As Super Bowl XLV proves, sports are simply one big waiting game
At this stage of winter, when life consists principally of waiting for the Super Bowl, think about how much time you spend waiting -- in traffic, on hold, at the doctor's office. "It's called a waiting room," as Jerry Seinfeld said. "There's no chance of not waiting."
The same is true for sports fans. When your name goes on the Green Bay Packers season-ticket waiting list, there is no chance of not waiting. The list is 81,000 names long and the Packers themselves suggest you pencil in a day 30 years from now to collect your tickets. Given current actuarial tables, any adult who puts his name on that list must enjoy waiting far more than he enjoys football.
But then 95 percent of sports, like life, is waiting. We wait in line for tickets, at turnstiles, for beer and for bathrooms. Football games and baseball games are largely waiting games -- waiting between snaps, between pitches, between endless commercial breaks. These are examples of micro-waiting. But we also do macro-waiting: Waiting five months for spring training or waiting four years for the World Cup. If you're a Cubs fan, what is life but a perpetual wait 'til next year?
I ought to know. Sportswriters spend most of their days waiting at lockers. When my colleague Gary Van Sickle arrived at
It's the perfect job description. I once approached Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell for an interview as he sat at his locker reading the paper. Trammell happily consented to chat, but asked if I could wait just a minute while he disappeared. When he emerged -- from the bathroom, 30 minutes later, unsurprised to see me standing stoically at his locker like a Buckingham Palace guard -- he gave thoughtful answers to my questions. My friend Richard Hoffer had much the same experience with Barry Bonds, except the Giants slugger kept The Hoff waiting for eight consecutive days. (The characters in Waiting for Godot only waited in vain for two days for the title character to arrive.) And so most sportswriters feel a kinship with the various movie stars who have said over the years: "I act for free. They pay me for the waiting."
In Renaissance England, a lady-in-waiting attended to nobility. That is essentially what the modern fan and journalist does: Waits on royalty. Which isn't to say that athletes are exempt from the waiting. Baseball players, with endless days at their disposal before night games, are serial killers of time, which is why cribbage, crosswords and car magazines remain popular in -- and often only in -- major-league clubhouses.
But ultimately it's you, the fan, who does most of the waiting. You don't do as much waiting as you claim. Every Red Sox fan I ever met claimed to have waited 86 years for a title. Every one of them was considerably younger than 86. So other people did the waiting for them. Likewise, I'm often annoyed, while waiting ages at an elevator bank, when other passengers show up just as the doors open. I've done all the waiting for them.
And waiting times are all relative. To an 8-year-old, the proverbial "8 to 12 weeks for delivery" of a prize won in a packet of Topps took longer than most ice ages. An hour at an airport departure lounge -- or eight hours spent waiting for the cable guy -- takes far longer than the wait for your next milestone birthday, which always arrives like a Japanese bullet train.
So learn to enjoy the waiting. Fans camp out every February at Miller Park to get single-game tickets to Milwaukee Brewer games. Last year a 28-year-old carpenter built a 64-square-foot house -- wrapped in Tyvek, with two light fixtures -- for his two-day wait. For him, and for all the residents of Krzyzewskiville, the intensity in the tent city is greater than in the arena. The waiting is the game.
Tom Petty gets points for using a football metaphor, but he was still wrong when he sang: "The waiting is the hardest part/Every day you get one more yard." No, the waiting is often the whole part, the best part, the only part.
Waiting can be operatic. Seven years ago, a Michigan man and woman fell in love while waiting in line for a Black Friday sale. A year ago, they were married -- outside Best Buy, while waiting in line for another Black Friday sale.
Waiting can also be soap-operatic. Recall the trapped Chilean miner whose wife and mistress met while waiting for him to emerge. All of these people seemed to recognize what most of us do not: That life is waiting, and vice versa.
So savor the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. These days of anticipation, when the Packers and Steelers could still live up to the ludicrous hype, are almost always better than the game itself. You'll never hear me say, "I can't wait for the Super Bowl." The truth is, I very much can.