I Love the Haka (or – Lessons from a recent “weekend” in sports)
I Love the Haka (or – Lessons from a recent “weekend” in sports)
If you are an all-around sports fan like I am, and your two favorite NFL teams are playing not on Sunday but on Thursday and Monday nights, your weekend schedule takes on a different appearance. It stretches into both wok weeks and gives you the chance to get a bit creative as far as what you do on those now open traditional weekend days. Great for an athlete. Great for a sports fan.
So here’s a short synopsis of a few of the lessons I learned after recently experiencing (and enjoying) a 5-day “weekend” of sports.
So it seems this season the NFL is doing its best to infiltrate the prime time television market by scheduling games on Thursday nights in addition to its three Sunday and one Monday night time slots. Yes, on yet another “school night,” the NFL is asking us working dads to help put our kids to bed then stay up late, drink beer, and watch a carefully selected and scheduled competition between nationally appealing teams (like the Patriots and the Dolphins on this given Thursday night). Anyway, I think the spread was 8 points, or maybe 13, who knows, because the Patriots were playing at home and they are just that good this year. If you don’t know, I’m a Pats fan true and true. They won 36-7, I had a blast staying up late but paid a price. Lesson one, that Friday morning alarm comes early when you are up after midnight. Oh yeah, lesson two, picking against the spread is difficult. 29 points? Gosh. Loved that the Patriots won. Season tickets, and a shared love of the team, has helped keep my family tight for nearly 50 years. But I didn’t anticipate such a dominating performance. I enjoyed it but lost my bet with my dad.
A few weeks ago, just before I was scheduled to race a 15k, I was out training in my racer and working really hard on a hills day. Coming off a summer in which I felt great and was getting my push stroke back and seating position dialed, mostly on the flat roads, I really wasn’t feeling many limits. But on this Friday I think I pushed a bit too hard, grinding my way up hill after hill, stroke after stroke, grunt after grunt, and woke up the next day with a swollen elbow. Bursitis. Then it got infected and needed draining. It sidelined me for a few weeks and took the wind out of my sails. So this certain Friday was my first day back out training in the chair. I had no goals or expectations, I just wanted to get through a workout then rest my elbow “just in case” the swelling came back. It didn’t. I was psyched. Fingers crossed it doesn’t. Now, I’m working my way back to fitness again. It’s tough when you are in your late forties and have pushed since 1991 and still have a few more goals. Wear, tear, overuse, soreness, stiffness hello! Welcome to my athletic life. On this Friday, I was just glad to be out there.
Today the Rugby World Championship final was being broadcast to US households and I was psyched to watch it. I had the date circled on my calendar since the World Cup began about a month earlier. With all due respect to America’s major sports, plus the minor sports in which I participate, there is nothing like seeing something international – the Ryder’s Cup, or Wimbledon, or a World Cup soccer match not to mention rugby’s biggest game – played with its throngs of dedicated and crazy fans, global passion and die hard athletes. So New Zealand, the world #1 is playing Australia, the world #2, and I have a huge love for, and connection to, both countries, having not only spent time as an athlete in each but also having hosted athletes in my house for a murderball season or two from each. What makes rugby special, and different from other sports, is the love and respect the athletes have not only for the game itself but also for the other athletes and, believe it or not, the referee, too. The referee? Yes, he is mic’d up in the big matches and you can hear him converse with players, talk down to a few as necessary, and they respect his decisions even if they don’t agree. In America, you never see that on a basketball court or a football field, do you? And what made this game even more special, as is every match in which the All Blacks play, is the haka. In my opinion, it is the most incredible thing in sports. For a minute or two before the match, everything, literally everything stopped as the All Blacks performed the traditional Maori war dance, a ritual that dates back to a time before sports when tribesmen were heading off to battle and wanted to psych up themselves and psych out the enemy. Did the Aussies turn away or continue their pre-match warm-up? No, they stopped, locked arms and shoulders in a sign of unity and national pride and watched, giving silent and focused respect to New Zealand, and showing the world a level of sportsmanship unmatched in any other sport. Then, for two 40 minute halves, two squads of fifteen gave themselves up, literally with broken bones, bloodied noses, strains, sprains and bruises, and figuratively with rucks, mauls and tries, until the final whistle when the world could do nothing but celebrate not just the victorious All Blacks but also the heart and soul of the never-say-die Aussies. In the post match interviews, both the Kiwis and the Aussies were humble, respectful and cordial, never once bad mouthing the other but, instead, talking about how special of an opportunity each had to play against the other. As I turned off the broadcast, I smiled knowing that as large as our planet is, and as multi-cultural and diverse our peoples are, there is nothing as universal as the language of sport to bring us together as one.
Who can say 500 miles of the turning left and twelve second pit stops sport known as NASCAR with a proud smile and gleam in your jorts? Well, I can, ha. Today the NASCAR gang was up in Martinsville, Virginia, and I had it on my calendar to attend. He plan was to drive up leisurely, enjoying fall foliage, arriving early to have a couple in the warm fall sun, then watch the race and head home late. Great idea except it was cold, rainy and I was tired having just turned the clocks back and not taken advantage of the extra hour of sleep. Anyway, the race went off as scheduled after the track was dried and with just a few laps remaining, Matt Kenseth purposely wrecked race leader, Joey Logano. And it happened right in front of me. Now without going into details, I’ll just say this was the kind of thing that makes racing racing. Old school stuff. On the sport’s oldest and smallest track, where tempers typically boil, I got to see a little bit of payback in the form of race car justice. The fans both cheered and booed, beers flew at the safety fence and I’ll admit, it was one of those pretty cool experiences that you see every now in then in different forms in different sports. Even professional athletes have tempers and let them out some time. Sport has an edge. And then, as evening darkness descended upon the track and the southern Virginia hills, in his last visit to the track, a guy named Jeff Gordon won the race. He celebrated like he was a kid, dancing around the finish line and jumping up and down before leaping into the arms of his crew. Some say watching racing s boring. On this day, it was anything but. Oh, one more thing. Jorts? Take a pair of jeans and cut off the legs. Jeans made into shorts equals jorts. They are as much a part of the sport as our Dale Earnhadt hats, bring your own beer in a can and tradin’ paint.
Monday (and into the wee hours of Tuesday morning)?
So now I’m exhausted after four days of sports plus a full day of work and it’s time for my now “hometown” Carolina Panthers, who, like the Patriots, are undefeated. They are set to play the Colts on the Monday night national television stage and I’m expecting the Panther bubble to burst. I can’t remember the spread but because I’m skeptical of the Panthers being undefeated, and I’m convinced they are primed to implode right in front of everyone’s eyes, and it’s the Colts needing a win, I bet against them. Repeat Thursday night routine – help put Caroline to bed, grab a beer or three, put my feet up and start watching. Remember the drizzle from yesterday that held off just long enough for the race? Well, the front has arrived, it’s pouring now, and the game is basically being played in a monsoon. I’ll skip the pregame, the Panthers building a lead and the Colts looking terrible so we can fast forward to the second half, after the chaos from some protesters who are seen rappelling from the upper deck with a sign protesting Bank of America has settled, and the Panthers are winning by a lot. A. Lot. But I’m skeptical (and maybe a bit too lazy to move) so I keep watching. Remember how I love the unpredictability of sport? Yep, next thing I know it’s tied. Well, Monday night turns to Tuesday morning (yep, the game goes beyond midnight!) and the Panthers kick a game winning field goal in overtime. Super long weekend of sports finished. I’m bushed.
OK, lessons? In the grand scheme of things, this was simply a typical, albeit extended weekend of sports that is repeated over and over in so many different shapes and forms all throughout the year. Sure, the All Blacks won the 2015 Rugby World Championship but aside from that, and perhaps a NASCAR highlight that will be replayed alongside some of the greatest intentional wrecks, nothing much earth shattering happened. And perhaps therein lies the true message of sport both for an athlete and a fan. It’s not always about headlines, highlights and heroes, nor is it about standout performances, domination or even the proverbial “agony of defeat.” To me, every time I turn on the television and tune in to an event, or jump in my racer, handcycle, kayak or even a pool lane and get my heart rate up a few beats, it’s simply about making the most of an opportunity to participate, to step (or roll) outside a comfort zone, and to put oneself in a position of challenge. For fun, for health, for happiness, for the love of sport.