Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Enjoy the Journey

The week after the Super Bowl, I happened to be corresponding via e-mail with some friends back East—New England Patriots fans—and naturally their mood was gloomy. Actually, dark depression describes it best. Here they went from being so close to being on top of the world—AN UNDEFEATED SEASON—and instead they were just the last victim of the incredible late season run the New York Giants put on.

Green Bay Packer fans happened to feel the same sting just two weeks earlier. After one of the most memorable playoff games in Packer history, complete with a stirring comeback from two touchdowns behind and a lovely snowstorm that made the whole atmosphere seem like a winter dreamscape, there was nothing but bitterness and an empty feeling at the end of the game, combined with the sobering realization that opportunities to go to the Super Bowl don’t come around that often. Who knows when Green Bay will make it to the NFC Championship again? Next year? Ten years from now?

It got me to thinking about this whole notion of whether winning really is “the only thing.” If that’s true, in professional sports the only way to feel satisfied at the end of a season is to win the Championship, or to not make the playoffs at all but win your final game. In the latter case, at least you get to experience that “we’ll get ‘em next year” solace, that hopeful anticipation of the upcoming season.

Perhaps sports fans should enjoy the journey instead; we should try to remember the thrill of each and every victory during the season, each amazing play we witnessed. After all, even losing teams have highlight reels.

I learned this lesson when I was a kid and went to PGA Golf Tournaments on a regular basis. I had several favorite players I rooted for, and I was always disappointed when the tournament was over and my players didn’t win. Then it dawned on me: the chances of any single player winning a given tournament, especially one I happened to attend, are extremely slim. It’s possible I would never see one of my favorite players win in person. With that in mind, I learned how to enjoy the event for the event itself, not the outcome.

As it turned out, I never did see one of my favorite players hoist the trophy at the end, but now, twenty years or more later, I still remember the thrill of having them in contention on Sunday afternoon at Augusta or Pebble Beach. I remember the excitement of being in the middle of the cheering crowds.

The journey. That’s the important thing.

(But, I have to admit I didn’t watch the Super Bowl because I was still angry the Packers didn’t make it).

This “enjoy the journey” concept will require a little more practice on my part.

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