The best thing about sports is not the sports. It's not the games, matches, and duels. It's not the confrontations. It's not the competition.
Rather, by far the best thing about sport is the anticipation of sport.
It's exactly like real life, where the best aspect is not necessarily living it but anticipating it.
Now, this is no down-in-the-mouth diatribe about how things never turn out right, blah, blah, blah. That's absurd. Of course, they do. Why, let's see, there was that exquisite moment back in the summer of '74, or was it '75, when.... Then, just before that, in perhaps the autumn of '56, yes, definitely the autumn of '56, when ....
Oh, stop. Relax. Don't click on your e-mail and berate Your Humble and Obedient Columnist for his negative outlook. That's a joke. A tiny, little joke, a 1 on the official 10-point Sporting Scene joke-o-meter.
Certainly things work out. Life not only can be good but often is. Yet, make no mistake, there is absolutely nothing like the anticipation of what it will be. Be honest. Did a school dance ever measure up to how much you looked forward to it? Graduation? Did the new diet regime deliver what you imagined? Did the new girlfriend or boyfriend, turn out to be Rhodes-smart? (And did you care? Sorry for the digression.) Was the weather as good on your vacation as you had hoped for? Did Mr. Right perchance ever turn out to be Mr. Wrong?
These days are perfect examples. We are just into the NBA championship series between Chicago, the block bullies with the swaggering attitude and supporting talent, against Utah, the never-quite-good-enough good guys anchored by the consistently sensational team player in a me, me, me sport, John Stockton.
Who knows how the best-of-seven series will go down but we're having the best part right now: The anticipation of each game. Gosh, maybe Michael Jordan will score 60 points in one game. Maybe he will be held to three and generally have his ears boxed by super Jazzman Karl Malone. Maybe Dennis Rodman's gross tattoos will fade and he will behave and convert to the Mormon Church. Come on, it could happen.
Do you figure the tradition-rich Detroit Red Wings will handle the whippersnapper Dallas Stars in hockey's semifinals?
Anticipation of sport affects our lives. Someone suggests going out to dinner. Naw, we'd miss the first half of the Bulls-Jazz. Someone wants to go see "The Horse Whisperer." What? And miss the hockey game? Are you nuts? And so we gather at someone's home for pizza and games. We look forward to them enormously, the games and the fellowship and good cheer, and when the games don't measure up - as often they don't - we don't mind because we had our fun in advance.
This anticipation extends to the participation sports. For those of us who grew up in the West, the cold-eyed truth is that a day skiing at Aspen was almost never as much fun as the anticipation of a day skiing at Aspen. Plans for a horseback trail ride in the Rockies were routinely far superior to the event, and certainly superior to the ensuing soreness.
But when the snow was poor or the weather atrocious or the horse notably disobedient, it didn't spoil the event because we had our fun in advance. Therefore, we instantly started making plans for the next trip to Aspen and hot chocolate at the historic Hotel Jerome and for our next trail ride. So soars the human spirit.
Granted, a case can be made that perhaps it is a too-shallow life that encompasses so little that all that is left is to look forward to a game. Please, goes this argument, there has to be more to life than getting worked up over the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. Can't conversational topics be more compelling than about Fenway Park's left-field wall and how Oakland home-run hitter Mark McGwire might fare if he played for Boston?
But it is true that too many of the world's populace work in assorted minimum-wage jobs where the position of the hands of the clock may dictate, in perfect bookends, joy and depression. Yet, that's the glory of anticipating sport, too, as diversion from our workaday lives.
There is absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing wrong with that.
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org