Something strange happens to a person when they are watching sports. One starts to feel that if, oh....if we could...just....score...that everything will be better. Things will taste better, you will suddenly look skinnier in the mirror, 2+2 will equal 5 and if you have a dollar and your friend has a dollar, you will somehow have more money than him. I know it sounds crazy but that is sometimes how I, and millions and millions of other people, feel.
It seems that these feelings are always amplified in times of hardship. During the Depression, people rooted on Seabiscuit, not only because he was a great racehorse, but because his small stature compared to the other thoroughbreds seemed to symbolize America's struggle at the time, a great horse who remained great even after all of his troubles. It is a curious thing that America always loves the underdog. Are we the only country that feels this way? I've thought about it for a long time and I think the reason for it is that we have a large capacity to believe in miracles. We know they've happened before. We've chronicled them and discussed them and when ever someone is in need of a miracle, though it is unlikely, we still feel that it CAN happen.
This elation of feelings was something I went through as I watched the Arizona Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most storied franchises in football, tied with the Cowboys and 49ers for the most Super Bowl wins, with the #1 defense in the league and the hot-shot quarterback Ben Roethelsberger who always bravely sacrifices himself to make a play going against the lowly Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst franchises in the NFL, who had never won an NFC Championship much less a Super Bowl, helmed by an old and battered Kurt Warner who, before this season started, had to fight to keep his quarterback position from the young, inexperienced, and frankly not-that-good Matt Leinart. Everyone thought that the Steelers would win but they also thought that maybe...just maybe...the Cardinals could get it done. And what a story that would be! It had to happen. It just had to. God would grant us this small mercy in these times of trouble.
When Arizona took the lead in the 4th quarter, to go up 23-20 with 2:30 left on the clock, they had the momentum and we knew their defense, who had played so well the entire game, could put it away. Couldn't they? Emotions were high and I began to feel that if they could pull it off, then everything would be right with my life. Miracles do exist and it would be proof.
But how deflating and draining it was when, with :35 seconds left, the Steelers scored the game-winning touchdown even though the Cardinals had three guys covering him. It was an amazing play. Even I have to admit that. But the play took everything out of me and everyone else in the room. No one talked. We had believed but our dreams had been dashed by one throw and catch.
How much did the game mean? Probably nothing. I'm not even a Cardinals fan. But, at the time, the game became so much more. Miracles do exist but that night they were elusive. My heart goes out to the Cardinals who played so well when no one gave them a chance and who sadly, will probably not be back to the Super Bowl for a very long time. But the saddest thing of all was to miss seeing something that we knew was in our grasp. We could have held it up in front of everyone's face and said, "That night, no one was better than us. And you can't take that away from us." And though its sad that we cannot say that, we can take comfort that though we were not the best, we hung in there with the best all the way till the end. Never quitting or letting up. Perhaps theres a miracle in that. It'll have to do.