Sports-enthusiast friends have told me that going to a game is about the entire experience and not just the game, but I realized last night when my sons and I went to a hockey game why I am not a very good sports-enthusiast.
The three of us drove 20 miles or so to Springfield, a nearby middle-sized city, and parked across from the center where the game was to be played. Crowds swirled and eddied in the lobby where we picked up the tickets I had ordered. A young woman with a walkie-talkie pointed out where we should go and we went there.
The seats turned out to be about six feet from the Plexiglas barrier that separated the ice from the seats. The closeness to the ice and the people playing on it were compelling. Over the center of the rink was an enormous sign on which the score and video replays and other promotional material was housed and from which a booming voice encouraged cheering and purchasing.
And then the game began. Young men zipped and swooped and displayed their athletic abilities. They had my attention. They were pretty good at what they did and I was happy to watch them.
But just watching was not all of what the crowd had come for. They came to root for one side or the other. They came to scream. They came to applaud and egg on the fights that occasionally broke out on the ice. They came to sing and watch themselves being filmed on the screens over the rink. Their enthusiasms seemed a bit like a group orgasm, one in which the collective energy took them out of themselves and thereby brought them closer to themselves.
But I was somehow unable to find much in this group hug. I wanted to watch the game and be wowed by its skills and glory ... which I pretty much was. But I couldn't seem to get the hang of the 'total experience' my sporting-event enthusiast friends referred to. It seemed somehow beside-the-point, which may just mean I was beside-the-point. I wasn't critical about it. I just couldn't get the hang of it.
What it made me think of was the applause that follows in the wake of a folk singer who has invited the crowd to sing along. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's kind of fun. But the applause that follows is not just applause for the folk singer on stage ... it is applause for me, applause for us ... as if the concert put every audience participant in the stage spotlight ... which, in one quite obvious sense, they weren't. It was not enough to be enthralled ... I needed others to tell me to be enthralled. It is all very odd to me... which probably makes me odd.
Anyway, I was happy to be with my sons, to hang out, to watch the game and its skills and errors, to be delighted ... but I also came away thinking that I can understand watching games on TV instead of on-site. It's a narrower, less-visceral experience, watching the game on the boob tube, but it does allow me to focus on the game ... which is what I wanted to see in the first place.
It was a good time, whatever the wonderings it left me with. I guess I'll just have to settle for the fact that I don't see the 'total experience' as being the total experience. Others, of course, do.
And either way, it's the total experience, I reckon -- not something anyone could escape or embrace. There was a warmth to the crowd, despite LaRochefoucauld's observation that "the intelligence of the mass is inversely proportionate to its number." Warmth ... and who does not want to be warmed, whether it's in a sports arena or voting for George W. Bush? Critical observations can't hold a candle to the desire to be warmed, and criticizing that group-think effort (another version of seeking out warmth) is too facile by half.
I had a good time with my boys. I enjoyed the wonders of the game. That's enough for me.