Voice of the Scantlebury: The death of a sports fan
My sports world hit rock bottom on February 5, 2017.
That was the night of 28-3, of the most epic collapse in North American sports history. The night where a big part of me died and irrevocably changed not just how I view sports but how I live my life.
It may seem strange to revisit the Atlanta Falcons’ Super Bowl LI loss now. Might be even stranger to revisit it in this space, a Missouri sports publication. But as the Kansas City Chiefs — my surrogate team, as I’ve lived in Kansas City (mostly) since 2011 — won the AFC Championship, I couldn’t help to think back to that night nearly three years ago. It changed not just how this Atlanta native views the Falcons, but it changed how I root for Mizzou and, now, the Chiefs, too.
Back to that night. Living in Atlanta at the time, I watched that Super Bowl at a friend’s house. I remember getting a text message from Gabe in the third quarter, most likely when the Falcons went up 28-3, saying “Congratulations on the Super Bowl.”
A big part of me wants to blame him for everything that happened.
Here’s what happened for me next:
The bourbon bottle my friends and I passed around as everything fell apart took an awful toll on me, forcing me to stay the night. I was a binge drinker back then, but dammit, I was prepared like an Eagle Scout specifically for moments like that. So in the morning, as I headed off to work, my friend’s four-year old son saw me try to slink out the door.
“Mommy, why’s Peter still here?,” Young Will asked, his child innocence oblivious to the fact that the day after the Super Bowl should be a damn holiday.
“Peter had a little too much fun last night,” Christine answered.
Imagine sitting through the most gut-wrenching, torture-porn loss in sports history, and then having to go into your job, hungover. Now imagine your job is in sports, so for the next 10 hours (Mondays were a long shift), you have to sit at your desk while every single TV in the newsroom is turned to ESPN and Fox Sports. For 10 hours, every topic is about that gut-wrenching loss.
I enjoy NBC’s The Good Place, and looking back, I think my reaction that day would have worked for the show: “Am I in Hell? This is what Hell is like, isn’t it? This is the Bad Place.”
Something changed in me that day, forever. A lot of it actually was for good. In the year following that game, I got sober. I ended up losing 120 pounds, reinvesting time from my once sports-dominated life into running and lifting weights. My wife and I — candidly, our marriage had been on the rocks for a plethora of reasons — both personally hit rock bottom over the next year, but in the end, we grew separately into two strong, purposeful people. We didn’t save our relationship; we created a new one, a better one.
This is a long way of saying that Feb. 5, 2017 kicked off a really shitty year, but out of that misery (and unrelated things that followed), I fundamentally changed the person I was. Things aren’t perfect, never will be, can’t be, but since then, I love where my life is going and the known and unknown challenges I get to take on each day.
However, one thing I have not been able to resurrect is my fandom.
I don’t know if I can properly express how devastating that loss was. I know plenty of fan bases have had similar moments. It’s impossible to compare personal grief. One of my best friends, Nick, has completely cut ties with the hometown teams he loved before that game. That doesn’t just include the Falcons — he’s a Georgia grad, and that Super Bowl, coupled with the 2018 College Football National Championship Game, seems to have completely removed any rooting stakes in his life.
I’m not quite there, but that game has changed how I watch sports, how I care about sports. When I moved back from Atlanta to Kansas City, and (for the most part) got out of sports journalism, I relished the opportunity to lean in to being a Mizzou fan. As a writer, I kept that part in check: I absolutely wanted Missouri to win every game, because covering a winning, national relevant team is just more fun (and good for business).
Now with the opportunity to be a fan, though, it just didn’t feel the same. Part of it is being a journalist for so long just changes how you watch sports, removing a lot of the emotion from it. That’s definitely true with college football.
But, honestly, I just feel dead inside when it comes to getting attached to teams now. I like the Chiefs. I want them to do well, want them to be successful, to win this Super Bowl. But honestly, whether they win or lose in two weeks, I’ll still go about my Monday the same way.
Guys, I really want to be a diehard Mizzou fan. I really want to care about every single game again; I want to be able to write with passion about the Tigers. I want to be invested in every win and every loss. I want to go into every season with hope and optimism. And when there’s a big run of success — when the football team or basketball team are nationally relevant again — I want to be at the forefront as that diehard fan that writes what everyone wants to hear, that gets everyone excited about their own fandom.
Super Bowl LI broke me. God, I want to feel SOMETHING when it comes to sports again. I was close with the Atlanta Braves this year and then Top 1, Game 5 NLDS happened. I honestly don’t know what has to happen to bring me back from the dead again. Save me, Eli Drinkwitz; you’re my only hope, maybe?
Or maybe it will be if I have kids. Maybe that feeling of shared interest, of seeing the excitement in your son or daughter’s eyes would rekindle that emotion. I hope so. Because I want to move past Super Bowl LI; I desperately want to be a capital-F Fan again.
So, yeah. Go Chiefs. Go Tigers. I guess.