For the love of the game

The excitement that comes with watching a game has seemingly always been there for me, but I started wondering just what exactly makes them so thrilling to watch? What sets them apart?

The final answer to this question is the reason that sports are glorified to the extent that they are in our society. Professional athletes are treated like kings and queens of old, and it hasn’t been this way for very long. The invention of the television no doubt propelled professional athletes to a whole different level of stardom. Once sports games were broadcast on TV, anyone with a set in their home could watch a sporting event unfold. But it still begs the question, why do we love sports so much?

I think I can provide somewhat of an answer to this question. Think of everything you watch on TV, whether it’s the latest episode of Stranger Things on Netflix, The Voice or even something like Cops. You think they’d show it on national television if something really big happened on Cops? I doubt it. We usually tune into Cops to see something weird happen or to see a strange situation unfold.

Even the national and local media are scripted in many ways. Sure, they’re reporting on real world events, but what you’re actually watching on the screen is planned out meticulously.

Unlike what some NFL fans might tell you right now, sports are not this way. The coaches and players that interact within a game don’t know what’s going to happen before it starts. Sure, they have a game plan, but no one knows how it will unfold and what might happen in-game to alter that plan.

For example, what’s become known as the “kick-six” in the 78th Iron Bowl. For those who don’t know, with one second left on the clock and the game tied at 28, Alabama attempted a 57 yard field goal to potentially win the game. The kick was short and Auburn player Chris Davis caught the ball in the end zone, and began his attempted return. To any football fan watching that game, they knew the odds of Davis returning the kick for a game winning touchdown were slim to none. I, and probably most other people watching, assumed the game was going into overtime. There was no such assumption in the head of Chris Davis. Davis would take the ball to the house on an approximately 109 yard return, breaking the NCAA record and shocking the sports world. I’m not an Auburn or Alabama fan, I couldn’t care less about either team, but I’ll never forget watching that unfold at my grandparents’ house back in 2013.

There are numerous examples in sports of last second comebacks, the game-winning shot, touchdown, run etc. There are simply too many different instances to list from different sports and different eras. The 2013 Iron Bowl is just one example in hundreds, and that’s the point. You, nor I, the coach, or the “expert” analysts can accurately say how a game will unfold.

That’s what makes sports so thrilling to watch; it’s the only thing on television that we can watch that’s completely unscripted. Even seeing a movie you’ve never seen before, you might not know what happens, but the director and actors did.

It’s all planned, and even much of our daily lives is routine. So when someone turns on a game they’re tuning in to see something that no one has ever seen before happen to real people.

To further this point, think about when your team has played and you plan on going back and watching a recording of the game, but somehow you accidentally find out the final score before you can. Well for most of us that ruins the experience and we’re no longer interested in seeing the whole game because it’s lost its unpredictability. We aren’t that way with movies usually though are we? If you have a favorite movie you may go back and watch it numerous times after the first viewing, even though you know the outcome. Now part of that is maybe because movies tell an entertaining story, and if it’s a story we particularly like we’re glad to see it again.

But in a sporting event, why watch if you’ve already been made aware of the outcome? Even if a big catch or a game winning shot happened, you can always go back and watch a short clip of just that event instead of watching the whole two to three hour game. The thing about watching a game live is you never know when one of those fantastic (or awful depending on who you’re rooting for) moments is going to happen. It’s the anticipation before every play that makes it so exciting, and even more so when it’s your team making the big play.

So the next time someone asks you “what’s the big deal with sports, why do you like it so much?”, you can simply refer them to me.

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