Tirades, tantrums, and talking to myself

Hello everyone! With football season underway, I thought I’d offer an excerpt from a project I’ve been working on concerning Georgia football, and my personal experiences as a fan of UGA. I’ll be back soon with another chapter in the continuing saga of the Bear Team. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this look into the world of that most misunderstood of creatures: the sports fan.

You have just settled down to watch a game involving your favorite team. You have a beverage, a snack, and the remote control at hand. You will remain calm. No matter what happens on that television screen, you will handle it with quiet dignity and restraint. There is no reason to get all worked up about a bunch of people you have never met, throwing or kicking a ball around. Under no circumstances will you yell, curse, jump up and down, throw things, or punch the wall. After all, it’s only a game.

If you are any kind of a sports fan, chances are you’ve heard these statements made a number of times by your parents, your friends, or your spouse. Amazingly enough, there are people out there who don’t care about sports; people who go through their entire lives with nothing to look forward to on Saturday afternoon, or Monday night! I know it sounds crazy, but these unfortunate souls simply can’t understand why those of us who are fans care so much; why the simple flight of a ball inspires such an intense reaction.

I react, I won’t lie to you. When something big happens in a game I’m watching, anyone in my vicinity will know about it immediately. I’ve jumped off of furniture, crashed into walls, sprinted up and down the street, and awakened the neighbors in celebration of big wins, or big plays. I’ve spent all night on the phone talking to fellow fans after an unexpected triumph. I’ve danced and sang in the privacy of my own home. I’ve done all of these things when pleased with the course a game was taking, but I save my strongest reactions for those times when things are going in the opposite direction. And oh how often things go that way.

 People are often surprised to learn that I get so worked up during games. I guess it is because I’m normally a fairly calm and laid back person. But put my team in the final minutes of a tight game and all of a sudden I become the most anxious, high-strung, and vocal person in any group. In fact I’m convinced that were a doctor to take my blood pressure during one of these high-tension games, I would immediately be put on medication and limited to a low cholesteral diet.

I know that I’m not alone. There are thousands of fans like me out there, many of whom are sweating out a tight game right now. If you are unsure if you are one of us, here is a quiz to help you find out:

Your favorite football team is playing one of it’s biggest rivals. The game is in the fourth quarter, and the score is close. Your team’s running back breaks into the clear for a big gain. At last, the defense closes in on him and brings him down. As he falls to the ground, the arm holding the football is pulled away from his body and the ball pops into the hands of an opposing defender. Which of the following best describes your likely reaction?  Do you…

  1. sigh deeply and hope your defense can rise to the occasion?
  2. sit in shock for a moment, but then chuckle and say “maybe next year.”?
  3. curse quietly under your breath and go to the fridge for a beer?
  4. shake your head, roll your eyes, and wonder why this always happens to your team?
  5. explode off of the couch in a fury, cursing and yelling at the offending player to “wrap up the damn ball?”

If your answer was anything other than “E,” then I’m not sure we could make it through an entire game in the same room. Everyone knows that this is the only appropriate behavior in such a situation. By contrast, if your answer was “B” then I urge you to stop whatever you are doing, pick up the telephone, and make an appointment with a counselor as soon as possible.  The other answers, while acceptable at certain junctures of a game, are far too mild for such an important moment.

Now that we’ve weeded out all of the “casual” fans, we can get down to business. When you pull for a team as hard as I do for the Dawgs, there are bound to be moments when you lose control. I invest so much of myself in the game I’m watching that sometimes it becomes overwhelming. The tension builds until an outburst is inevitable. While anger may be an irrational response to an activity that not only is “just a game,” but one which doesn’t involve me directly, that doesn’t change the fact that my frustration always eventually boils over.

On one occasion my wife, Dena, had retreated to the bedroom to watch a movie while I watched a game on the big television. With the game not going according to plan, I became increasing agitated. Not wanting to disturb my wife, I refrained from yelling at the screen as I normally would. Instead, I grumbled in a low voice, cursing and calling out players who weren’t performing the way I believed they should have. After a few minutes of this behavior, Dena stuck her head out of the bedroom door.

 “Who’s here?” she asked.

“Nobody,” I replied.

 “Well who are you talking to?”

Doesn’t everybody talk to themselves once in awhile? Maybe not.

Another time, Dena was on the telephone with a friend. A comedy of errors on the field was making my life miserable. I began to complain loudly and call into question the intelligence, abilities, and character of every player who made a mistake. Apparently, my diatribe was loud enough to be heard on the other end of the phone. After the call ended, Dena came into the room, chuckling under her breath.

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“You were complaining so loudly that my friend asked what was wrong,” she answered. “What are you so mad about, anyway?”

“The damn game!” I said.

“Well how far are they behind?”

“They’re winning by a point.”

Sometimes it’s hard for people to believe that I could be so ticked off when my team is actually winning the game. But it isn’t merely the score that matters, it’s so much more:  quality of play, missed opportunities, poor judgement, sloppy fundamentals. So many reasons to get upset. Some of my most memorable outbursts have come in games that Georgia, or one of the pro teams I follow, eventually won. Let’s examine a recent example of just such an occurance.

Early in the 2009 season, Georgia hosted South Carolina in Sanford Stadium. The Dawgs had lost the season opener to Oklahoma State 24-10, and desperately needed a win. Dena was visiting a friend in Atlanta, so I was home alone to watch the game. Things did not start out on a positive note, as the Gamecocks took a 7-0 lead. We tied the game when Brandon Boykin scored on a 100 yard kickoff return. Minutes later, South Carolina regained the lead on a field goal, and the score was 10-7. This is where things got a bit dicey. South Carolina kicked off, and Georgia’s Branden Smith fielded the kick and headed upfield. At about the fifteen yard line, Smith fumbled the ball, and the Gamecocks recovered.

Now, there are several reasons why this turn of events would provoke a strong reaction; the  most obvious being the fact that we had just turned the ball over deep in our own territory. Another was that Smith was back to return instead of Boykin. Why? Boykin had just returned a kick one-hundred yards for a touchdown! Why wasn’t he getting another chance? Add in the lingering frustration from the Dawgs season opening loss in Stillwater, and the beast was out of its cage.

I sprinted across the room, thrust my face to within inches of the television, and unleashed a torrent of curses that would have put a marine drill instructer to shame. “You ******* pieces of ****!”    I yelled at the top of my lungs. “**** you! I hope you ******* go to ****! We’re going to lose the ******* game to the ******* Gamecocks! Wake the **** up! The whole ******* season down the ******* drain! ****!”

When I had exhausted my entire repertoire of profanity, I collapsed on the couch. Covered in sweat, I struggled to catch my breath as South Carolina’s offense took the field. A couple of plays later, the Gamecocks scored to take a 17-7 lead. I threw an empty cup across the room, hurled my notebook and pen into the corner, and stomped out of the room.

An overreaction? Not in my humble opinion. If anything, I had shown great restraint. In years past I would have also thrown the remote control as well; perhaps through the television screen. But what about the shouting and cursing? Good thing I was home alone, right? Well, not quite. While Dena was indeed visiting a friend, our three cats, Pip, Squeaky, and Pinkberry, and our dog Sasha were all in the house. Following my outburst I went into the bedroom to cool off for a moment before returning to the game. As I walked around the end of the bed, I saw Sasha cowering in the corner of the room. When I approached, she shrank away from me with a look of great trepidation on her face. The cats were nowhere to be found, and wouldn’t put in a appearance for the remainder of the night.

So there you have it, the ugly truth. I once threw a tantrum so fierce that I had all four of our pets scared out of their wits. I did make up with each of them the next morning however, when I issued generous rations of treats to everyone.  Oh yeah, Georgia went on to win  41-37 in a game in which only a generous amount of alcohol prevented further outbursts.  Just another normal, routine gameday at the old Maxwell homestead.

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