This, in combination with the Miami Heat’s recent defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, has officially removed the sting of the Celtic’s early exit from the playoffs for me. I can enter the summer with a glad heart and a eye toward my beloved New York Yankees.
I was watching alone last night when the Bruins won, and I was thrilled.
I cried in 1996 when the Yankees won the first of several World Series championships, and I cried again in 2001 when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. There were no tears last night. Though I watch the Bruins quite often and have loved them since I was a child growing up in Massachusetts, my emotional connection to them is simply night as strong as the other teams, perhaps because I root for them alone.
But despite the lack of tears, there was genuine euphoria when the final seconds ticked off the clock and the team mobbed Tim Thomas at the net to celebrate their first championship in nearly forty years.
A couple hours later, I climbed into bed, put my head on the pillow, and realized that the euphoria was already gone. I was still happy about the win, and thoughts of the game were still filtering through my mind, but I could already feel the joy rapidly diminishing.
When I awoke this morning, there was still happiness, and perhaps a little giddiness even, but it wasn’t the same feeling that I felt during those final ticks of the clock.
Not even close.
Here’s the thing:
For the athlete, the joy of the championship will live forever, because it is something that has been earned. My Little League team won the championship thirty years ago, and I am still joyous over that win, because I was a part of it. It was mine, and it still is.
But as a fan, almost all the joy that I experience comes from the journey to the championship and the culminate moment of victory. I live and die with my teams through every pitch, kick, dribble, and glove save, and in some minuscule way, I can share the field, the court and the ice with my teams. I feel the pressure of must-win game, the tension of an overtime contest, and I can celebrate with as much enthusiasm and excitement as the players on the field when they win.
But unlike them, that excitement disappears quickly. Almost immediately.
In some ways, the best part of any championship season for me are the final ten seconds of a game, when the season is still intact, the team is still intact, and the victory is all but assured.
Once the season has ended, the championship belongs to the players, and my grasp upon it quickly slips away.
I am not the Stanley Cup champion. I have not won the Super Bowl or the World Series or the NBA Finals.
If my team is not embarked on the journey to the championship, then it’s almost as if I have been kicked off the team. As they filter off the field or the court or the ice into the locker room, the celebration continues, but it does so without me.
For the fan, we know our teams as they exist on the field of play. Once they have left the field for the final time, they cease to exist for us.
Less than eight hours after the Bruins’ victory, I find myself sitting here, happy that my team has won, but already waiting for next season.
The Bruins will go on to parades and parties and days spent with the Stanley Cup. They will receive rings and recognition and will always be known as Stanley Cup champions of 2011. For each member of the team, this championship will live on forever.
For me, the memories will last. The happiness over the victory will last. But part of me is already sad that the journey is over, and that the team will never be quite the same again,
Already, I am anxious for another season to begin.
It is only during the chase that fans are truly joyous about their team’s championship, because it is only during the chase that we feel like we are also in the chase, a part of the team, urging our teammates onto greatness.