This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

One Hand Clapping

Maybe it was the Red Sox playing in fits and starts all season long, never more so than in the American League playoffs. Or the Patriots going into the tank at season’s end, after whipping up an unexpected seven-game winning streak before wrapping up the season with some embarrassing losses. Or the Celtics looking like a G League team, while the Bruins are muddling around trying to find their skates in the NHL.

But whatever the reason, professional sports in New England have generated all the sound and fury over the past months of one hand clapping. Not fun. It is a feeling like putting on some clothes that just don’t seem to fit right.

The air has quickly gone out of the local balloons, due in part to the Covid pandemic, which has jitterbugged through the stands and team rosters, abetted by the various mediocre performances.  And it seems that the electricity has gone out of the public, perhaps because fans aren’t wild about sitting next to unvaccinated and unmasked folks in the stands, so they give in-person attendance a miss. Or because the local sports bars are also lurking as possible super spreader sites.

In my limited, extremely casual research on this matter, there are a goodly number of diehard Sox/Pats/Celts/Broons fans taking in most games at home on TV by themselves in self-imposed exile and agony. And one wonders how comfortable that situation becomes if the partner you are living with would rather be streaming or binge-watching something on Netflix – “Christ, why don’t you get your lazy ass off the couch, get out of the effing house, and go down to the pub and watch the game with your friends!?! And put a coaster under that beer can, you slob!” Love springs eternal.

But methinks someone is riding to the rescue, that will put energetic and vocal fans back in the stands, and prompt office chitchat about the Sweaty Sciences. And that is college basketball.

Round these here parts, Providence College hoopsters have gotten out of the blocks fast and furious, holding down a vacillating place in the national Top 25 rankings, and packing the stands at The Dunk. While it is harder to question the parentage or sexual proclivities of referees and opponents when screaming through a mask, the support for PC is palpable. And URI also still draws enough students, alums and plain old b-ball fans down in South County to the Ryan Center to not have to augment their masks with bags of shame over their heads.

In a state like Little Rhody, where people describe PC as our own professional team, that kind of backing and respect matters. And it will blossom if coach Ed Cooley and his boys can bite, spit and kick their way into the NCAA tournament in March.

One might believe that the Super Bowl will recover the NFL’s season of up-and-down teams killing people in their betting pools (yes, my hand is raised). But since there is no real home team playing in the game – last year’s Buccaneers’ win in Tampa Bay’s stadium was an aberration – the seats are filled with some season ticket holders from the two teams involved who could afford to fly in, but generally the NFL shares its wealth with connected people from sponsors and anyone else with a vested (read $$) interest in the game. These big biz poseurs are likely just trying to find the best bars, restaurants, hookers, or all of the above, in town. You can bet those execs won’t give a damn about some hip-hop halftime show with a phony audience of ‘utes who look like they did lines of crystal meth to honor their promise to jump up and down and scream if they can just get into the stadium. Meanwhile, most everyone else in America will be thanking all gods that for once it’s east, west, home’s best, and break out the beer and chili in the TV room.

Here’s when collegiate basketball’s March Madness will ride to the rescue and put energy, raging team spirit, and a sense that they actually are ready to live and die with their homies back into play, and show that being there is half the fun. College fans travel, and the audience is always wired, even if their team is long gone, because then they will almost always side with the underdog, looking for an historic upset.

The buzz the NCAAs create is felt in your gut inside the arena, and boosted by the hordes of fans wandering the streets outside, occasionally taking over bars they then designate as their unofficial headquarters between games, with occasional chants breaking out glorifying their team.

Meanwhile, all across the country folks are clutching their tournament betting pool picks and either gloating about their basketball genius, or swearing like rappers over their favorites taking the pipe and claim they lost just to torment them personally.

In both cases, it’s a hell of a lot louder than one hand clapping. There’s still hope, sports fans.