Full disclosure: A UNC loss usually ruins my day, sometimes ruins a couple of days, and occasionally ruins my week. That is to say, it used to. Follow me, if you will.
Much of the reason that we sports fans exist lies in the emotional outlet that fandom provides. Sports gives us a chance to feel; To inhale and exhale with each play, to live and die with each game. Sports opens a door to a room where we can suspend life for just a few hours, immerse ourselves in a contest, and live vicariously through the outcomes of our chosen team. Thus, the amount of your identity that is defined by fandom of a specific team is directly proportional to the degree with which you react to a win or loss. In essence, the bigger the fan, the greater the reaction to your team’s results. Which brings me back to my original thought: used to be, a Carolina loss would absolutely ruin a day/few days for me. Likewise, a big win would put me on cloud nine for a period of time, also.
All that aside, this past football season and current basketball season have been a little weird to me. I’ve found myself reacting differently to game outcomes than I ever have in the past, specifically losses. For example, back in September, an undefeated and newly ranked Carolina Football team went on the road to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta. After hanging around for most of the game and blowing many opportunities to win the game, the Heels lost by a touchdown. Considering it was a winnable game against a ranked team, I actually wasn’t all that upset.
Next up, Carolina dropped a tough home game to Miami, after falling behind early and clawing back, only to have their last drive come up short. Again, I didn’t really think twice about the loss, nor did I re-watch any of it on DVR.
Then came the November tilt with rival NC State. This game came complete with game-week sniping between coaches, and the usual fan-on-fan hatred. The Tar Heels came out and played their worst game to date, and were shutout by an NC State team who once again kept their season afloat. While it really left me unsettled how the squad played, I didn’t lose any sleep over the loss, figuratively or literally. And, considering that this was the 5th in a row to the Wolpfack, my even-keeled reaction was even more rare.
Finally, we get to this basketball season: A preseason favorite, the Heels have already dropped 2 games as of me writing this, one of which was a lackluster defensive effort against an also-ran UNLV team. Again, I found myself just sort of “meh” about the loss. Yes, there’s a pattern emerging here with these losses, and with wins as well.
After the UK loss on Saturday, I had a moment of self-awareness: it’s not that I care any less about a loss or a win. Rather, my personal spectrum of ability to care has expanded on a large scale. Think of it like this: on a “Joey’s general demeanor” measure of 1 to 10, I used to go to a 7 or an 8 with a win, 10 with a big win, and down to 1 with a loss. Now, I probably still react the same way, but the scale now reads -10 to about 20. What’s changed?
Since becoming a father, my ability to experience emotion has been turned on its head. From the days we spent in the hospital, to the longest and most nerve-racking fifteen minute drive home ever, my emotional seismograph stayed on tilt. Quite simply, I learned a whole lot about how to feel by experiencing the feeling of becoming a dad. It sounds redundant, but I learned how to really feel…by feeling. I’m not sure if it’s the magnanimity of it all, or if there was one special nuance about holding my own child, but something reset my personal spectrum of emotion. If my range of emotional experience was a pair of sweatpants, the birth of my little girl permanently stretched the elastic waistband. It was now going to take a little more than a final score to move the needle of sentiment inside me.
Now back to the game: I’m not any less of a fan, and I don’t have any less interest in the outcome of a Carolina game. Games aren’t any less enjoyable, either. I just think that a drooling, big-cheeked smile hits the epicenter of my passions now with more accuracy than the outcome of a game does.