Column: For positive view, pay closer attention to the game

Column: For positive view, pay closer attention to the game

My Christmas wish came true a few weeks early this year.

Even though it was a few years overdue, I still accepted it with a warm embrace. My mind had been cluttered and my opinions twisted. My once-reliable perception and affection had been altered and seemed gone forever.

What I had longed for – and desperately sought – was a time when the world of sports was pure.

It was a time when I could view a hockey game – from high school to the professional levels – and be thrilled with unconstrained joy at the gliding of a skater and the rapid movement of the puck.

In that pure moment, times were carefree and athletes weren’t under constant eyes of suspicion. The people and the events I watched were first and foremost considered in a positive light, long before any hesitation sunk in.

No activity in the world brought me more joy and fascination than the 24-hour world of sports – from an NFL wildcard battle in the NFC, to an NHL overtime period between two teams I had no knowledge of, to a late night West Coast extra-innings battle between two NL teams with zero relevance to the hometown team.

I could forget about salaries and market values, multi-millionaire athletes, unprovoked altercations and temperamental clubhouse egos.

I was sick and tired of marketing ploys, self-centered coaches, media-created rivalries, angry fans and straightforward games that were turned into entertainment.

But it’s changed now and there’s no turning back. I now remember why I love sports.

It all started with something simple. To forget the players, the coaches, the broadcasting team, the quality of play and the rooting interest. It was a healthy erasure of my spinning and hectic sports mind, and a blissful rehabilitation back into the sports fandom universe.

Part of the healing began with USC vs. UCLA, Saturday’s marquee football matchup that, with UCLA’s shocking 13-9 win and disruption of USC’s run to the national championship, was quickly called one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football.

While Trojans coach Pete Carroll roamed the sidelines with his usual positive vibe and the two teams struggled for possession and the lead, there was something to take from his demeanor. Carroll, after losing one of the most heartbreaking and shattering games of his career, barely blinked an eye when pressed on the subject by a reporter.

“Give credit to UCLA. They made it a difficult day,” he said to the Associated Press.

Where was my rooting interest? Nowhere. Where was the critical eye and the quickly-distracted mindset? Confidently blocked out.

Syracuse was playing basketball as well, and just before I had a chance to bemoan the NBA and my lack of passion for a college basketball team, I witnessed a down-to-the-wire, last-minute victory by underdog Wichita State.

As the minutes passed and the Orange stormed back from a significant gap, I felt the tension rising in the Carrier Dome. I had experienced the feeling before, and now it was back and clearer than ever.

The game was the interest. The competition, the style, the flow and the winner. Nothing more.

Another week of the NFL season flew by and this time, I could smile when watching a game. Instead of recalling ignorant, hot-headed team leaders angrily confronting members of the media in locker rooms, or watching coaches comically elevate the importance of their games, I could sit back and examine what I was seeing, while doing nothing less and nothing more.

The signing period of the winter baseball season continued, with more overpaid outfielders in the news, extra value placed on underachievers and strange rumors floating around a Red Sox front office questioned more often than a defendant in a courtroom.

I sat back this time, though. I forgot the personnel decision, the controversial trade or the frustrating wait. Instead, I focused on the game, and prepared once again for Opening Day, one of the best traditions in sports.

Negativity, I know, has roamed free and rampant. It was too easy, I remembered, to fall into its trap and spread its lazy, uninspired message.

Passion and devotion, though, that’s what I really wanted. And my wish has been granted.

This time, I’m never going to let it go.

– Jeff Powalisz can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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