The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday January 23rd

Column: Appreciating sports during COVID-19

With four months and counting since the last live sporting event from the NCAA or any of the United States' five major professional leagues, fans across the country have been made to look at the past rather than the next day's game.

My early years of fandom may lead some to believe that I'm a “fair-weather” fan. Personally, I prefer to be called a good luck charm. 

As a native of the Detroit area, 2004 was probably the most opportune time to fall in love with the NBA. I remember darting into the kitchen each morning to find a VHS tape that read “for Hunter" and popping it into our counter top television set to watch the previous night’s rendition of Detroit Pistons basketball. Growing accustomed to this tradition, I began to understand two things: one, 90 points is usually enough to win an NBA game, and two, my favorite team is supposed to win. Like, a lot. 

After the Pistons picked up Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline in 2004, the team went from good to almost unstoppable. Dominating a slow, rugged era of the Association, the team marched its way through the playoffs, beating the Lakers to win the title. A few weeks later, my parents gave me a championship T-shirt, and I believed that I could count on such gifts for years to come. 

Two years later, my love for basketball was joined by a new adoration for baseball. 

In the opening week of the 2006 season, the Detroit Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 start and I became a baseball nut. The team, which three years earlier lost 119 games, managed to make the World Series. 

Both teams remained competitive for the next several years. The Pistons lost in the Finals in 2005 (I still have tears, Manu Ginóbili), and reached the conference finals in each year through 2008. The Tigers were often in contention throughout the next decade, and the franchise made it back to the World Series in 2012. This success usually ended in defeat, as after each heartbreaking postseason loss, I would sit in my room stunned, wondering why these teams couldn’t get back to the pinnacle of their respective leagues.

Unfortunately, I found out my previous expectation of Detroit hosting annual championship parades was a tad unrealistic.

Today, these memories are all wonders of the past, and Detroit sports are in an unprecedented slump. The Pistons finished this season 20-46, the fifth worst record in the NBA. The Tigers were even worse, ending the 2019 season at 47-114, by far the worst in the league. Although I’ve never been much of a hockey guy, the Red Wings are currently in the basement of the NHL. As for the Detroit Lions, well, there hasn't been much success to go around. 

These struggles have led me to take on the fight-or-flight approach of sports fandom. 

At least, that’s what I did before a global pandemic turned the world of sports upside down. With COVID-19 putting sports on hold since early March, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted. 

Sports fans too often find ourselves looking to the future when things don’t go our team’s way, and rightfully so. Saying “the Lions are going to be good this year” has become what my family calls “the kickoff to fall.” This optimism for brighter days ahead shouldn’t undermine the message to appreciate the moment. 

With no sports to turn to, fans have been foaming at any prospect of live competition. An average of 5.8 million people tuned in to watch Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play a half-hearted round of golf in May, making it the most-watched golf event in cable television history.

Times like these remind us of what a luxury it was when fans could turn on their TV and witness Woods and Mickelson relentlessly battle on Sundays, while simultaneously going channel surfing to watch Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer overpower lineups with their fastballs. 

Thankfully, for the time being, it looks like we will be given another chance to experience this euphoria. In the coming weeks, the NBA and NHL will resume, and the MLB and NFL will open up their new seasons. Although the Pistons didn’t get invited to the Orlando NBA bubble, I’m excited to watch the Tigers make the most of the shortened summer, even though it looks like the only thing they’ll be fighting for is the number one pick in the upcoming draft. With 500-1 odds to win the World Series, maybe I’ll put a dollar down and see what happens.

Consider engulfing yourself in as much sports as you can in the coming months, because as we all learned, the next game is never guaranteed. It once felt like sports could never stop, but now fans know they can.

If you’re a fan of Houston or another successful sports city, even when your team misses 27 straight three pointers or relinquishes a 24-point lead before halftime, love them for it, because one day you’ll look back in appreciation. 

@nelsonhunter_

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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