For most of my life I have loved sports. It’s an addiction. When something important is on, like a playoff football game, the World Series, or even the World Cup, I can not be disturbed. (Lucky for me my wife is the same way!) Some people don’t understand it all the time, but there are those moments when everyone seems to get it. This past weekend was one of those moments.
I live for those moments in sports that seem to transcend the competition or even the result. The real sports addict waits around for those instances when they know they are witnessing not just a great competition, but a piece of human history. We all have Michael Phelps to thank for giving us one of the greatest and most historical of these moments we may ever see in our lifetime.
Besides writing for the American Public House Review, I am also a professional musician. This past Friday I was playing a restaurant in Secaucus, New Jersey. It is not a sports bar by any means, in fact it is mostly a place where people come for a quick bite to eat and maybe enjoy a drink or two. This night it was crowded and noisy, there were even a few rowdy birthday parties going on. It seemed nobody was paying any attention to the televisions showing the Olympics, or even my playing for that matter. But I timed my evening perfectly so that I took a break during Phelps’ 100 meter Butterfly. (I told you I was an addict) I just knew I needed to see this. Whether he blew the competition away or not, this seemed like something worth watching live.
As the crowd bustled, Phelps was at the ready. Just before the gun, someone at the bar told another patron sitting a few seats down that the race was about to start. He needed to yell to get over the crowd noise, but it seemed everyone in the entire place heard him anyway. As the swimmers splashed into the pool, people began to turn their attention to the televisions hanging over the bar. From all over the restaurant people stopped what they were doing and headed for the bar area. Entire families left their meals on the table and crowded into any space they could find with a view of a TV. It was oddly quiet as people stood entranced.
As Phelps hit the first turn, it was obvious he was not winning. Could we really expect perfection? Would this be the night the dream ended? Instead of being cynical or disappointed, the crowd began to urge him on. From all over the building people were yelling “Come on Mike!” and “Let’s go Phelps!!”. It almost seemed as though he could hear them, because you could see him starting to swim faster and faster and creep closer and closer to the leader. As he swam faster we all yelled even louder.
When he miraculously touched first and his name came up as the winner the crowd exploded in jubilation. A deafening roar of clapping and hollering filled the room. Many people milled around for a few minutes, laughing and smiling, exhaling together and wondering to total strangers how Phelps pulled off such an amazing finish.
I looked at the bartender and said, “Could you believe that?”
He asked, “Which, the crowd or the race?”
“Both”, I answered.
He smiled and shook his head. “No, man. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Neither had I. In all my years of watching sports, and I believe there is no better place to share these experiences than at a good pub, I had never seen an entire place unite their collective wills to pull for one man. And a man they probably couldn’t have named three weeks earlier. That is what is so special about the Olympics. Despite all it faults, it still produces a certain something that brings people together who normally would not even consider watching a swimming race.
Later that night, as I was packing up, I heard an announcer on a broadcast say something like “the whole country was pulling for Michael Phelps.” Normally, I would pass off such a line as a silly cliché, but not this time. This time, he was right.
Many, many years from now we can all sit down with our grandkids and tell them how we watched and pulled for the greatest Olympic athlete of all time pull off his most amazing finish, and how we did it with a few dozen of our fellow Americans. That’s why I love sports.
Posted by: David McBride, Marketing Director