On sports fandom and mystery

A week before the Superbowl I had delusions that I would do my daily writing practice that day. All other bets were off, no plans for daily exercise or flossing or anything I normally feel bad about skipping, but I wanted to still write. How grand it would be to get fresh notes on this high holy day, to notice and capture all that happens on a frenzied, rare Superbowl Sunday. No matter what happened, I though, I would write an essay on my history as a Broncos fan, or my family, or...something along those lines. On this elusively important thing in my life called football.

As it turns out, I did not even *think* of writing on SuperBowl Sunday. First I had to fly from Miami to Albuquerque in order to watch the game with my Family. My sister and I drove to the Fort Lauderdale airport at 3 am, where we were so tired we tried to check into the wrong airline. We had our colors on. Wearing a jersey in an airport results in equal shares shit talking and cheering. We talked about football with a SCUBA instructor who sings in a Spanish metal band and my sister talked crap about a four-year-old in a Seahawks jersey. You know.

We landed in Albuquerque and broke tradition (going to the Frontier) in favor of heading straight home to a house resplendent in orange and blue. Broncos jerseys, purchased anew for the game. Broncos plates. Blue and orange streamers. Cheetos and nacho Doritos and queso and every single thing blue and orange to eat or drink. My dad, my sister and I went to pick up breakfast burritos and met tons of friendly strangers all wearing the same clothes as us.

We turned the pre-game on and cracked open a cardboard box my dad and stepmom have kept in the garage for years, cryptically marked "Broncos stuff".

Jackpot! We pored over a 1996 Broncos media guide and a complete set of 1998 Broncos trading cards. We marveled at Shannon Sharpe's 1997 cover of Muscle Media 2000. I replayed in my head the footage of Sharpe at the newsdesk wearing a helmet and receiver gloves, throwing the pieces of his script in the air like confetti. We read a program from a pre-division split Seahawks/Broncos game. And we relished. We waited.

The pregame was disappointing--all interviews with non-football celebrities about non-football things. I craved the pregame of 1998--sappy montages of John Elway's career under Green Day's Good Riddance. They threw us scraps of the Broncos receiving corps looking incredibly attractive on a fake studio version of Broadway, and provided an excellent What Does John Fox Say? video but otherwise it was not the kind of hype I was looking for.


A week after the SuperBowl I started listening to Bruno Mars songs on repeat. It's a vaguely Catholic ritual, an attempt to burn away the awful feelings of anger and shame and frustration I've had since the SuperBowl, which naturally got all mixed up with Bruno Mars' ridiculously good looks and great dance moves. Somehow, if I keep listening to them, they'll lose their talismanic power and I won't have a superstitious freakout if someone mentions Bruno Mars (or the planet Mars, or gold blazers, or doing the splits, or...) during a future Broncos game.

I remember, years ago, my dad asking all of us--when will you not be a Broncos fan anymore? At what point do the Broncos become different from the Broncos we love? It's the kind of question that comes from having a quarterback who stuck around 16 years and a head coach that was (we thought) Coach for Life. What if everyone leaves? What about Elway, Sharpe, Davis, Shanahan?

That was half my life ago. Elway is back but the rest are missing. And somehow here we are, still wearing the blue and orange, still cheering, replacing Smith with Sharpe with Lelie with Marshall with Thomas. And every year, there is a slightly larger spot in our hearts for the entire Broncos roster, even as they retire, or die, or play for the enemy.

It's not something I want to talk about with non sports fans, because it looks curiously like being obsessed with a logo. I didn't realize there was a chasm between me and them, finding myself more often on the non-sports-fan side of things but here we are. With another fan, I don't need to talk about it because they know. They have suffered. Football is pain. Fandom is pain. But if they aren't a fan, they can't be sympathetic because it's like, just a game, get over it. And I can't deny that they're right, even as my chest tightens when I glimpse a replay on the tv at the sports bar. I can't explain or defend it. In some ways it's not that different from getting worked up over a reality show. It's just these reality shows have been going on for...so...long.

I came upstairs after the game and laid next to Paul for a minute. My heart beat fast, which I pretended was the trip up the stairs but it got faster, and my breathing with it, and then my whole body was trembling and I was about to burst into tears.

It was such an incredible season. To be able to be there, for real, as a longtime Broncos fan, to watch almost every game, to know the weight of the Superbowl, to watch the records break, to watch Peyton (on my team!) after so many years rooting for him as a Colt, to know all the fucking amazing games this season--I can't really believe that it turned out the way it did. I can't hear the hilarious jokes about the Broncos. They were an incredible fucking team and... I don't know. It's just the Superbowl, right? It's not a real game....and maybe I'm still stuck in denial. In any case, I officially hate the Seahawks now.

There's something to be said about creating a list of enemies in a sport: Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers, Patriots, Jaguars, Ravens, Seahawks. It's important to name your enemies, though sometimes I wonder if I believe that just because I read Dune and Game of Thrones too often.

The most unexpected thing is that now I am somehow more committed as a fan. I feel comfortable wearing Broncos gear in front of my hipster, football-hating friends. I want to read every book by a Broncos player ever written. I want to read *Paper Lion* and the *Best American Sports Writing of the Century*. I want to rewatch all the Denver Superbowls. I don't know why but somehow this loss clarified for me what it is to be a fan, what sports are, why we bother. What it is to go on loving when there is nothing but embarrassment. To stand tall and say, fuck you, I'm a Broncos fan.

I understand that to a non-fan that is, essentially, an insane statement.

I flew back to Minneapolis on Wednesday and I wore my new Peyton jersey at the airport, just as I dreamed of doing after a win. And nobody talked shit to me, much, or cheered. There were no Seahawks jerseys around. There was just me, a lonely, delusional orange crush fan wandering the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, drinking whiskey on the rocks in a fake Cowboys bar.

And yes, I do understand the vicious industry that is the NFL. I understand that it's an industry, and evil, and yeah. I know. I don't know what to do about it, but I do understand.

But I'm not really talking here about Roger Goodell or the Shield, or CBE, which are all excellent subjects for an essay. I'm talking about the ineffable religious quality, the olympic battle of these teams we follow. The iconography, the struggle. It's not about choosing the winning side or vanquishing the enemy. It's about spending Sundays with my dad and my stepmom and my sister, watching the game together via skype. It's about tracing history, it's about the meaningless pursuit of excellence. It's about loving for no reason, making a practice of loyalty. It's about showing up.

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