The term “fan” first entered the sports lexicon as shorthand for “fanatic” — and it wasn’t meant as a compliment. But as commentator Victor Wishna explains in “A Fan’s Notes,” when done responsibly, there’s no shame in getting carried away. It’s all part of the game.
So, how’s everybody’s summer?
Me, I spent most of July in Westeros. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, you might want to stop listening. But if you do, then you know I’m talking about Game of Thrones, the wonderfully cinematic and fantastically gratuitous series on HBO that is still going strong — more intense than ever — after 64 episodes. I know because, after just never getting around to it ’til now, I watched all 64 episodes in the last four weeks.
And I learned a couple things. One: if you set your mind to it and ignore what’s really important, you can achieve anything. Two: I do not — by the seven gods, I do not — recommend binge-watching Game of Thrones. Talk about addictive! Talk about gratuitous!
But here’s why I did it: that month culminated in a vacation with extended family where I knew everyone would be watching in real time. I was late to the party, but I could still catch up. And I wanted in.
My point, of course, is that when I think of what it takes to achieve that level of shared experience, the only other example that comes to mind — besides weddings, new babies, graduations, blah blah blah — is sports.
Whether baseball, football, soccer, hockey, or … thrones, it really is more than the game. At any moment, on any given Sunday, none of us knows just what dramatic moment or intense twist will come next. Which is why we all watch. It’s not just about the highs or the lows, but about feeling them together.
Look, I know that being a fan is easily derided as a waste of time, a delusion of reflected grandeur, a shaky identity. But the other side of that coin is community and connection, something to rally around and build upon. There are relationships formed, even family bonds that are strengthened in ways they otherwise might never have been. I hope that doesn’t sound … gratuitous.
I feel like right now might be the best time of the sports year. The Royals are making another playoff push — something, dare I say it, we’ve almost become accustomed to. Sporting KC is cruising along into fall at the top of the table. The Chiefs — and their shiny, new first-round quarterback — open the preseason this week with expectations befitting a team on a two-year playoff streak. Heck, even the Kansas Jayhawks have been lighting it up, putting on a real exhibition 5,000 miles away in Rome and Milan. It’s all pretty binge-worthy.
Of course, we must remember to pace ourselves and our passions, enjoying our healthy fantasy as intended, with an always-next-year perspective, season by season. It’s nothing to lose your head over.
And so, if the Royals don’t make it this time around, or Sporting KC starts to fade, or the Chiefs founder early amid all the hype — in other words, if this season doesn’t pan out the way we hope, fans understand it’ll all be okay.
Because, you know … winter is coming.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.