Raise any of these issues with your non-Sports friends, or even with members of your own family, and if they really love you, they might feign interest long enough to placate you. This is a charade in which both parties participate. You KNOW their interest is utterly and inexplicably counterfeit — you are tempted to grab them by the shoulders, look into their eyes, and shout, with some desperation, “Don’t you understand what Morrison will mean to the Bobcats? Finally, they have a go-to guy, someone who will want the rock in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. I just do not understand how you can be so detached.”
They KNOW you are a little bent, and would probably like to grab you by the shoulders, look into your eyes, and shout, with considerable pent-up frustration whooshing out of them like air out of a balloon, “How can you, an alleged grown man, possibly care about a bunch of spoiled millionaires who don’t give a rat’s fannypack about you? These are just games. Games, I say. It’s nice when the home team wins. Can’t we let it go at that?”
But they don’t say that. Instead, they tolerate your obsessions the way adults tolerate a sudden tin foil fetish in a child. Tin foil dinasours. Tin foil rocketships. Everywhere, everything tin foil. It will pass.
Of course, your obsessions will not pass. If you make it to 85, you will be leaning forward in your recliner, TV turned all the way up, screaming at the football coach, “You can’t pass until you establish the run, you imbecilic weasel!” You will sling peas at the set with a big soup spoon. “There’s a pass, coach. Catch these, platypus-face!”
“Fan” is short for “fanatic,” and that’s what you are. You are in it for the long haul. No one can possibly understand this, except for other people like you. And they are out there, yes they are, in every town. Sports Friends know. Sports Friends understand. They “get” you. They don’t patronize you — they listen patiently, and in their eyes a fire of true enthusiasm is kindled as you speak, such a refreshing difference from the icy looks of disdain to which you are more accustomed. They will have something meaningful to say, a clever rejoinder, a provocative theory, something more than, “Yes, I like the Bobcats’ selection of Adam Morrison. He looks like an extra from ‘Starsky and Hutch.’” A Sports Friend would never be so cavalier, so pithy, so dismissive.
So, how do you spot one? Mercifully, Sports Friends are not very hard to find, for they wear the emblems of their devotion proudly and perpetually. That guy in the retro Hank Aaron-era Braves cap and official Braves jersey with Dale Murphy’s old number on it? He’s a natural. Or how about the fellow sporting the Carolina Panthers windbreaker? Yeah, probably. With a potential Sports Friend, conversation is always easy. There is no awkwardness, none of that “feeling out” dance that is so common in the early stages of other relationships. You just walk right up and say, “Nice jacket. You reckon the Panthers will be able to run the ball this year?” Within five minutes, it will be as if you’ve known the guy since third grade. Within 10, you will feel closer to him than half the people you saw at your last family reunion.
The great thing about the Sports Friends is that they are the absolute most low maintenance friends you can have. It’s OK if you don’t hang out with them much, or at all. It’s OK if you don’t ever meet their families, or know when their birthdays are, or even what they do for a living. In fact, if you move into any of these areas, your Sports Friend may wind up becoming a regular friend, which is peachy, but will probably mean that you will wind up with less time to talk sports, now that you have these other things cluttering up your conversational menu. I like to have two or three Sports Friends that are exclusively Sports Friends.
I have plenty of people asking me about my job, my family, my life. What I really need is someone who will ask me whether I think Raymond Felton will ever make the all-star team, or if I think the Dodgers can win the division this year. I need someone who really cares. I need someone who never got tired of playing with tin foil.