and you do everything at a painstaking pace that makes…...this…….person……..wait. By Scrabble’s second round The Activity Person will be begging you to go back to your bowl game. You’ll apologetically leave them wondering how you ever grasped a sport as intricate as football.
The Snob: This is the least accessible of your relatives in that they don’t understand the intrinsic significance of loosely related men in different colored shirts slamming against one another on a grassy area for 60 minutes. They cannot see reason, so don’t try to reason with them. Sports, to them, are a child’s folly. Sports fans? Growth-stunted, underdeveloped adult-adolescents whose perspectives are an evolutionary mistake. The Snob sneers at us with the detached distaste of someone first witnessing the customs of a newly discovered tribe. This person will try to civilize you.
All you have to do to circumvent The Snob is show them that saving you would be a futile and agonizing activity. Give your incisive takes on the current events of the day: “Qatar, now that’s a weird name”, “So impeachment is what, again?”, “I think Joe Biden makes a lot of sense”. Make passing references to the latest Luke Bryan song and the 315th season of The Bachelor. Be the uncultured pleb that they want you to be, and they’ll treat you like one. In fifteen minutes you’ll be discarded to the TV room to enjoy the opiate of the masses. Meanwhile, they get to live in the illusion that THEY’RE the ones who have it all figured out. Allow them this small pleasure, because life without sports must be nigh-unbearable.
The Well-Meaning but Ignorant Male Companion: We all know this guy, and he’s a nice guy. You and maybe a few other people, mostly men, are watching sports. He’s a guy, and he wants to spend time with you and the guys, so he’s watching too. Then he opens his mouth, and things get weird.
This guy assumes that because we’re watching sports, we can only talk about sports. The problem is he doesn’t know or care much about sports, so his attempts at conversation mostly take the form of questions normally posed by girlfriends and small children. The fact that he is neither marriage material nor offspring makes these questions unwanted interlopers in the interactions of real sports fans. “Wow, when did Lebron go to the Lakers?”, he asks. “Who is that guy with the ball all the time? Shouldn’t they take turns?”, he interrogates the point guard. “Why do they keep calling that guy OBJ? Is he political?” This man’s well-intentioned attempts at conversation can flatten a room. Your mustn’t let them.
You generally like this person. He’s trying, and you don’t want to harm his sunny disposition unnecessarily. The fact is this guy doesn’t want to talk about sports, he just wants to talk, to commune. So deliberately invite topics like politics, shows, or family dynamics as an outlet for his gregariousness. I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in his conversational sweet spot than provide a quarterly explanation of what counts as a catch.
Or you could just do what all self-respecting groups of men do, and mercilessly ridicule him until he’s shamed into silence. Yeah, that strategy seems easier.
This is not an earnest conclusion, but just a stopping point. No man ever completes his opus, and this wandering document is far from fulfilling its potential. New media, games, and holiday pressures will arise. For every Elf-on-the-Shelf and irresponsibly scheduled bowl, this document will seek to remain your friend and guide. My work here is not done, but what I have, I give to you. Until next time, keep Carolina on your mind.