Sports and I have never been close. We have been at a stand off ever since I was a kid — a kid standing off in left field dropping the ball. It was more of a long distance relationship — I kept a long distance from the gym on volleyball days — hiding in the locker room. And as you might guess, I wasn't exactly a top-pick athlete — having been picked dead last by every team captain ever.
So, you see sports never courted me. I hadn't the talent, natural ability or hand-eye coordination to be much of a catch. As a result, I never developed much interest in sports. Without that early bond, odds were that I wasn't ever going to pick up the rules and regs of most games. Put me in front of any athletic event and I will be clueless about what's going on. I can walk in front of the TV at the very moment somebody scores the winning goal, touchdown, or whatever, and not pick up on why the Mister looks like a vein in his neck is about to pop.
This can be awkward. Especially when it comes to watching sports with other people. I dread being asked to a Super Bowl party. But if I am, I have developed some coping mechanisms for watching a game with a crowd. I will share them with you here. If I can save just one of you from outing yourself as a non-jock, schlemiel like me, it will all be worthwhile.
- Learn the names of the teams involved. This can be fun because they all have colorful names like Panthers and Broncos; Penguins and Ducks. In fact, many of them are named for animals which means you can drift off into fantasy land imagining, for example, actual ducks playing hockey, or real broncs galloping down the gridiron. This will put a silly grin on your face and everyone will think you are having a whale of a time.
- Keep your eye on the ball (or puck.) This, of course, is the central object of the game. But for you it is even more important to maintain this focus. Repeat: this is a KEY strategy. If you aren't paying attention, you won't know when to cheer. And cheering is what it's all about. That's why you are in a group. I have spent too many live games with my eyes glued to the time clock, ticking the seconds down, and I've missed entire plays. If you must watch the clock, just look up occasionally and everyone will think that you are really into it: look at you!Checking stats up there!
- Know when it is appropriate to cheer. Goals are good. If you aren't paying attention, you might make the grave error of clapping and cheering when the other side scores. This is not good sports behavior. You might feel like the other guys need a little support, too, but take it from me, unless you want a beer dumped on your head, do not, repeat, DO NOT jump to your feet with raucous rah-rahs unless it's YOUR team.
- Don't ask dumb questions. It's okay to learn what you can about a game, but try to do it on your own time. Don't wait for the game day party to finally get it. You don't want to ask in front of an audience. Save it for home. "Explain 'downs' to me." "Again?!? We've been over this a hundred times!" "Yeah. Still don't get it."
- Watch curling. Curling is brilliant. For me, the beauty of this sport is that it has its own language that no one understands. You could say, "Hey, did you see last week? How about that shot rock in the last end of the Bonspiel when the skip got a double take-out even after his gripper caught the ice in the hack and he had the hammer and he had to throw a kizzle-kazzle but ended up in a Manitoba tuck and it flew down the ice in a no-handle but his rock landed up in the house anyway, right on the button!" No one is going to know if you are making this stuff up. But they will be duly impressed and you will thereafter be a sports hero!
And remember, if you're at Super Bowl party next weekend, and if all else fails, tell everyone that you just came to watch the commercials.