In the Beginning…
I f’ing hate Florida.
Let me qualify that. I hate the gun-toting, sanctimonious strain of intolerance you sometimes find in Florida. And don’t get me started on Mar-a-Lago. Of course there’s also a lot to like about the Sunshine State: the beaches, the Everglades, the heroism and activism of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
My real beef is with the Tampa Bay area. I’ve got nothing against the Bucs and certainly not the Rays, who made some sort of Religion of Sports history in 2008, when they changed their name from Devil Rays for religious reasons, and suddenly started winning. No, I fucking hate Tampa Bay because my hometown Boston Bruins have been locked in a second-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And after watching thousands of Lightning fans cheer too many goals at Amalie Arena, Tampa represents everything wrong with the world, in my not so humble opinion.
When I “volunteered” to write our first Religion of Sports newsletter, the intention (and assumption, on behalf of our whole team) was that it would be a rhapsodic affirmation of the spirituality of sports. A celebration of what makes them mythic, and an affirmation of why they matter — how sports provide meaning and significance to athletes and fans, gods and worshippers, alike.
Then the worst happened. Yes, the Lightning zapped my Bruins.
I’ll be spending the next few days in a self-imposed sports exile, unable to eat, speak, or watch highlights.
This part of sports — living and dying by your team (in my case a gritty team in a niche sport in a city I have now not lived in for more than half of my life) — is the epitome of what the Religion of Sports is about. I’m a diehard, a true believer in this faith. It’s entirely irrational how emotionally attached I get to sports teams made up of guys half my age that I’ve never met and really have nothing in common with aside from allegiance to the team. The same can be said for the fans. On the rare occasion I travel across the country for a pilgrimage to The Garden, and look around at the congregation, I realize that aside from this team we all cheer for, we fans have nothing in common but our team. We’re of every ethnicity, lifestyle, race, religious affiliation and socioeconomic class, but in the three or so hours we spend together, we become a tribe.
We belong to something greater than ourselves.
Are you part of the Religion of Sports? If you belong to the tribe of Manchester City, the Canadiens, the Packers, the Yankees or countless other faiths around the world, you already know what I’m talking about.
So let us say the holy words together:
Rebirth. Metamorphosis. Countless tales feature heroes who remake themselves. Baseball’s best example might be Astros pitcher Charlie Morton, who became an ace at age 33. Two years ago, Morton was a journeyman with a career record of 46-71. His claim to fame was inducing so many ground balls he was nicknamed Ground Chuck. In Houston, Ground Chuck used a high-90s fastball, sharp curve and newfound swagger to restart his career. While his stuff was nasty, he wasn’t. “The nicest cat on the planet,” a teammate calls Morton, who won three key playoff games for the 2017 Astros, including Game 7 of the World Series.
Tom 1, Time 0
At a global leadership conference last week, Tom Brady announced he’ll return to the New England Patriots for his 19thNFL season. “I want to keep playing,” he said in a talk with Jim Gray. “I want to inspire people. Not tell them what to do, but just show it.” Looking ahead, the ROS Co-Founder called the 2018 season “my next journey.” Brady said he wants to be “a better player, a better teammate…really rejuvenated.” The five-time Super Bowl champ also got off a couple of quips, building on a rep for sly humor viewers saw on Late Night with Stephen Colbert.
Viewers of Tom vs Time had a preview of what to expect: another dramatic season from one of America’s favorite spiritual (sportual?) leaders.
David Papineau, a professor of philosophy at King’s College in London, is also a stark raving sports fan. His Knowing the Score explores the ways sports reveal character and call for more brains than you might think. According to Papineau, “Great athletes are mentally as well as physically exceptional.” That matches Gotham’s experience with icons like Brady, LeBron James and Serena Williams. “I think their greatness is as much mental and even spiritual as physical,” he says.
Papineau tackles choking, cheating and other issues from interesting angles. He can make you see Joe DiMaggio as a stoic and Mickey Mantle as a hedonist. He’s also alive to the limits of thinking and overthinking about sports. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”