Allow me to go ahead & get the griping out of the way early: the weather STINKS here in Florida right now. It's positively disheartening. I know I shouldn't complain. I don't guess it does any good to complain... except making me feel better. So, just so we're clear on this matter, I don't like the hot weather right now. Not one bit. Not at all.
I guess the other side of this coin is that we're the first to get the warmth of spring. That is pleasant. But it also means an oppressively endless summer. Starting in May and running through June, July, August, September, and now 12 days into October, it's still summer weather here in Panama City, FL.
"So what? Big deal? You should be happy you don't have to shovel snow." Let me explain a little bit of what this is like for you, the non-Floridian.
I walk my dog every day. I'm a good, loving master, and my dog loves me for it. If you don't know, I'm a big man. Not small. I tend to perspire, like many big men. Okay, let's just keep this simple: I fill up a t-shirt with sweat every day. Every day there is a slim ring around the shirt-tail that is dry because it's the one part of the shirt not sticking to my sweat-soaked body. It is every bit as awful & disgusting as it sounds. And THIS every stinkin' day. Especially days where the heat index rises into the high 90's. Or over 100, like it did at least twice last week.
It became a source of humor for one of my golf buddies the other day. He caught me a mile into my route last week, and he stopped to turn his truck around, roll down his window, point at my shirt, guffaw, and think of every wisecrack he could in the 30 seconds he had to make fun of me.
It was humiliating. I will crush him the next time we hit the links.
What's more, the grass hasn't stopped growing here. And unless you've mowed Florida grass, you probably don't grasp how relentless this creature is. And I've been an outstanding yard manager this year. I'm not bragging; I'm just saying that it was a banner year because I put a lot of effort into it. I didn't neglect my lawn. Mowed it every week.
And I'm still mowing! It's not over! I want it to be over! Why can't it be over?! It's supposed to be over! It's October; it's supposed to be COOL. The grass should stop growing so fast by now. But it hasn't been that way.
Plus, when it gets down to it, I'm just selfish. I feel entitled. I don't know why, but I feel like October is my month. I want to walk outside to my truck & have there not be any humidity in the air. I'd like to not be scrambling to click on the A/C as quickly as I can. In fact, I'd like to roll down the window & fill my nostrils with the crisp air of a cool, fall day. Gosh. Just typing that makes me yearn even more. And that is supposed to happen in October. Why hasn't that happened yet here in October?
"Okay! We get it. It's hot in Florida & you hate it." Sorry. So what am I getting at?
Fair weather. I love fair weather. Who doesn't? Who isn't a fan of a crisp fall day?? Nobody, that's who. I want to declare this openly & loudly: I'm a fan of fair weather.
"STOP! What are you REALLY getting at?"
Well, not only am I a fan of fair weather, but I'm also a fair weather fan. There. I said it. I root harder for winners than I do for losers. But at least I'm honest about it. Seriously: who in their right mind roots harder for losers than they do for winners? Nobody, that's who! Nobody "in their right mind" that is. Nuts & weirdies root hard for losers. And I'm not gonna be one of those nuts or weirdies.
The season's over & we can call it now: the Red Sox royally sucked this season. The only reason they won the Wildcard is because the Rangers collapsed quicker than Boston could. They suffered through injuries (Wakefield, Dice-K, Lowell, etc.) & underperforming seasons (Ortiz, Pedroia, Bay, Varitek, etc.) across the board. Bottom line: they didn't have it this season. It wasn't close.
But you know what was even more disappointing? It didn't seem like they cared. How quick was that Red Sox dugout cleared out after the game was over? I saw Jason Bay give what looked like a cursory, token "blank stare out to the field watching the other team celebrate." That's about it. I'm not the only one who noticed this. I'm almost certain that it's this that motivated The Sports Guy to say this after the Game 2 loss: "If you're expecting me to throw remotes, punch walls & go for 2-hour dog walks for this lifeless '09 Sox team, think again."
Because this group didn't care. Not like those Angels cared; that much was very plain. And certainly not like the fans cared. My Lord... Red Sox fans sell out games & buy merchandise at a rate that would juice the economy if it happened in the cities of the other 29 MLB teams. If any fanbase has ever loved their team & blindly rooted for laundry, it is Red Sox fans. But, as the movie line goes, did the Red Sox love them back? I say no.
I've been having this on-going conversation with some Braves fans, too. The Braves have this new General Manager who is tarnishing the once good name of the Atlanta franchise. He's offending Hall of Famers left and right. He's botching deals, as he did last offseason with Rafael Furcal. He over-spent to nab Derek Lowe because he mis-read the market, thought there would be better pitching available, and panicked to bring in the best remaining option. Mark my words (Dan!): given more time, Frank Wren is going to run the Braves into the ground.
Little do Braves fans recognize this, though. Oh, the die-hards are convinced that next year is their year. As hard as I've tried to convince them of their GM's folly -- of his poor record doing business, of his strange signings -- they're convinced that Wren out-paces every other GM in baseball. Really. And they've invested their hopes & dreams into this guy who is leading them off a cliff.
So since when is rooting for those teams a measure of someone's devotion? Sounds sick to me. Pouring your care into a careless team. Investing your hopes in a hopeless franchise. It is folly I say.
Just ask a Green Bay Packers fan. Ask them what it's like to love a player like a son, only to see him rip your heart in the most careless, disloyal way imaginable. What's that like? Thankfully we were enlightened, courtesy Bill Simmons:
Question: I am 19 years old. I have been a fan of Favre and the Packers since the third grade. I grew up thinking Favre could do no wrong. As a mature 17-year-old, I cried the day he retired from the Packers. I was tolerant of the Jets experiment -- even have the jersey to prove it. But what am I supposed to do now? Tonight I watched my childhood hero stomp all over the team and the fans he represented for 16 years. I found myself cursing him for the very same reasons I used to love him. The phony TD celebrations, the smug smiles, the way he hams it up with his new teammates and his new fans. I don't know how to handle it. I started this e-mail thinking I had something to say about all of this, but I just feel lost. I don't know what to think anymore ... I'm just lost.
--Drew, Bloomington, Ind.
Simmons: And that's the part of Monday's game that got lost. Every Packers fan felt like how a dutiful wife would feel if she stuck with her husband through thick and thin, watched him become a success, then got dumped for a younger trophy wife who also happened to be her archnemesis. Favre failed in the same way Roger Clemens failed when he signed with the Blue Jays in 1997 -- his problems with management affected his feelings toward his old franchise, and he did a piss-poor job of letting his old fan base know that he still cared about it. I have written about this before, but I turned on Clemens during his Toronto news conference when he simply refused to acknowledge Boston fans beyond a few generic words. It hurt. I took it personally and decided he was an opportunistic, disloyal, dishonest scumbag from that moment on. And as it turned out, he was.
In Favre's case, his lack of empathy for Packers fans has been really alarming. I know he plays with his heart on his sleeve. I know he's a "kid out there" and "having a ball out there" and all the crap. And maybe he's not a brain surgeon, but he's smart enough to understand what he meant to Packers fans and the state of Wisconsin, which means he had to understand how it went over after he (A) signed with an NFC North team two months ago; (B) dialed up the finger-pointing and fist-pumping during Monday's Pack-Vikes game so egregiously that even his biggest fan fron Green Bay couldn't defend him; and (C) gave that self-satisfied postgame interview in which he never said anything like, "I just wanted to say hi to everyone back in Wisconsin and tell them that this was as strange for me as it probably was for you, but I want you to know that it was just one game -- a game that I wanted to win because I'm a competitor and I love my teammates, but still, none of this changes the fact that I love you guys and I always will." That's it. That's all he had to say to Michele Tafoya after the game.
He didn't say it.
And believe me, I've been there as a fan. It's unforgivable. Especially when you're under 30 and don't realize that many of your "heroes" are people who don't deserve that level of worship, or any worship, for that matter. They just play sports well. They don't care about you. They care about themselves and that's it. If this realization hits you at the wrong time in your life, it can be hard. (I know it was hard for me. I took the Clemens thing personally, as witnessed by the fact that I once wrote a column wondering if he was the Antichrist.) So if the Packers fans want to play along, so to speak, then they can't cheer Favre on Nov. 1. He set the stakes. He made it clear that he's moved on with his new team and cut all ties to the old one. That means you need to go to Lambeau and boo the living hell out of him. Make him miserable. Rattle him. Flummox him. Do everything you can to get the better of him for three hours. This man does not belong to you anymore, and maybe, he never did.
Wow. Truth is sobering, isn't it?
You know what, let's call it: Hosea was a SICK man. There's a reason that his is an awkward story to tell in Church. Marrying a prostitute? Expecting her to remain as faithful & pure as he was? That's like Favre fanhood to the extreme. Which, I mean, for Hosea, is just unimaginable the amount of grief & pain & sorrow he had to wrestle with so often. ONLY God is capable of executing that kind of love and faithfulness. Not us. And that's the point of the book. It's right there in chapter 11 verse 9:
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath
Only God can do that. I mean, it'd drive a man insane to love to that degree of passion & have it not returned.
In fact, in terms of Scriptures that are a model, I default to Psalms 22 on this one. That Psalm where David just opens up on God without any pretense: "My God My God, why have you forsaken me?" It's like he's saying, "Hey Father... this situation I'm in right now -- this is really awful. I'd like to tell you how very awful I think it is." And David goes on to describe his plight in detail. He wrestles with ideas like God's faithfulness, and his own worthiness, and several other similar worries that we all have anxiety over when we're in the midst of trial.
But you know what: if David were being measured by the people who measure fanhood in 21st century America, the man after God's own heart would be only a fair-weather follower.
And I say that's rubbish. David was wallowing in his pessimism, but at least he was taking it to the right place. David was keeping it real, but he wasn't quitting God. He wasn't going down to some Baal or Molek to offer his worship there. He was taking it to God & dumping the full load with HIM: in all it's gritty, unpolished glory.
And here's the point I want to stress to a certain doubter of my fanhood: I'm not putting pinstripes on over here. Just because I can spot an apathetic loser when I see one doesn't mean that I'm leaving Red Sox Nation. I'm staying true to my team. But in doing that, I'm not losing the ability to stay true to myself.
I want to offer as a model of honorable fair weather fanhood my cousin Jason. I have to admit: I'm biased. I love this guy. He's one of my favorite people in the world to spend time around. And that for lots of reasons that I'll spare you from me listing here.
One of the greatest things about Jay, though, is his passion. It comes through so clear on the golf course. When he hits a bad shot, it kills him. Every time. And when he's squared off trying to compete against his brother Barry, it kills him double. Jason is a passionate guy.
This passion comes out in funny ways as it relates to his beloved Crimson Tide, too. I'll never forget the referees running out of the stadium -- running right by he & I -- at the tail end of the 1997 'Bama/Mississippi State game. Alabama had been conquered that day, and Jason wasn't in a good mood. So he taunted those referees. And don't worry: Jason's Mormon, he kept it clean. He just let them know that they SUCKED on that day. ;) And if you ask him about it today, he will work himself into just as much of a frenzy as he was in at that moment.
Oh, and there's also the time where he almost picked a fight after a win. It was October 2nd, 1999. Alabama had just defeated the #3 Florida Gators. IN the Swamp, where the Gators hadn't lost a game in 5 whole years. It was a high moment in all our lives. We felt like kings walking back across campus in our crimson polo shirts. That is, until someone dared taunt the kings. Some drunk guy started heckling us with, "You guys suck! You don't even know what top 5 is!!" Well, Jason isn't the type to turn the other cheek at that. "Hey loser!!... We just beat you IN YOUR OWN HOUSE!" Well, this drunk guy kept following us. And Jason kept not backing down. Until finally we've walked up to this guy's fraternity house, and Jason is standing out on the front lawn red-faced yelling at this clown. He was just about to follow the guy into his FRATERNITY HOUSE. We literally grabbed him to pull him out of that spot & back to my apartment.
I hope you'll believe me when I tell you that Jay is a passionate man. And so, just like his errant shots on the golf course, it kills him a little inside each time Alabama loses. And having a decade like Alabama had from 1997-2007, with 2 separate probations and 3 losing seasons, it was almost enough to crush his spirit.
But Jason figured it out toward the end of the Tide's decade of futility. Whenever 'Bama played, he just went to play golf. I couldn't believe it! This guy who loves Alabama football more than I've ever loved anything in my life. I gave him a hard time about it. How could he do it? Well, for one thing, he taped all the games. And he had a simple rule. When he got home, he'd ask his wife who won. If Alabama won, he'd watch the tape. If Alabama lost, the tape was tossed.
Lots of tapes were tossed.
But Jason made a simple realization about life that I hope each one of you will adopt: He was too passionate to put up with mediocrity. His heart was too big, his love was too strong, and the object of his affection was too small for him to continue down the path of experiencing one heart-wrenching loss after another. So he made that simple calculation: "It's not worth it."
And danged if he's not right! Sports isn't worth it. Sports is never worth it. That is, not when the "it" is putting up with rampant mediocrity & disappointment.
It's as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23 -- "Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the wellspring of life." I don't know why we subject our hearts to so much anguish over such trivial matters. It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis famously put it:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
You know what I recommend to Florida State fans right now? Go play golf! Go savor the good things in life. Seek out fair weather wherever it may be found in your life. If in the Noles won, then fire up that DVR and enjoy the show. If they lost, then forget about it. It's JUST football.
Why is that so hard for people to say? "It's just football." "It's just baseball." I'm convinced that it's hard because we wrap our sense of self-worth & personal pride in our sports tribe of choice. So that when the tribe succeeds, it's like we succeed. But when the tribe fails, it's just as if we failed.
And, to me, that's sickening. It's just revolting. Because when your fanhood becomes THAT, it's tantamount to idol worship. And so we then begin to measure someone's virtue -- someone's loyalty -- by their mindless, automaton-like sense of devotion to a sports team? How poor a measure is that!
I've got an idea: How about we try measuring people's virtue & loyalty by things that really matter? Like how well they love their wives. Or how well they raise their kids. Or how healthy they grow their puppies? Or how green they keep their lawns? Even over months & months of oppressive heat!
(That's right: it's all about me here)
I'm not saying just to go root for winners. Definitely don't do that. That's not fanhood. That's being a front-runner. No, don't be like the louses that I grew up with who were fans of the Seminoles, Cowboys, and Bulls. Please. Don't go changing teams.
But here's what I am saying: choose to go enjoy the good weather wherever good weather may be found. That's what I'm doing. It's a High Tide in Alabama. That's why you have to put up with my obnoxious "Power 12" rankings every week. Because I am as into that as President Obama is into being on the TV!! A baseball playoffs commercial on TBS? Really, Mr. President?
So may you enjoy the good weather wherever that good weather may be found. It'll do your heart some good to enjoy the crisp purity of refreshing air in some other slice of life. Because too much of the rest of life is bad weather. Why put up with it in your hobbies & recreation? I mean, there are more important things in life than a sports franchise that deserve that from you which is precious above all else: your devotion & your loyalty. So may you find fair weather spaces in your life to invest your heart where it's safe & where it's rewarded.
And, while we're at it, may the good Lord bless me with some cool Fall air. Please?