Monday, March 20, 2017

COLUMN: Sports Expert

I am not a big sports guy.

I know this must come as a shock to those of you staring at my fifteen-year-old photo naturally assuming that I must be a muscle-clad jock. I'm afraid you were once again led astray by my brute machismo. Unless we reach a day when Guitar Hero becomes a recognized sport, I'm just not an athletic supporter.

I'm not entirely bereft of sports knowledge. I've sat through many a Bowl that was Super (but secretly, I just watch for the commercials.) Like any good fair-weather fan, I enjoyed watching Jordan and the Bulls dominate back in the day, just as I enjoyed seeing the Cubs make their championship run last year. If you catch me in the right mood and the scores are close, I've even been sucked in by golf telecasts now and again. And, of course, there's my closet NASCAR obsession, which I can only blame on genetics and perhaps a few too many years growing up in Galesburg.

For the most part, though, I'm completely clueless when it comes to sports. I don't keep up with players or stats or teams. I only recently learned that the Montreal Expos are no longer a thing, and that happened in what, 2004? I've got other interests, sorry. There's enough on my plate as is without obsessing over people running, throwing, and catching things.

There's just one problem. Through no particular fault of my own, I have an acquaintance who may have been misled into thinking that I am a sports enthusiast. And because I'm the most socially insecure person on the planet, I've been playing along for way too long to come clean now.

I have to stay vague, because this person is real and in the Quad Cities, but I'm pretty sure he has no idea that I write a newspaper column, so shhh. Let's just say that I wear a lot of different hats in life, and one of those hats requires me to engage in brief bits of small talk with this person regularly. I don't know the guy well, but he seems like a good enough dude.

Well, a few months ago, we were chatting and he mentioned that he was bummed because there was some UFC thing on pay-per-view that he was missing. I don't know a thing about ultimate fighting, but I DO know my way around the internet. All it took was two swipes on my phone to find someone bootlegging the fight on Periscope. "Here you go," I said as I handed him the phone.

Little did I know my gesture of kindness would open a Pandora's Box of sports small talk that I've yet to escape. Worse yet, most of the time I have NO idea what he's on about.

"Today's game sure wrecked my pool," he said to me the other day. And no, I had no clue what game he was talking about. "I had them by fourteen," whatever that meant.

A self-confident Shane would have replied, "Sorry, I don't follow sports." A Shane who doesn't suffer from social anxiety might have said, "No clue, man, sorry." A Shane without a childish need for acceptance could have just shrugged his shoulders and been done with it.

Instead, here's what I said:

"Well, they went to sleep after the half. It was sad to watch."

I don't know who "they" were. I could only hope it was a sport that HAD a "half." But it must have sounded right, because he nodded right away in agreement. Thus began the pitiful dance of me having to fake my way through sports conversation on a regular basis.

Now, you may think this whole episode to be kind of pathetic, and I'm right there with you. Well, I was... at first. I should be far too grown up to still fall victim to an insecure need for acceptance. But now that I've carried on the ruse for a few months now, pathos has given way to fun.

You see, I've decided to turn our sports talk into a game unto itself, and that game is me figuring out how to continually fake my way though small talk while not knowing a thing about what I'm talking small about. Every time I see this guy, he comes at me with some sports comment, and I have to come up with some random reponse that hopefully doesn't make me sound like a lunatic. Most of the time, I'm just spouting total nonsense, and it's yet to fail me. Some of my go-to's thus far:

"Those refs had to be blind!" (Met with an enthusiastic nod. There's always a bad call somewhere in every game, right?)

"They played okay for what they had to work with." (Result? Solemn agreement paired with a thoughtful chin gesture. I'm clearly insightful.)

"They wanted it more and they played tough. What else can you say?" (What else, indeed. But please don't ask me.)

"I don't even wanna TALK about that game!" (Which is, most definitely, the truth.)

"The defense was reckless!" (Can a defense be reckless? I have no idea. Sounds good, though, right?)

"You could tell which way the wind was blowing." (This could mean 35 different things. I think.)

And my personal favorite?

"It's like 1994 all over again!" (I thought I was a goner with this one, but once again, it was met with a solemn nod. Maybe anything sounds believable if you put the right tone of self-confidence on it. Perhaps I should do infomercials.)

Thankfully, our encounters only occur in a few quick-sentence bursts, because this is a charade I clearly can't maintain for long. Heck, maybe he knows I have no idea what I'm talking about and just finds it funny to listen to me flounder. Either way, it's more entertaining than making banal comments about the weather to pass the time.

At some point, I should probably come clean and own up to being woefully ignorant about sports. Then again, I suppose if he mentions a team, I could always run to the bathroom real quick and look up the score on my phone. Or heck, I could take some time out and watch ESPN for a few minutes so I can REALLY fake him out. All I need to do is watch all the games, drive up to see a few in person, and maybe buy some jerseys and souvenirs. If I really want to be a convincing sports fan, all I need to do is become a sports fan.

Easy peasy. Just like 1994 all over again. (Smile and nod, people.)  

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