More Than a Game

Comments 30

On Jan. 17, 1988, I sobbed on the living room floor while my mom yelled at me for crying.

“It’s just a football game, Matt! It’s not that important!” she said.

Even though I was only 8, I knew she was wrong.

My stepdad had walked out of the house without saying a word. He didn’t take a coat even though it was freezing out there.

We just watched the Cleveland Browns fumble away the Super Bowl, and my stepdad and I were devastated.

“It’s not that important!”

My stepdad took a long time to come back inside.

Don’t tell me what’s important. I wanted my favorite team to win in the biggest game of the year, and when they didn’t, I cried because it hurt, and I don’t give a shit whether that makes sense to anyone.

Don’t tell me it didn’t matter, because my heart broke, which means it mattered.

People care about what they care about. I respect almost any demonstration of enthusiasm and passion, even if I lack interest in the subject.

My mom didn’t understand why a football game could mean so much.

A lot of people don’t.

Maybe it’s because we live in Ohio, and Ohio is “boring,” so we all care about things like football, basketball and baseball more than people who live in places where surfing and mountain climbing and Upper East Side parties and Hollywood Blvd. are viable options.

But we do care about these things. Passionately.


On Thursday, my favorite basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is going to begin a best-of-seven (first team to win four games wins) series that will determine this year’s NBA champion.

Anyone even loosely familiar with American professional sports knows the city of Cleveland has not won a pro sports championship since 1964—the longest drought of any major U.S. city. The national media reminds us all the time because they’re evil sadists.

Under normal circumstances, that would make us media darlings—the You can do it! underdogs many of us love to root for.

But somewhere between the feel-good story that is the Golden State Warriors and their totally likable superstar (NBA MVP Stephen Curry who is super-easy to root for) and the bizarre hateful-admiration combo many people feel toward Cleveland superstar LeBron James, I get the sense most people will be rooting for the Warriors. And that’s fine.


Here’s the thing I want people who don’t care to understand: I’m not rooting for the millionaire athletes you don’t believe deserve the praise and admiration and money and attention they get.

I’m rooting for my friends.

Kris and Todd and Dusty and Steve and Tim and Angie and Nate and people I’m forgetting to name. Long-time Clevelanders who have faced heartbreak after heartbreak from the bloody front lines. They’ve been waiting their entire lives for this. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for my neighbors. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for co-workers and the people I see walking around in Cavs hats and jerseys. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for my tribe. The people who live where I live and care about what I care about. We deserve it.

A common interest is not always enough to bring people together.

But in Ohio? In Cleveland? That’s exactly what it does.

Because it’s more than a game.


30 thoughts on “More Than a Game”

  1. i cried all the way to work when i heard on npr that an elderly russian cellist i have never met died.

    which translates into “i understand caring like that”…

    sometimes it’s the more esoteric parts of life that keep us achingly human. the total absence of that gut response is a scary prospect…. yet more and more it seems humans are devoid of emotional attachments to non-material life.

    1. I love this comment and your sense of understanding more than you might realize.

      Thank you for that.

  2. Long time NBA fan here, and with my favorite team (San Antonio) out of the mix I’m a bit torn on the finals.

    The Warriors have some likeable players, and play an exciting brand of basketball. But I’m actually pulling for Cleveland. I would like to see Lebron further his legacy with a 3rd title while bringing a title to Cleveland. Plus I think they are the underdogs here, and unless I have a personal stake (ie the Spurs are involved) I usually root for the underdog.

    Either way, I’m hoping for an exciting finals.

    1. I’m the exact same way. In the absence of a rooting interest, I always lean underdog. And I do think we are slight underdogs here.

      I’m trying to simply enjoy it. But it’s pretty much impossible not to get emotionally invested.

      I suspect you understand quite well.

      Thanks for the note, sir.

  3. Although Iam a Bay Area native and a rabid Giants (baseball ) fan. Iam totally a fair weather Warriors fan and am pretty excited about the upcoming series. The Warriors have had a fairly long drought on a championship ,40 years but I really appreciate getting your perspective on your beloved Cavs, & Browns. I get the Tribe vibe and respect that feeling very much. We feel the same way here in San Francisco and have been super lucky the past few years with the Giants (and somewhat w/ the 49ers)…. So that being said at the end of the day we are ALL connected . You (Matt) bring me much joy with your writing , may the best team win but I’ll be a little less sad if our Dubs lose knowing that the victory will lift a whole city and Tribe up !

    1. This was awesome. Thank you. As much as I want the Cavs to win, objectively speaking, the Warriors are as easy a team to root for as we’ve seen in a long time.

      This made me smile.

  4. I am not a sports fanatic (although, truth be told, I do bleed Dodger Blue)…but I like to root for the home-team. I am passionate for the Olympics ~ not because I love Sports but because I am fiercely loyal to the U.S. I even find myself rooting for states that my friends live in if no home team needs my allegiance….hence my MAJOR disappointment at the first game of March Madness 2 years ago when I picked Ohio (because of you) and they killed my billion dollar expectations. {Insert raging fist wave here}. But this? Your state is playing MY STATE! . . . and “we” are not the underdogs.

    Silver lining: I can root for the home-team and have a reason to rejoice in the (*Cough, cough)*unlikely(cough*) event that we lose. #Ireallyhopeyouwin

    1. People from Los Angeles are not allowed to call teams from the Bay Area the “home team.” You already have TWO!

      That said, thank you kindly for the hashtag!

  5. Imagine what would happen in Chicago if the hapless Cubs actually made it to the World Series. The town would be up for grabs. Now, imagine that we’ve actually forced the series to go all 7 games. It’s the bottom of the 9th, score tied, two men out, winning run on base—- then a bone-headed play manages to blow the whole thing. Yeah—- I kinda get where you’re coming from. It’s your HOME TEAM! Doggone right it’s important!

    Now, as it happens I’m not a Cubs fan. Never have been, my sympathies such as they are being more for our South-Side team. But— to get that close after all these years, and to lose so close to victory– it would be heartbreaking, no doubt about it.

    As it is, once again the hapless North Side team is again unlikely to get into the World Series. They may get close– maybe second team in their division– but actually getting the Pennant, and then into the Series? Not a chance. That curse of the goat seems pretty potent even after all those years.

  6. I grew up in Houston with Oilers, Astros and Rockets – it wasn’t until I left that they got into the championship mode. I watched the Oilers lose two to the Steelers and then disintegrate when I was in high school. My wife and her family are from rural Southwest Ohio and they are Browns fans. Ohio has been hit hard – they deserve a championship and should have a couple more if Lebron hadn’t bailed and gone to the Heat. Go Cavs!

          1. I attended kindergarten there. My mother graduated high school there.

            My sweet grandmother I always mention lives there.

            Small world. Always.

    1. Starts tomorrow night. I’m giddy. Your kind intentions are more than enough. Thank you. 🙂

      1. Yeah, have to admit I thought CLE was on the verge of collapsing there. And with such a short bench due to injuries and the heavy minutes being played, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

        Glad to see they pulled through though.

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Matt Fray

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