On Sunday, I settled onto the couch in the den and turned on the TV to watch the Steelers’ first game of the NFL season. While many may sneer at spending three hours following a contest whose outcome you can’t control, I draw comfort in the exercise.
It’s like slipping on that old grey, tattered sweatshirt I keep in the back of my closet; it always fits. A soothing feeling settles over me when I put on that thread-bare garment. Same with watching my team, no matter the result. We click after all these years. I know the players, the coaches, the history.
My squad returns an interception for a touchdown to take an early lead. The texts start firing. I have a longtime friend who is a diehard fan of the Bengals, the Steelers’ opponent. We begin some good-natured ribbing. After all, we have a standing bet each time our teams square off, which happens twice a year. Another huge defensive play by the Black and Gold. Now my group chat with my closest buddies lights up, offering encouraging words that Pittsburgh might pull off this upset on the road. We are up by 11 points at halftime, and I feel upbeat. The Steelers are playing great. I am connecting with my people, and a lightness settles in my chest.
We don’t fare as well in the second half. The lead starts to slip away, and my phone buzzes again. My friend rooting against me weighs in with a playful jab via text. Then things get worse for the Steelers, and my buddies gang up to tease me. Still, despite my team’s struggles, I am enjoying it all, immersed in the familiar, forgetting life’s troubles for a while. The world, at times, seems to spin off kilter. Wars, viruses, natural disasters, and nasty politics dominate the news. Everyone copes in their way. For me, losing myself in the unfolding competition helps.
The clock winds down in regulation, and it appears the Steelers have blown this one. A Bengals' touchdown ties the score, and a routine extra point will give them the win on the game's last play. Blocked! New life for my boys! In a crazy, back-and-forth overtime period, the Steelers prevail on a 53-yard field goal as time runs out. Victory! The inevitable texts resume.
Next week I might wear my old sweatshirt while I root for my team.