As the calendar winds its way through a given year, the checkpoints of sports debate arrive on schedule. If you are losing your mind trying to explain why RBIs measure a player’s worth about as much as an apology in the heat of scandal measures a politician’s character, you are probably in the midst of a heat wave in August. A light windbreaker denotes unhealthy obsessions with a particular football draft prospect or spring training lottery tickets. If you are blessed, the winter holiday season is the special time set aside for debating which team you would rather face in the NFL playoffs, and if you are from Cleveland it is the special time set aside to decide on the next Browns head coach.
Fall conveniently brings piles of leaves to stomp on as we rage about the unfairness of the College Football playoffs. Depending almost entirely on which school lies closest to our place of birth or where we spent the four years we will be pining for the rest of our lives, we defend the pure vision of the “Committee” or deride their complete and abject misunderstanding of the college football landscape and the utter lack of accountability. We have about a week. The system could use some reflection and repair but who has the extra moments to spare. Eventually realizing that just like last year, nothing of substance is being added and the conversation has run its course, we pack up our passion and incredulity and park it at the next rest stop. The time has come to pick up the PED thread and revisit Barry Bonds before and after memes. The sports argument calendar is unyielding. Cooperstown is just around the bend.
Allow me this however, before we all leave town. Craig Lyndall had a great podcast the other day. Besides that it entertained me, more importantly it got me to think. The primary issue of College football for me has never been the impossible venture of crowning a consensus champion. When you can never have a bad day, the games become burdensome. If you are never allowed to lose, how much fun can winning really be. If a Buckeye loss to Purdue in October means the end of the road, an unprecedented season by Dwayne Haskins goes from Ohio State lore to a tweet from Elias when his records are broken by the next great Scarlet and Gray signal caller. It reminds me of how much I hate playing blackjack. Until you cash your chips, every hand is just another chance for the dealer to show a five, turn over 6-Face, and make that devastating sweep of your stack. The fun doesn’t begin until you find yourself safely at the cashier window, exhaling.
Sports, like life, is figuring out if we have what it takes. A bad day is a chance to make tomorrow better, the wrong decision gives way to the correct one the next time we get a crack at it. Getting it right comes with a price. Its only worth paying if you get to keep playing, keep building and keep dreaming. There are no easy answers and I don’t know how to fix it. But staying flawless seems exhausting to me. Ask the 2007 Patriots. College football is Al Davis saying, “Just don’t lose baby”! I would guess that slogan wouldn’t sell a ton of T-shirts. I have come to enjoy it less and less. Give me an “in the hunt” graphic for the Browns at 4-6 and 1 over a selection show for the Buckeyes at 12 and whatever.
If skinned knees were fatal, taking off your son’s training wheels shifts from a moment of sublime magic to one of paralyzing fear, if you dare do it at all. A toddler’s first steps are an exercise of dread rather than a wide-eyed tiptoe towards the wonder of a lifetime of discovery. If you can’t fall you will never ride. Perfection itself is boring, tedious even. Chasing perfection is the gift life gives you if you are doing life right.