This past Sunday, before I headed to a bridal shower, I checked the battery on my phone, checked the time for the AFC/NFC playoff games, and posted on Facebook something about reminding myself that not every woman schedules her life events around the NFL, college basketball and other sports calendars.
I’m the woman who set the date of her wedding the first week of November during non-conference play of college basketball, still-early in the NBA season, and at the non-crucial, non-quite-playoff-decision time of the NFL. From mid-November to mid-June, there are too many Holy Days of Sports, as in Valley play, the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl, the MVC tournament, the NCAA tournament, the Masters, the NBA playoffs…well, the list goes on.
Just how bad is it? When a family member recently announced their wedding was going to be March 16, I blurted, “Wait, isn’t that the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.” Luckily, the tourney starts the following week. As for the family member, they weren’t offended; they’re used to it, as is all of my family, including my husband.
On our wedding day, I was upset because I’d forgotten to record the memorial service for Walter “Sweetness” Payton, who had died earlier that week. My favorite running back of all time, his service at Soldier Field began just as I walked down the aisle. Always aware of my obsession with the Chicago Bears, Brad understood how I’d determined our wedding date, was accepting of my orange and blue foam Bears claw and the horns I don during Bulls games, so he was not shocked when I surprised him and the boys with tickets to see one of Michael Jordan’s last games at the United Center. And as for my stepsons, while I’m not sure they ever became used to it, they definitely found humor in hearing me yell and scream at the television, especially when they were outside and my cries would carry through the open windows. I like to think I had some influence on them as Sloan is a Bears fan and Ian a …Packer fan (no, I have not disowned him), or maybe, like me, they didn’t really have any choice.
As a child, I thought all families watched sports, together. I thought it was the norm that my mother threw annual Super Bowl parties, I mean, didn’t every mother stay up late to cook the night before the big game, invite family over, take bets, then hush everyone in the room during the National Anthem? Didn’t every family attend or play in basketball tournaments from Biddy Basketball to the Mexican-American tournament? And while I realize my parents attending a college basketball tournament on their honeymoon is out of the ordinary, I figured a lot of families took vacation during the NCAA tournament, buying tickets to specific regions and spending their days watching the Spartans, the Orangemen, the Fighting Illini, the Bruins and the like.
It was high school when I realized I might be different. Most girls my age went to North High football and basketball games to meet boys, while one of the main reasons I was in marching band and pep band was so I could get into all the games for free. I admit, I was occasionally distracted by a boy or two and I enjoyed both pre and post-parties, but I loved watching the game. And as I entered my twenties and moved to the suburbs of Chicago, I became even more distracted by music, concerts and more boys, but that didn’t keep me from seeing Michael Jordan when he still had hair, or trying to stomp the warmth into my frozen feet at Soldier Field, or getting a sunburn at Wrigley.
When I moved back to Wichita in 1990, I realized what I’d been missing the most, my family and their love of sports. Now, in Chicago I had my sister whose blood runs blue and orange on any given Sunday in fall, but back in Wichita I had my parents whose fanaticism had deepened, pushing them to attend the baseball and basketball games of second and third generation cousins. I had my crazy female cousins to spend every Sunday with me at Players during the NFL season (we even had our picture in the paper one Super Bowl Sunday) and at whatever bar was showing a Bulls game.
And, my father and I had our Shockers. My dad took me to my first WSU men’s basketball game when I was seven, but when I returned to Wichita our love of Shocker sports reached rafter heights. I became a season ticket holder and have enjoyed every minute of every game sitting next to my father, whether in Koch Arena or in D.C during the Sweet Sixteen, or the Scottrade Center in St. Louis during the MVC tournament. It’s something I cherish, always. And it’s also why my mother often tells others, “Yes, Oscar and Natalie don’t miss a game. Sometimes I think she should’ve been a boy.”
But, as I’ve grown…more experienced, my passion for sports has continued. I could blame it on beating a bunch of boys at their own fantasy sports games, or the fact my Shockers are very much contenders, but I have to say it’s because sports as a whole is the pulse of my family. Our passion and following of the game has kept us close, kept us strong. Some would say that watching sports is not true family time, but I would disagree. We don’t just watch, we talk, we discuss, we share, we cheer, we lament, but most importantly, we’re together.
And, we’re together even when we’re a part. Because I might be watching the game at home, screaming at my television as is my custom, or at a sports bar, or in another city but I’m forever connected to my family because as soon as the play is over or the basket made, I’m texting my brother, sending a message to my sister on Facebook and calling my parents, “Did you see that? Can you believe he made it?” And they know exactly what I’m talking about. Exactly. We’re forever connected, anywhere, anytime.
It’s who we are. It’s who I am.