Love the Gronk

     Jane loves the Patriots so much she can’t stand to watch them.
     She leaves the TV room every Sunday during the second quarter. “Don’t wake me up,” she says.
     I watch the second half – this year, in fear and trembling – and on Monday at 4 a.m., as I crank out this news page, Jane appears at my office door and says, “Just tell me if they won.”
     Jane loves the Patriots more than I’ve ever loved a sports team in my life. Or ever will.
     Jane is a lovely young woman of 5 foot 2 whose two grown sons are about her age. They are also enormous. Both played high school football for our little town in Vermont.
     Before I go any further: I don’t give a damn about football. I coached cross-country running in high school for years, and I hate high school football coaches, and I ain’t that crazy about football.
     I have no idea why I watch the Patriots all alone, week after week, after Jane goes to bed, or why I feel so depressed when they lose, or why I feel, not happy, but relieved, when they win.
     I do not understand it.
     Nor do I understand why I walked into a sports store this week and paid $32 for a Wes Welker jersey (83), which I never will wear; nor why I bought Jane a Rob Gronkowski jersey (87) for Christmas last year, which she never will wear either.
     I presume it has something to do with ritual, and community, and religion, and blah blah blah …
     I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. I understand that loss is man’s common lot. That in the long run, none of us will ever win. Anything.
     I don’t like baseball either. Or the Chicago Cubs. I don’t care whether the Giants or the Tigers win the World Series. But when I lived in Southern California I used to go watch the Lake Elsinore Storm play in the best Minor League park in the nation. I didn’t care if the Storm won or lost. I have no feelings at all about the Storm. But I love to see the arc of a fly ball, the agility of infielders, the fading light as the sun sets.
     I’m not much of a sports fan. The only sports I care about are distance races, which I get to see once every 4 years, during the Olympics, in wretchedly covered TV reports from excited idiots who cut away to commercials during the heart of the race.
     So, as I said, I do not understand why I am plunged into despair every time the Patriots lose.
     Football is a beautiful game. It’s a great spectacle. But let’s face it, look at the world today. Who would dare to say that a football game is important?
     Although …
     I love Wes Welker. Not just the way he plays: the predatory look in his eyes.
     Jane loves the Gronk. His big plays. The way he catches the ball and then knocks the bejeezus out of anyone who tries to tackle him.
     Want to start a fight around this house? Say something unkind about Tom Brady, or Bill Belichick.
     I’m not writing this column to say, “Go, Patriots!”
     I’m writing it to try to understand my own self: Why I care. Why it matters to me.
     It does not matter to me. But it seems to matter.
     Maybe sports are so popular not just for their beauty, and for the curious emotions they stir, but because at the end of the day, they’re the only place left anymore where we know for sure who won.

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