I always get more excited about a rivalry game. I know it means both teams will be going all out to win and claim bragging rights. This probably stems in part from the fact that I come from a high school that had a long-standing rivalry against our neighboring town that had a similar name and partly due to the fact that I love watching a well played game.
Where I think rivalries can go wrong is when fans lose sight of the fact that they are watching a game, and not life and death play. In these instances fans no longer seem appreciate two well matched teams going at it on the grid iron, baseball diamond or turf, but seem to look for vengeance and injuries and trash talk opponents before and after the game. Good Sportsmanship is forgone for one-upmanship, and fair play and the ability to lose with grace, is ignored.
This past weekend we watched the New England Patriots play the New York Giants in Superbowl XLVI. The teams were evenly matched and it was another Boston versus New York competition – a city rivalry that’s been in existence for many years. While not baseball, there was still that passion and fanaticism behind both teams. In some cases friends, husbands and wives, and boyfriends and girlfriends were at odds on which team they were supporting. It was especially impassioned as the Pats had lost to New York in 2008 and wanted to redeem themselves.
Leading up to the Superbowl, the Internet contained a great deal of trash talk. Some fans went as far as to call those who supported the opposing team as lesser individuals or lower class. I even saw instances where local businesses said that they would “prohibit” fans from “the other” team from coming in. (When pressed, they would counter, “Not really, but don’t blame us if you’re not treated well.”) I started to get distracted and deeply disappointed by the negativity, ill will and loss of perspective.
It’s great to cheer on your team and appreciate them when they win.
Who doesn’t love to be behind a winning team? But if we truly were a fan of a sport and our team, I’d hope that we would be able to appreciate and applaud the team’s effort win or lose. It wasn’t one individual that got them to the championship, and it wasn’t one individual in most cases that lost the game. This is true for appreciating the opposition’s game play as well. In the end, it really is only a game and not life and death. And despite our heartfelt wishes, statistically speaking, one team cannot not win each and every time.
To end on a positive note, I was impressed with the reaction by the Pats’ organization after the loss. Unlike many of their fans, or the Giant’s fans, they noted that as a whole, they came up short as a team and missed some critical plays. Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick noted how proud they were of the accomplishments of all of their players for the entire year and commended Manning and his teammates for playing well in this closely matched game. While of course disappointed, they lost with good grace and exhibited good sportsmanship. Many could take a lesson from this response.