On Jan. 17, 1988, I sobbed on the living room floor while my mom yelled at me for crying.
“It’s just a football game, Matt! It’s not that important!” she said.
Even though I was only 8, I knew she was wrong.
My stepdad had walked out of the house without saying a word. He didn’t take a coat even though it was freezing out there.
We just watched the Cleveland Browns fumble away the Super Bowl, and my stepdad and I were devastated.
“It’s not that important!”
My stepdad took a long time to come back inside.
Don’t tell me what’s important. I wanted my favorite team to win in the biggest game of the year, and when they didn’t, I cried because it hurt, and I don’t give a shit whether that makes sense to anyone.
Don’t tell me it didn’t matter, because my heart broke, which means it mattered.
People care about what they care about. I respect almost any demonstration of enthusiasm and passion, even if I lack interest in the subject.
My mom didn’t understand why a football game could mean so much.
A lot of people don’t.
Maybe it’s because we live in Ohio, and Ohio is “boring,” so we all care about things like football, basketball and baseball more than people who live in places where surfing and mountain climbing and Upper East Side parties and Hollywood Blvd. are viable options.
But we do care about these things. Passionately.
On Thursday, my favorite basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is going to begin a best-of-seven (first team to win four games wins) series that will determine this year’s NBA champion.
Anyone even loosely familiar with American professional sports knows the city of Cleveland has not won a pro sports championship since 1964—the longest drought of any major U.S. city. The national media reminds us all the time because they’re evil sadists.
Under normal circumstances, that would make us media darlings—the You can do it! underdogs many of us love to root for.
But somewhere between the feel-good story that is the Golden State Warriors and their totally likable superstar (NBA MVP Stephen Curry who is super-easy to root for) and the bizarre hateful-admiration combo many people feel toward Cleveland superstar LeBron James, I get the sense most people will be rooting for the Warriors. And that’s fine.
Here’s the thing I want people who don’t care to understand: I’m not rooting for the millionaire athletes you don’t believe deserve the praise and admiration and money and attention they get.
I’m rooting for my friends.
Kris and Todd and Dusty and Steve and Tim and Angie and Nate and people I’m forgetting to name. Long-time Clevelanders who have faced heartbreak after heartbreak from the bloody front lines. They’ve been waiting their entire lives for this. They deserve it.
I’m rooting for my neighbors. They deserve it.
I’m rooting for co-workers and the people I see walking around in Cavs hats and jerseys. They deserve it.
I’m rooting for my tribe. The people who live where I live and care about what I care about. We deserve it.
A common interest is not always enough to bring people together.
But in Ohio? In Cleveland? That’s exactly what it does.
Because it’s more than a game.