Sports Envy

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Diane's Surprising New Passion

For the better part of two years, the 76ers came between us. And then, during the third season, something even more surprising happened. One night I called from the car, on my way home. All I heard was a woman's voice saying, "You would not believe what Allen just did!" At first I thought it was a wrong number, until I heard "but wait, baby, hold on a second... ah, c'mon, man, that's a foul!" It took me a second to get my bearings. I was feeling a little light-headed. Diane was watching the game? On purpose? Without me?

When I got home, she recapped the highlights for me just like...well, just like an actual fan. I wasn't sure how to react. I can imagine some husbands being upset by such a turn of events -- they like the barrier that sports provides between them and their wives and wouldn't want it toppled any more than they would want to join their wives' book group. But I had a different concern. I was afraid that if I asked what had happened, it might break the spell she was under.

Eventually she explained that her transformation came gradually, through repeated viewings of the superhuman exploits of 76er guard Allen Iverson. The greatest non-tall athlete of all time, he became a source of constant fascination for my 5-foot-1 wife -- who, it turns out, was a pretty good athlete as a kid (until reaching the age when, in her small town, the only sport open to girls was being a cheerleader for the boys' teams). The endless drama surrounding Iverson eventually led her to attachments to some of the other players. Whatever rules and strategy she didn't remember, she'd ask me about or go on the Internet. (I admit it's a turn-on when she talks to me.) Today Diane is a bona fide 76er fan. She comes to most of the games -- she knows to skip only the crummy teams -- and really appreciates the finer points of the sport. (I must admit, though, that I do sometimes miss the cheerleader sketches.) And when she leapt into my arms after Iverson made a buzzer beater to win a game this season, I swung her back and forth and found myself in a whole new kind of love.

I may have been genetically predisposed to marrying a latent sports fan. While I was growing up my mom was actually much more into sports than my dad was. Raised outside Pittsburgh, she always went with her father to see the Pirates and the Steelers. The last year of Grandpa's life, the Pirates were in the World Series and the final game was on a Sunday when we had tickets for the local community theater. So, while my father and I sat watching some guy from Harrisburg warble "Some Enchanted Evening" in his best French-waiter accent, my mother and my brother Jeff listened to the game, swapping the earpiece of a black transistor radio. I can still see the tears running down Mom's face when her beloved Pirates won it all.

I've had friends say they envy me because my wife has become a basketball fan. Their wives will barely let them surf over to the game to check the score during the commercials of Desperate Housewives. I tell them it's great but, like many things in marriage, more complicated than it looks.

I have known couples where the wife plays along with the husband's sports insanity so she won't feel left out. You can usually spot these couples because the wife is trying a little too hard and conveniently has all the same favorite teams and players as the husband. But Diane has her own take on the sport. For example, we roundly disagreed on whether the team should trade its fading point guard, and when they did, she became despondent. And, for the past two years, when our team got eliminated in the playoffs, she began rooting, rather vociferously, for a team I despise, the Detroit Pistons. During the series, she actually adopted their swagger. She was getting so Pistony I worried she would trash-talk me in bed.

So now I'm a guy who gets into sports arguments with his wife. Eventually I'm sure I'll win one.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, October 2005.



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