During the Barça game on Saturday, I hung out at my parents’ house. I did immensely fun activities like fixed a car seat in my mom’s car. Then I went to get tacos with my family. Solid afternoon, really. Sometimes it takes all of my willpower to not check the score or not read my group chat on Whatsapp in which my friends and I wax lyrical about all things blaugrana, but today I didn’t really even wonder. I’m relaxed about this and maybe that’s just where I am mentally, where sports are just a distraction from reality and not the actual reality.
I mean, okay, so I watched the game after I got home. It’s not like I didn’t watch. My daughter drew at her table nearby and occasionally joined me on the couch for some quick information about the game. When Luis Suarez pinged the ball off the post and then Messi followed that up with his own post shot, the little one wanted to know if my yell meant another goal. My wife told her that no, it meant they hadn’t scored. A few minutes later, she came over to me to point out that we weren’t watching basketball. Then Messi scored his second and the team’s fifth and she wanted to know who he was.
“That’s Lionel Messi. He’s the best soccer player in the world,” I told her.
She shook her head. What kind of sacrilege was this? In my very own home I had an infidel?
“I am the best soccer player in the world.”
Oh, well, okay. I can handle that. My wife pointed out we should probably put her on a team if that were the case. My daughter then curled up on me and watched a few minutes, which is about as pleasurable a way to watch sports as there is. Being a parent and a sports fan can weird sometimes, with the need to balance the world, but when the two things combine, it’s just a way to breath deeply and feel a close connection with your little one. We were both rooting for the same team and—
“Which team is Barça?” she asked in the 75th minute. Hmm.
I then paused the game and took my daughter off to brush her teeth and get her ready for bed. Not as a punishment, of course, but because that was the timing involved. Sports are a great way to share things with family and friends—emotions, connections, awkward public rituals involving choreographed chants and matching clothing—but nothing beats reading a book to your kid while she curls up on your lap. Even if it’s the same Babar book time and again. Seriously, though, Babar and Celeste have some issues with hubris, not to mention democracy and I’m not really down with it.
Whoever is the best player, only one of those in the debate will be on the field on Wednesday when Barça takes on PSG in the return leg of what amounts to a dead rubber. 4-0 down going into the second leg is hardly the barrel you want to be staring down and it seems unlikely that Barça will make it out with anything other than an elimination. And you know what? That’s okay.
No, really, it is.
Look, I want Barça to overcome this and make history and win the world and never look back. I want Lucho to be carried through the streets on the team’s shoulders as a tribute to his brilliance. But the problem is that the first leg happened and while I’ll be avoiding all things news related all of Wednesday, running home to have dinner and put my little girl who thinks she’s better than Messi (she is, goddammit, and don’t you say otherwise or I’ll find you) to bed, then I’ll curl up on the couch with (several) cold beer(s) and hope for the best. Yet, throughout the day I expect to be calm rather than over-the-top excited like before the Inter Milan comeback-that-wasn’t or, really, many of the other remuntadas that have happened over the years. Part of it is my age, part of it is my place in life as a dad and husband, part of it is how freaking busy I am at work.
But most of it is the Kansas Jayhawks.
I don’t think it will shock you if I tell you that I love the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team. It may shock you to know that I am more vociferous in my fandom for KU than I am for Barça, but the truth is that basketball is how I spoke to my dad for all those years when speaking to my dad was tough thanks to youth, hormones, and general adolescence. So I’m more emotional, more connected, in a way, than I am with Barcelona, whose moves I try to analyze somewhat dispassionately. Kansas is just a bunch of kids running around dunking on fools and winning 13 (!) consecutive conference titles. And yet this year, a year in which they’ve ended the regular season as the top ranked team in the country is the year that I have been the least psychotic. Maybe it’s because they keep gutting out wins or maybe it’s because my expectations were not as high as they sometimes are, but whenever we’re down, I just sit back and enjoy the sheer brilliance of the team. And they always come up with the goods. Down for 14 with 3 minutes to go against West Virginia? Win. Down 12 against Oklahoma? Win. Down against Baylor? (Rock) Chalk it up.
The defining feature of all of this has been that this Kansas team is the most fun Kansas team I have ever watched. Certainly under Bill Self, whose M.O. has always been to control the half court and crush the life out of games whenever that benefits him. Maybe he just doesn’t have the tools to do so this year with a 7-man rotation, but whatever it is, I sit down to watch Kansas and I get to watch a thrilling contest. The team just goes out there and does…things. Stuff. Sportsball. They throw alley oops and miss easy passes and hit so many 3s and miss layups and commit stupid fouls. It’s the fun of watching kids on a slip and slide. Even losing to Iowa State at home was fun. You gotta shrug sometimes because every now and then you wake up with a kink in your neck or a stiffness in your legs and the day isn’t quite what you thought it would be.
That’s kind of how I feel about PSG: it was a bad day at the office and it killed the Champions League season, but hey, there’s always next year and anyway we’ve still got Neymar doing all sorts of outrageous things on the left wing and thats just incredible to watch. And oh yeah, that guy Messi is the second best player in the world behind my little girl.
And we might win. 3-1, I’ll say, which will feel tantalizingly close but that 1 goal will mean they’d have to ship 6 total to lose and, well, yeah that’s not going to happen. We can all agree that letting in a single goal completely sinks whatever is left of the ship. Is that how shipwrecks work? Well it is now.
Whatever happens, let’s have the fun we had against Celta. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. And losing always sucks, but there are worse things that can happen and most of them involve watching sports in a bad mood, as if somehow a negative outcome of a match is a reflection on you, on your life choices, or your intelligence. It’s not, don’t worry. We’ve all already judged you for so many other things, as it is. Like how that new haircut totally makes you look like your mom. Which is fine cause your mom is pretty cool, but she’s not a fashion icon. Unless you’re Blue Ivy, in which case, can you please tell your mother I really liked her latest album and maybe can she tweet about how great BFB is and also would she and Queen Serena like to hang out for a day?
As this season winds down over the next few months, let’s try to experience it with joy, with excitement. Let’s go out there and show PSG how many times they can get nutmegged in a single match. And also how many goals they can let in. Hopefully it’s 5. Maybe even 6 just for good measure.
I sure do like Barcelona and I hope they win. I’ll be over here smiling, even if they don’t.