By Harsha Kosaraju.
A story about my ex.
Back in the days when I was young and not so wise, I had a girlfriend. A pretty pretty one too. She had a great smile, laughed at all my jokes and held my hand in front of my friends. I felt important and smug – I had broken the monotony of single life. Over time though, I started noticing a difference. Long phone calls filled with stretches of uncomfortable silence, meaningless texts filled with emoticon upon emoticon as proxies for words and feelings. Gifts bought and exchanged on special occasions because well, what else was one supposed to do? Appearances were kept and life fell back into monotony. Months passed and I got the opportunity to go to distant lands to pursue new opportunities. Everything in my head screamed ‘break-up!’ but I lacked the courage.
So I landed in California with a tenuous connection still persisting with my past. Brief calls were still exchanged at frequent intervals and few weekends spent pining for some moments. But I knew it was pointless. Days passed and one fine day I met a girl. A pretty and popular one too. She had a great smile, a contagious laugh and seemed to be in high spirits all the time. I realized I was falling for her and knew what I had to do. I made that fateful call to my ex and called time of death on our relationship.
Happy and saddle-free, I went to a nearby bar to watch my new found love as she used a solid running game, a smothering defense and a whiff of the wildcat offense to thoroughly dismantle and disrobe the New York Jets. And yes, she wore red and gold throughout the performance. Meanwhile my ex, the Arizona Cardinals, coughed and limped to a victory in OT at home against the Dolphins. There was quiet jubilation but the equations had changed.
As a 20-something year old, I moved to Arizona from India and started following football casually. Whenever a guy picks up an interest in a sport, and I’m sure a lot of sports fans will attest to this, there is an intense subconscious pressure to associate your ‘fanship’ with a particular team/individual. And then use it to trash talk your friends’ rival teams. I became a Cardinals ‘fan’.
The NFL is built and prospers on regional fan bases. A child growing up in Pittsburgh and following football invariably ends up as a Steelers fan by the time he’s an adult. Which is understandable because he’s had years of nurturing in football knowledge and a strong fanship foundation laid with visits to the stadium and football folklore stories. My relationship with the Cardinals was far from concrete. Sure, there were passionate and sexy moments (An upset win at Panthers on their way to SuperBowl in ’08 and Warner’s epic touchdown showdown vs Rodgers in ’09) but so were long stretches of uncomfortable silence when I went months without following them. And much like a mistaken teenager who buys his girl a gift on valentines day because he’s in love, I mistook my wild cheering and intense disappointment that SuperBowl night in spring ’09 for the same. What else was one supposed to do?
Allegiances in sports and reasons that lead to their formation are supposed to be fascinating. Mine with the 49ers, was built on the ruins of the Cardinals. By the time I moved to the Bay Area, I had sufficient football nous to differentiate between different kinds of formations and blitzes. I started following the niners’ regular season games regularly. Fantasy Football proved a great enabler as I ended up with the SF Defense, Patrick Willis, Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis at various points on my roster. Many evenings were spent listening to local sports radio hosts issuing verdicts about the team’s strengths/fragilities. Emotions were built up through the course of the season and it all came to a heady conclusion three days ago on SuperBowl Sunday. Long periods of brooding followed by wild cheering and intense disappointment.
So what of my relationship with my new girlfriend? Is it just an affair? More passionate than the older one perhaps, but still, one that will end sooner or later? What proof do I have? Many things can go wrong in a real relationship and in a sports fan’s relationship but they say there is only one outcome for the fan: get over it and support your team. With the 49ers a short touchdown away from a possible SuperBowl victory, and with time running out, Kaepernick floated the ball in the air… A familiar feeling, one that I’ve come to recognize from my love affairs with other teams, dawned. And as the ball sailed above and beyond the outstretched hands of Crabtree, the soul-crushing void when you realize there’s no other escape route but defeat for your team filled the stomach. Ironically, it was the misery that followed which gave me my proof. This was my team, I was its fan. The bonds were forged.