Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Just a Game

DISCLAIMER: This post is not for everyone. Religion is a tricky thing to write about. If I offend you, at least I put in a disclaimer. If I don’t offend you, I will try harder next time.

A Religious Experience

Every week, millions of people come together for a common cause. They hope. They chant. They pray. They believe that there is something out there that is bigger than them.

But there are also the skeptics who ridicule these beliefs. They say that there is no scientific evidence that hope and prayer make a difference. And that faith does not matter.

And they may even say: “You know, it’s just a game!”

For the millions of people that congregate together to watch sports, it is clearly more than just a game. It is a religious experience.

It is a time when people from different faiths, races, cultures, political affiliations, socioeconomic statuses, and haircuts can come together and support the same cause. There is no proof that fans (especially those watching on TV) have an effect on the game. But this doesn’t keep people from yelling at the TV, knocking on wood, holding hands, and finally just hoping and praying. Sports is their religion.

When people ask me about ethnicity and religion, I usually reply like this. “My ethnicity is Judaism and my religion is Boston sports.” The truth is that I spend more time praying when I’m watching a game then when I’m in synagogue. I think of Fenway Park as my sanctuary; not Temple Sinai. My family occasionally gets together for the high holidays, but we always come together for the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics.

“When I was about 18 and my Dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still about baseball. Now that was real.”

-Daniel Stern in City Slickers

Boston sports have a rich history, but it does not stand alone. In fact, most sporting teams (just like religions) have rich traditions whether it’s professional, college, or even high school (see Friday Night Lights.)

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is a staple of Major League Baseball. Adults and kids alike happily ask for peanuts and cracker jacks every single game. It’s like the equivalent of the songs you sing in church/temple/your sanctuary every single week.

At Fenway Park, 35,000+ people sing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning. The tradition is somewhat new, but those who have taken part can explain it’s quite an experience.

At the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, 110,000 people fill the stadium every home game. 110,000! Fans wear their colors and chant their fight song with pride. Even though the team sucks now, fans still attend because it’s tradition. It’s a part of them.

While I lived in LA, I went to UCLA games and learned the 8 clap; the traditional cheer all the fans know. Unfortunately, I went to a D-III school so this was new to me. But almost every D-1 university takes pride in their rituals, traditions, cheers, and fight songs. And everyone performs them together as one.

Almost all of the stadiums have nuances that make them special. They may not have stained glass windows and altars, but there are green monsters, ivy walls, Lambeau Leaps, perfect blades of grass, parquet floors, banners, statues, and that special feeling in the air.

And those that cannot attend the games find their own sanctuary; their own place where everyone knows the fight song, the chants, the rituals, and the superstitions.

"And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen."

-Preacher Purl in Hoosiers

Their teams can become a symbol of hope. The underdog overcoming adversity is the equivalent of the biblical tale of David versus Goliath. These teams inspire people. They make them think twice about saying that something is impossible. These teams also account for 2/3 of all Disney movies.

Sports have even adapted religious terms and expressions. When an athlete makes a lucky play, it’s called a “prayer.” In football, a “Hail Mary” is a last-ditch bomb at the end of a game, where a completion is pretty much impossible. After a fan witnesses their first momentous sports event, they are “baptized” into the game.

Sports fans often mutter expressions about God and Jesus Christ although they are not always in the kindest tone. And of course, there are the athletes who merge sports and religion together by thanking their savior for the help.

Sports are also connected to a number of holidays both religious and secular. Easter dinner goes hand in hand with the Elite 8. Christmas Day features the two best NBA match-ups. People fast on Yom Kippur, but also tune it for the MLB playoffs. New Year’s Day is about hangover recovery and the college football bowls. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without the NFL. In fact, the only day without a major televised sport is the day before and after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.


Religious fanatics spend much of their time trying to convert us. Well, so do sports' fans. As a Boston fan, I have actively tried to convert others to join my cause. When I worked at an elementary school in California, I gave kids candy if they wore Boston gear. But the most common conversion usually happens with women.

How to Convert a Girl

Before you try this, you must remember some girls are lost causes. If she is a Daddy’s girl, it means she has already been converted by her father. Her beliefs are deeply implanted and it will take too much time to change them. Another challenge is presented if she actually knows the players and stats of the team she supports. It is also very difficult to convert a girl who roots for your opposite team (i.e. Yankee fan to Red Sox fan.) For me, a Yankee Fan is an immediate deal breaker. (See Deal Breakers for more:

But the majority of the female population is convertible. It usually works like this. Once the girl likes you, she becomes curious about your passions. Since you love the _______ (fill in the blank), she wants to know more about them. You watch a game together. You explain the rules, the tradition, and the history. You even throw in a few stories how you and your father/brothers/friends bonded over sports, and how much it means to you.

As she learns more, she gets excited. Next, comes the sports gear. You buy her a T-shirt, jersey and/or hat. Now she feels a part of something. She wears her new hat with pride, and without realizing it, may even try converting her friends to join the cause.

Then, you take her to your sanctuary (it could be the stadium, your neighborhood bar, and even a friend’s place where you watch games) to expose her to the excitement. Seeing other people cheer for the same thing is pretty hard to resist. She is now becoming a part of the tradition. If she sees a special game, (a walk-off, a comeback, a no- hitter, etc.) she becomes “baptized” as a fan.

The girl finds herself following the team even when the guy isn’t around. She may not watch the whole game, but she checks the scores, and consciously hopes that her new team does well. She picks a favorite player. Usually it’s based on good looks, and she becomes locked in. When that player is featured in the game, she gets really excited.

Remember: Initially, she only rooted on the team to support her boyfriend, but now it’s a part of her. She is getting into it.

The final step of conversion revolves around “family.” If the girl meets your father/brothers/childhood friends and sees the tradition, history, and bonding, she is officially in. There is now a substantial connection. There is no going back.

The only way to lose a converted fan is after a bad break-up. Men must be careful how they end things if they don’t want their team to lose a fan. If it ends rocky, the girl will resent the man and all of his beliefs. Thus, her passion for the new team will turn into rage. But if the man follows all of the steps above, it might be so ingrained that she still must root for the new team.

“Clearly, it's not just a game! If it was, then obviously I wouldn't care about it this much.”

-Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch

So the next time you hear someone say: “It’s just a game,” remember that it is far more than that. It is a religious experience; it’s about history, tradition, and family.

If you don’t agree with this, I guess that’s OK. But all I ask is that you try to understand. This is why we go crazy for sports. This is why sports have been around forever. This is why sports are important to us.

“And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

-James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams

Monday, October 13, 2008

Little Things That I Think Are Cool

The other day I left a restaurant and was walking home. I was a block from the restaurant when I saw the waiter chasing me down. My negative instincts took over. What, did I not tip him enough? Is he upset with me? What is this guy doing? He finally caught up to me and handed me my jacket which I had forgotten in the restaurant. I thanked him and smiled. What a cool thing to do.

My last post was about little things that annoy me. Sometimes, I complain so much that I forget about things that are cool. I think it’s only fair to focus on the positive as well.

Little Things That I Think Are Cool

1) Finding Money in Your Pocket

This has happened to all of us and it is very cool. You throw on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a while. When you dig into the pocket, you find some cash. It may only be a one or a five, but it’s not really about the money. It’s about random luck. It puts you in a good mood. You may even tell your friends about it: “I found 5 bucks in my back pocket today…how cool is that?” Very cool.

2) Your Favorite Song(s) or Movie(s) is on the Radio or TV

It doesn’t matter if you have the CD or DVD, if one of your favorite songs or movies comes on, you are psyched. Sure, you can listen to it anytime, but there’s something special and random about it. I have a copy of Back to the Future on my shelf and can watch it whenever I want. But if I’m flipping the channels and it’s on TV, I’m watching the whole thing right then and there.

3) Hot Girl Smiles at You

One of the greatest feelings in the world is walking down the street, minding your own business, when you suddenly pass a stunning, beautiful woman. Nowadays, most people walk with their head down, and avoid eye contact at all costs. But this time, the gorgeous woman gives you a warm smile. I don’t know if the hot girl realize this, but that smile could make an ordinary guy’s day, week, or even month. The guy will proudly tell his friends about it. He’ll remember it for a long time. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. A hot girl smiling at you is very cool.

4) When People Ask: “Have you been working out?”

This is the coolest. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, (the female version could also be: “Have you lost weight?”) this makes you feel damn good. If you have been working out, it’s great knowing that people can tell. If you haven’t, I’d argue that’s even cooler. I remember coming back from Vegas a few months ago. I certainly was not there to work out. But when I came back, I looked tan (it’s also cool when people say: “you look tan.”) I must’ve looked relaxed and fit because several people asked if I’d been working out. I thought it was cool. I should go to Vegas more often.

5) Three Simple Words: “On the House.”

There’s nothing much better then hearing these three words. It usually occurs in a bar, but other places occasionally break it out as well (restaurants, ice cream shops, bowling alleys.) You don’t know what you did to deserve it, but it feels damn good. Maybe they feel bad for you, or the guy behind the counter got laid the night before, but either way, you get something for free. It’s a very cool feeling.

6) Plays of the Week

Men may only identify with this, but women, you should get on board too. Plays of the week show the most unbelievable, thrilling, crazy plays in sports. It’s two minutes of joy and excitement where each play seems to be better then the next. If I’m in a social setting, and the Plays of the Week come on, the conversation is over. POTW must be watched. It automatically puts me in a good mood. Very cool.

7) Finding a Shortcut

Your drive to work/school is the same thing every single day. It’s a mundane routine. Take a left at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Right at the Walgreen’s. Boring. But then one day, it hits you. You wonder what would happen if you took that side road that you pass everyday. You try it and it ends up being a shortcut; you actually save a few minutes and avoid some traffic. You proudly tell your friends about it, but only your close ones, because you don’t want everyone finding out. Every time you make the shortcut you feel a sense of power and pride. It’s definitely a cool feeling.

8) The Head Nod

The head nod is a very subtle, but useful, motion that can be very cool. I need to clarify that I’m not referring to the condescending head nod that the d-bag would use to show he’s better then you. I’m referring to the head nod where a connection had been made.

For example, you’re walking through New York with your Red Sox hat on, and you pass another person doing the same. Instead of talking, you each perform the head nod. A connection has been made. The head nod can also be used on the basketball court. You make a great pass, and your teammate scores. You don't need to say anything to each other. Instead, a pair of head nods conveys the mutual respect. The head nod is also great to avoid conversation. If you see someone from a distance, but don’t want to speak with them, just perform the head nod. The person feels good for being recognized, but you don’t have to waste your time talking to them. If used properly, the head nod is both versatile and very cool.

9) Getting a Random E-Mail or Phone Call from an Old Friend

When you check your email or phone messages, it’s almost always the same people. Your Mom called again to try to set you up with someone; your friend called to complain about her love life; another work email; another spam email from Dr. Mercola on how to increase your size. It’s tiresome. But every once in a while, you get an email or phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in forever. It’s hard to overcome the excitement. You’ll have so much to talk about. And you feel extra good knowing an old friend from years ago was thinking about you. Because of sites like Facebook, this is becoming more common, and I think it’s cool. Sometimes, people are apprehensive about contacting an old friend, acquaintance, and/or co-worker since it’s so out of the blue. But go for it. I guarantee they’ll think it’s cool.

10) The Lunch Special & Happy Hour

When I lived in Spain, there was something called the Menu Del Dia. You got an appetizer, lunch entree, dessert, and a bottle of wine for chump change. You left full, drunk, and happy. The lunch special in the States isn’t nearly as cool, but it’s up there. Not every restaurant does it so when you find a good one; it puts a smile on your face. The most common lunch special is at Chinese food restaurants. I stopped eating Chinese food for dinner because of the lunch special. Why would you spend $15 for dinner when you could get the same thing for $5 at lunch? It makes no sense. Lunch specials are the coolest, and I recommend you take advantage of them.

Happy hour is lunch special-esque. Who doesn’t like discounted alcohol? Buy one; get one free. Sweet! The happy hour has saved me hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. If you’re an avid dater, the happy hour is quite the blessing.

11) People That Let You Cut in Line

You’re waiting in line to buy one thing. You have exact change and know the purchase could be made in under 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the person in front of you has a cart of goods, and could take15 minutes to finish. It’s an agonizing feeling. You want to say something, but know you can’t. Then suddenly, the person in front of you lets you go. It’s very cool and you thank them a million times. That person should be commended.

On the flip side, if they don’t let you go, that person is very annoying, and should be punished in some way. But I’ll write about that when I do my “People Who Annoy Me” post.

12) School/Work is Cancelled

When you were a kid, there was nothing better than waking up to a huge snow storm. You and your brothers/sisters huddled around the TV to see which schools were closed. When your school flashed across the screen, it was absolute joy. It meant you could go back to sleep, or venture outside for sledding, snow angels, and snowball fights. The coolest!

It rarely happens as an adult, but every once in a while, work gets cancelled. It could be due to the weather, a natural disaster, or an error in the work schedule. Who cares? As long as nobody gets hurt, it’s all good. Since it happens so rarely, when work is cancelled, you take advantage of that day. You cherish it. And you remember it for a long time.

Homer Simpson states it best when it comes to days off:

Marge: Work called. They said if you don’t come in on Friday, then don’t bother coming in on Monday.

Homer: Woohoo! Four day weekend!

13) When People Comment on My Blog

Thanks to those who have; I think it’s the coolest!