Today is What Sports Are All About

I’ve been on pins and needles all week, avoiding any undue trash talk regarding my beloved Minnesota Vikings. Commence eye-roll if you could care less about the NFL, but this Conference Championship weekend — arguably the best week of the football season.

Why not the Super Bowl? Because of the circus and theatrics that surround it. It’s the only sporting event where viewers are excited to see commercials. There’s classic, but safe rock performances at halftime — this year, The Who. Whichever network broadcasts the Super Bowl takes every opportunity to plug their shows. (“The Colts’ third-down is brought to you by N.C.I.S., the No. 1 show on television!”) The Super Bowl is the most hyperbolic event in the world. Am I the only one who finds it silly that 2 BILLION people worldwide watch it?

The Vikings fan experience was epitomized by a grueling loss in the 1998 NFC Championship game.

This is probably me trying to minimize the majesty of the Super Bowl, because it would mean everything today if my Vikings somehow defeated the New Orleans Saints to advance. That’s a fickle matter in itself, because there’s every reason in the world to pull for New Orleans. Minnesota has never endured a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. (No, the Jesse Ventura’s gubernatorial tenure doesn’t compare.) All week, the national media has made it apparent the Saints are not only favored to win, but they deserve to win. I understand sentimentality runs high, but neither win nor loss will help rebuild New Orleans’ 8th Ward. It may be a morale-booster, but football is football is football. New Orleans will be OK.

And you know what? If the Vikings lose, I’ll be OK, too. This is just sports, just pure entertainment. As a sports fan, you must revel in the inconsequentiality of it all. Vikings football, to me, is a tradition. I was raised a fan and spent every Sunday growing up glued to the TV, eating my dad’s chili, cheering on the Purple and Gold with my family. I interviewed and wrote about several Vikings as a college journalist and with the Mankato (MN) Free Press. I even worked for the Vikings’ sales & marketing team one summer, which meant living in the dorms with the Vikings during training camp. (I’ve stood between Pat Williams and Bryant McKinnie going through a lunch line. This was my closest brush with death.)

I have a sordid history with the Vikings. I sat in our family sports bar when I was 14 and watched the Vikings choke against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship game. I was absolutely demoralized again two years later during the NFC Championship game when they were throttled 41-0 by the New York Giants. The heartbreak experienced when the team you love loses is similar to what you go through the first time you’re ever dumped: You wonder why you ever cared and you wonder how you could ever care again.

It’s 2010 now. A decade has gone by since I’ve felt this feeling of hope, of anxiety, of boyishness. I’ve been giddily sipping my coffee all morning, listening to KFAN on my iPhone, reading up on all the latest news surrounding the game. A win today only ensures a chance at winning the Super Bowl. I can’t tell you, exactly, what it would mean to actually win the Super Bowl. I can’t think that far ahead.

This is the day you would want to introduce a skeptic to professional sports. If you consider how much of their lives have been devoted to football, you will better appreciate the raw emotion that comes with winning a conference title game and earning a Super Bowl bid. The players, too, are feeling hopeful, anxious and boyish as they take the field today for a chance to play out their dreams. On a very basic, human level, today, you get to understand why sports are good.

Not important, by any means, but good.

UPDATED at 7:58 p.m.

Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)

I hate sports.