Gault: For the Love of the Game

I like sports.

To those who know me, this is a massive understatement I love sports.

I know things about sports that no one should know, like the last 30 winners of the Heisman Trophy. I get mad at other fans when they don’t watch New England Patriots games. I may take sports a little too seriously, and I’m often asked, Why? Why do I care about the outcome of a game played between two teams of people I have never met and will likely never meet?

There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest are days like May 13, 2012. That was the day that Manchester City won the Barclays Premier League and 48,000 fans at the Etihad Stadium with millions more watching on TV around the globe experienced a moment the likes of which only sports can offer.

I will try to set the scene for those unfamiliar with that day, but I have always found that telling someone about an awesome game I have watched is like telling someone about an awesome movie that they have not seen.

I can hype it up all I want and explain how mind-blowing it was, but if they have not seen it for themselves, there is just no way that they can appreciate it in the same way as someone who was watching live. And if the person I am telling does not like sports, it is basically impossible to get a reaction from them.

Try explaining how great a movie was to someone who does not like movies and you get the idea.

But back to May 13. There is a backstory and, as is the case with many of sport’s greatest triumphs, it is long and painful. If I had the space, I would try to explain everything. But I am limited to these two columns, so long story short Manchester City has been the ugly stepbrother of Manchester soccer teams for the past four decades. While Manchester United reigned as one of the world’s most famous teams and racked up trophies left and right, Manchester City suffered through an extended dark period.

In 1999, the same year that United accomplished the unprecedented treble of winning the Premier League, F.A. Cup and Champions League, City was playing in the English third division. Heck, even when City won its last league title, in 1968, United did them one better by winning the European Cup.

On the afternoon of May 13, though, only one thing mattered. If City could just beat Queen’s Park Rangers one of the Premier League’s worst teams at home, the Blues would win their first league title in 44 years. But heading into stoppage time, City trailed, 2-1.

In that moment, the Etihad Stadium was one of the saddest places on Earth. As the camera panned the crowd, it showed fans with faces of utter dejection, many in tears or on the verge of them. The perfect chance for redemption had turned into the worst possible form of heartbreak.

Then Edin Dzeko scored. 2-2. And, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Sergio Aguero scored the goal that would give Manchester City its first title in 44 years.

What followed was pandemonium. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, the stadium erupted in a way that only a sporting arena can when everyone is rooting for the same thing to happen. Tears of despair turned into tears of pure joy.

I have never witnessed such a profound swing of emotions, and even though I was watching this unfold 3,000 miles away in my dorm room and I’m not a City fan, the moment still resonated with me as if I was right there.

Immediately, my dad called me and we spent several minutes babbling about how unbelievable, incredible and fill-in-the-adjective-here the events we had just seen were.

Being able to share a moment like that, whether it is with 48,000 complete strangers or my own father, is why I love sports. That’s why I follow sports so closely, why I watch so many games, why I care so deeply. Because every once in a while and with sports, you never know when it will happen next I have the chance to see something amazing, something unlike anything else on this Earth. It takes a big investment to get to that point, but to me, it is all worth it for days like May 13, 2012.

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