The Face-Melting Joy of Your Team Winning a Championship
As a St. Louis Cardinals, and an avowed hater of our fierce rivals, the Chicago Cubs, I spent most of the first 40 years of my life warning whoever would listen that a Cubs World Series championship would bring about the end of the world. The Cubs won the World Series on November 2, 2016; Donald Trump was elected President on November 8, 2016. I’m just saying.
Still, I did grow up in Central Illinois and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: I know and care about many Cubs fans. (You have to love the people close to you even when they make terrible choices in their lives.) And when their team won that World Series in 2016, something about them changed. They had been carrying a burden their entire lives — a minor burden, but a burden nevertheless. They had feared they would go their entire lives without their team, their beloved Cubs, ever winning a World Series. This fear was well-founded. After all, it had been since 1908 that the Cubs had won a title: Their grandparents had gone their whole lives without winning one. But then the Cubs won. And my friends were so happy. They were so free. It was as if they hadn’t realized how much of a weight they were carrying until they didn’t have to carry it anymore. They really haven’t been the same since. They’ve had struggles and tumult and woe in their lives like the rest of us have. But they don’t have that burden anymore. There is, in all of them, since that title … a bit of peace.
I thought about all my Cubs fan friends Monday night when the Georgia Bulldogs won their first college football championship since 1981 with a 33–18 victory over Alabama, their longtime tormentors. I live in Athens — it’s where my book How Lucky is set — and am surrounded every day by people who love Georgia football as much as they love anything. (I also love the Dawgs, but I’ll always be an Illini first.) 1981 isn’t 1908, but in the context of college football fandom, all told, 41 years is a long, long time, particularly for a fanbase as avid and vast as Georgia’s. I was at the game in Indianapolis and haven’t been back to Athens yet — I’m writing this at the airport right before heading home, actually — but you don’t have to look far to see the giddy, almost slack-jawed…