Before I was married, I had my heart broken several times. Looking back, the pain helped to make me the man I am today, but at the time...well, it sucked. And, had any of the "crushes" developed into something more serious, I probably wouldn't be with the wonderful woman I'm married to now. I can't imagine my life any another way.
Since I got married twenty-three years ago last month, I've had my heart broken only once and it wasn't because I fell in love with another person--it was because the Utah Jazz failed me. Sure, my heart has pained when my mother and other loved ones passed away, but my faith assures me I'll see those people again--we're only separated for little while.
But when I watched Game Game 3 of the 1998 NBA finals, Sunday June 7 when the Chicago Bulls scored 98 points to the Utah Jazz's 54, I felt as bad--or worse--as I did when dealing with any girl. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, stomped on then handed back like some macabre last-place trophy given to the loser.
I remember sitting in the dark kitchen the in basement apartment where we lived. I watched the game on a little 13" TV. I watched the entire thing, every play, every mistake, every foul, bucket and missed shot.
I felt horrible.
I think my life changed on that Sunday night over seventeen years ago--not changed in some monumental, life-altering way, but in a subtile way. I don't believe I allowed myself to ever be so vulnerable, especially over a game.
Since that fateful day back in June of 1998, I've never been invested in sports like I was that time. For the Jazz, it's been pretty simple. They've never been as good as they were then. But I've come close a couple of times since, and it has to do with the University of Utah football program. For the last decade (and maybe a year or two before that...), the Utah Utes have had great teams, teams other fans envy. In two of those years, they went undefeated. In 2004 the Utes were one of three teams to not lose a game all season, and in 2008, the U of U Utes stood alone as the only undefeated 13-0 team in the nation.
And I loved it! They were clearly the class of the state during those years.
Which brings us to 2015, and I'm starting to crack. I'm starting to fall in love with a sports team, something I told myself I wouldn't do. This year's Utes team, if they win every game they play this year will be the 2015 college football national champions, something unobtainable to them in 2004 and 2008. This year, when the Utes beat Michigan I thought it was a good win, but they looked a little shaky--first games of the season can make a team look that way. When they played Utah State and Fresno State, they looked better, but when they played in Oregon a few weeks ago...
Man! They looked good! I mean, "full-on, make-up, dressed to the nine's" good. Utah played their next game two weeks later against the California Golden Bears and it was rough. They showed the best college QB in the game that the Utah defense was not just good, but "kind-of-girl-you'd-take-home-to-mama" good. Of course, it doesn't help my "not falling for a sports team" resolve when national press has daily posts on the internet to say just how good this year's Utes squad is.
The Utes may lose this weekend to Arizona State--a great program and a team Utah hasn't beat since joining the Pac-12. The Utes could lose the week after that to USC, then to Arizona or UCLA, or any other game on their schedule. In short, going 13-0 in the Pac-12 would be herculean, winning the next two games after that, well...that's almost incomprehensible.
But to quote Lloyd Christmas, "So, you're telling me there's a chance?" Yes, Lloyd, there's a chance. It's slim, about as slim as Mr. Christmas getting the girl at the end of the movie, but it's there.
How am I handling this relationship? I've told myself I'm just going to enjoy the ride. This works when the team keeps winning. If Utah had lost to Cal on Saturday night, it would have hurt because of the emotional investment I've already placed with this team. Ultimately, I want to be a fan who enjoys the wins and is not devastated by the loses, and for seventeen years I've done a pretty good job. But, darn you Utes, you're sure making it tough this year. Maybe that's what "tough love" really means.
* Screenshot used without permission from a "I Love Utah Utes"Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/ILoveUtahUtes?fref=ts