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Headache, Heartbreak, and the Purity of Competition

2012 was a rough year for a lot of us, but it led me to reevaluate many things in my life, my sports fandom being one of them.

Eric Francis

Part of me wished that December 21, 2012 was really the end of the world. Yes, that sounds extremely selfish of me, but 2012 was probably my least favorite of the 22 years I've been on this planet. A lot of crappy things have happened in other years, but for some reason 2012 was the year that all the crappy things that had to happen had to be REALLY crappy. From Norfolk State crushing the hopes of one of the most lovable Mizzou basketball teams of all time, to a 5-7 football record that doused the excitement of Missouri's first season in the SEC, Mizzou has definitely seen better years. The Chiefs fielded the LEAST competitive team they've ever had with a roster that contained seven Pro Bowlers. The Royals were still the Royals.

Unfortunately for me, I'm a fanatical follower of all of these teams, so there was no escape from the drudgery of my real life. Real life was worse in 2012, and not just for me but for what seemed like just about everyone. Just here in America, we saw Hurricane Sandy demolish entire neighborhoods, leaving people standing in front of a mauled and waterlogged pile of their possessions. The terrible, evil act in Newtown, Connecticut left us speechless, as we never thought anything so horrific could possibly happen. It just seemed 2012 was the year the world should end, not just the year it could end.

It was August, and I had just moved into my new place on the north side of Columbia. School hadn't quite started back up yet, so I was still just working part time and had most of my days free. My roommate wouldn't move in with me until September, so I had a lot of spare time around the house outside of work. I used that time to unpack, get everything situated, make this new place feel like something close to home. I hung up pictures of me and my girlfriend along with posters of Mizzou football schedules and some other random bits of Chiefs and Royals memorabilia. Hopes were high for my sports teams in the last few months of 2012, as the year started off pretty poorly in March with one of the most heartbreaking losses Mizzou has ever suffered. Over the summer, my girlfriend left to work at a camp in southern Missouri, and could only be reached through letters.

That was really tough for me, considering my dad was going through a pretty nasty divorce. But summer was ending, she was coming home, and my dad was doing his best to move on to the next chapter in his life. My dad and I are very close, but nothing brings us closer than the Chiefs and Tigers. Through all the pain he was going through, it was easy to feel some sort of positivity and excitement when we made plans to head to Arrowhead to watch the Chiefs make a playoff run, and when he made plans to come visit me in Columbia to watch Mizzou play against the big boys of the SEC. Sports are the perfect escape for us, and have been for basically my entire life. We've seen some tough times, but those times really seem to disappear when he and I cook up some nachos or wings, and plop down on the couch to watch some football together.

I remember even being a little child, my dad would watch the Chiefs and Cowboys with regularity. He lived in both Missouri and Texas for extended periods throughout his life, so those were the teams he adopted. The Cowboys were his pride and joy back in the '90s while the Chiefs were his end-of-the-season-disappointment. I remember the extreme disdain he had for Schottenheimer for his decision to bench Gannon, and the love he had for Emmitt Smith. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the couch in his lap while he cursed the Chiefs and praised the Cowboys. Football has always been something much bigger than a game for us. It's been at the center of some of our greatest memories together, and after a pretty depressing summer, fall couldn't have come sooner for us.

My girlfriend came back from working her camp in early August. I figured she'd be proud of me for putting up pictures of me and her along with the Mizzou and other sports decorations I had decking the halls. Anyone that knows me knows how big of a role sports play in my life, and my girlfriend was no stranger to that. She always mocked my love for the Tigers and Chiefs, but she seemed to understand that my passion for them was not rooted in just cheering on a sports team, but the bonds those teams create with the other people in my life.

So yes, it was kind of a big deal to me that I had our pictures right up there with my sports decor. It never really had a chance to be a big deal, as the first thing that happened when she came over to see the new place was that she told me it was over. It was a pretty crushing blow for me, as we were together for four years, and had just begun looking to the future. I'm not going to go too in-depth here, as I don't want this to turn into a sob story nor do I want to get too far off track. A huge loss in your life like this makes you reevaluate everything, and that's exactly what I did.

August was when Mizzou began football season, first with a promising victory over Southeastern Louisiana. I was still in "mourning" mode, but it felt good to get some normalcy back in my life and just enjoy the atmosphere of Mizzou football with a group of friends. My dad watched from home on Pay-Per-View, and the first thing I did after I left the game is call him, just like I always do. It felt good to hear the cheer in his voice as we discussed the game that just happened, as it restored a little bit of cheer in me as well. Once again, he and I used sports to forget about the woes of real life for a while and it felt great.

The thing is that we didn't have many other victories to call each other about for the rest of the season. Mizzou posted a losing record for the first time in a decade, and the Chiefs weren't even watchable. I felt like my escape just wasn't there anymore, but I only felt that way because I lost sight of why it's an escape in the first place.

Sports are pure. No, the politics, scandals, and money surrounding them are not. But sports are. I played football in high school, and planned on playing in college before I decided I'd rather just enjoy college life. Playing football was one of the greatest things I've ever done for myself. It helped me find myself as a person, and helped me to uncover the discipline and character I had deep inside me. It was pure. When I lined up at free safety on Friday nights, nothing was running through my head but football. All the practice, weight training, sweat, film study, playbook memorizing, all of that blanketed any other thoughts that could have been at the forefront of my attention. My focus was on competition, about overcoming something that was generally bigger than me. It was about helping a cause bigger than myself by working with a group of guys to achieve a common goal. We worked together to overcome another group of guys who were working together to overcome us, but there was no cold blood, no malicious intent. It was football, nothing more. We had no ulterior motives, it was just football.

And that's why it's an escape. Winning to make yourself feel good is not an escape, the game itself is. The reason my dad and I bond so well over football is because we share a few hours together on a couch worrying about nothing but pure competition. We don't care about the money around it, we don't care about the scandals behind the players, we watch the games and immerse ourselves in the struggle and accomplishments of the players on the field.

I think this is at the core of why we loves sports so much. My dad's divorce, my girlfriend leaving me, all of those thoughts were blanketed with thoughts of defensive schemes, game plans, depth charts, and anything else involved in sports. It's an absolute escape, because being an athlete or sports fans requires your full attention. The multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry because fans just can't give it up. It's not just about the winning teams, because even the losing teams are a major part of that industry as well. I will continue to feed my addiction, and not just because I'm obsessed with the games I'm watching, but because of the relationships it helps me develop and the escape it offers.

Rock M Nation is the absolute perfect example of this. I've been a member here since '09, and almost feel as though I know many of the people on this site personally. Many of the conversations here don't even revolve around sports, but sports is what brought this community together, just like they brought my dad and I together. So after reevaluating the role sports play in my life, it's become clear that I don't watch them just to watch my teams win. Many people do, and that's completely fine. I watch them because they're a part of me now, they're an alternate reality that I can escape to for a few hours. They're a part of the glue that holds friendships and relationships together, and they're a reason for making new friends.

So while it's ok to let sports get you down (as we Mizzou fans had plenty of reasons for that in 2012), try and take a step back and remember what makes sports so great. Use 2013 as a fresh start to fall back in love with sports, not to let them depress you all over again.