If we put as much passion into other people as we put into our favorite football team, we may be surprised at what happens. I’m a sports fanatic, and my team made it to the big dance this weekend, the Super Bowl, for only the second time in its almost 40-year history. I'm stoked. I grew up in Seahawks land, and the football part of me has remained. I, my brothers and my dad were all crazy about football and any sport.
For those of you with zero interest in the game, before you disparage your loved ones for their indulgence, indulge me for a minute. What is this “mindless passion” you see? Obviously, we don’t know these people playing. We have no relationships with these players except virtual ones. It’s only a dream world. So why invest so much emotion?
When you put it that way, right, there’s good reason to give it up. But, what’s wrong with dreaming? I’m a perennial daydreamer. I create scenarios constantly, sometimes for a writing idea, sometimes to prepare me for a task ahead, sometimes to make sense of a problem I’m facing, sometimes for inspiration for success, and sometimes to resolve some mental anguish. My daydreaming may become counterproductive at times, it may throw me into loops of thought that I can’t get out of, but when controlled, dreaming can be a very productive thing.
And there’s the rub, you say: “when controlled” and sports fanaticism is not only uncontrolled, it’s trivial. Maybe at times. But before snapping to judgement, think of football as a dream. Dreams often don’t make sense until you see them as collections of symbols and tropes of greater realities.
In a football game, fans are pulling for a group of individuals to succeed. We are urging them to overcome obstacles. We have a healthy (yes, sometimes unhealthy) disdain for those who intentionally prevent them from reaching their dreams. Granted, applying the metaphor of competition, simply fighting to be better than the next person and beating them up in the process, is inadequate. We should actually be rejoicing in everyone’s success even if it means we don’t succeed. And we need to learn to handle the grief that comes with being second because, let’s face it, this happens most of the time. We will always be second.
All of this, of course, begs the question of what constitutes success, which deserves a broader discussion.
But staying with the metaphor, if I’m a responsible fan, I will reflect on this dream called a football game, and I will try to apply the same passions to my real life in this way. I will be a fan of my kids, my wife, and my friends. I will want them to strive, to put their best talents to the test, and to succeed in following their passions. I will grieve with them when they are disappointed and injured. I’ll help them on their feet again. I will stand by them and celebrate with them whether they succeed or not.
Seahawks fans have dubbed themselves “The Twelfth Man,” a reminder that the team of eleven men on the field is not complete without the fans. Every team, every individual, needs a support group. It's not simply about winning. It's about who's with you. I think The Twelfth Man is an awesome and praiseworthy idea, not just because I'm one of them and not just because it sounds biblical. It's infectious. Even people in New York, where the game will be played, have been won over to the Seahawks by the passion and love of The Twelfth Man. The Twelfth Man is also a reminder that no one aspires to their goals for their own benefit alone. Our accomplishments, if they are truly of any use, should be for the benefit of the greater community.
You can add to the metaphor. But through all the striving with those I love, through all the disappointments and victories, I become bonded more closely to them by supporting them on their journey. If we all look to each other this way, a community of love can be created made up of those who have the highest interest of the other person in mind.
All this from watching the Super Bowl? Why not? If you can engage in that dream, maybe you can live the real thing.