By Mark Nagi
I miss sports like the desert misses the rain.
I never thought the pain would be so severe… so all-encompassing, but here we are.
And you know what? That’s ok. We’ll get through it.
I’ve loved sports as long as I have memories. From the joy of watching the USA upset the Soviets on a sheet of ice in upstate New York in 1980, to utter devastation when Dwight Clark made “The Catch” on that cold Northern California night in 1982, sports has always been an important part of my life.
I went to college wanting to be a sportscaster and spent more than fifteen years working full-time in the business. After quitting to spend more time with my family (so cliché) I still found ways to scratch that itch as a freelancer.
But my real enjoyment has always been as a fan. The ability to forget about everything else going on for a couple of hours… your job, your mortgage, and all those responsibilities that make adulting so difficult… sports give us that for a few fleeting moments.
Sports were there to help ease the national psyche after 9/11. I’m a Yankees fan and it was strange to have most of the nation rooting for my “Evil Empire” that Fall.
As a kid, some of my fondest childhood memories are going to sporting events with my Dad. In 1981 he took me to my first Yankees game. I was eight years old. He told me about the trip the previous December and I couldn’t sleep for four months I was so excited. I remember my Dad holding my wrist very tightly as we walked around The Bronx (remember this was Ed Koch NYC… not exactly the safest place in the USA). There was all that green grass, the blue outfield walls and the white façade. The Yankees won 5-1. Rudy May was credited with the victory.
I remember surprising my Dad for a weekend at home in 1997 to watch the Vols play UCLA in the season opener. By this time my Dad didn’t get around very much. It was special for me to watch that game on television with him.
Sports started and maintained many of the friendships I still have to this day. While in college I made friends, not by talking politics or art or cinema… but because we liked the New York Rangers. In February, right before the pandemic really hit, I met a couple of them in Detroit and saw the Rangers beat the Red Wings 1-0. It was the first time the three of us saw the Rangers win in person (since 1992 we were I believe 0-4-1 when watching them play together).
It was a great trip. I miss that.
But it’s ok to miss sports. That pain proves how important it is to watch those events, either in person or on television. It’s nice to have something to care irrationally about. I mean, it’s like the old George Carlin bit, aren’t we just rooting for the laundry?
Little by little, we are returning to some semblance of normalcy. Sports will help us get there. UFC is back underway. NASCAR and golf are in play. I hope that the baseball diamonds are active in July. Come August I pray that the high school football fields are busy. In September I dream of the moment that the Vols will run out of the Neyland Stadium north end zone tunnel.
So, keep doing what you are doing. Use caution in public and wear a mask. Practice social distancing when possible not only for yourself but those among us that are more susceptible to COVID-19. Every little bit helps us get back to watching the games we love… even if it is mostly on television for a while longer.
I’m not sure I ever took sports for granted before… but I know I never will again.
You don’t know what you’ve got… ‘til it’s gone.
Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction,” which takes an up-close look at all that led to Tennessee’s crazy coaching search back in 2017. The book is available on Amazon.