Ben Pearce — Atlanta
As the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI progressed and the epic collapse of my beloved Atlanta Falcons became inevitable, I kept looking up at the frozen ceiling fan in my parent’s living room and yelling the same thing over and over. “It’s just a game, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.” I was trying to console the kids in the room who were visibly anxious, but mostly I was trying to console myself. My five-year-old son was smiling, still happy about being part of the party. My nine-year-old son’s eyes were red; I’m sure looking even more like mine than they usually do. Again. “It’s just a game! Sometimes you win! Sometimes you lose!” It wasn’t until about an hour later that I actually believed those words.
Let’s start in pre-school.
My Mom has a weekly standing concert date to play music at a local daycare facility in Austell, GA. It’s pretty similar to Billy Joel’s once a month show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. Except unlike The Piano Man at MSG, Mom’s contract rider requires only one bottle of Pellegrino in the dressing room.
When I see her, she often tells me stories about her songs and the kids she meets at her gigs. She is big on improvising and writing new songs for the kids depending what is happening in the school. Her most popular song is a little ditty titled “Put the Top on the Marker.”
Anyway, one story that has always stuck out to me is the tale of young Ethan. All I know about Ethan is that he is five and he hates to lose. I mean we all hate to lose, but Ethan hates to lose in a different way. He reacts to losing in a way that would make you question if he should be allowed to compete in anything ever again. I imagine that when he drops a game of Connect Four, he responds like Left Eye after she lost that poker hand in the “Red Light Special” music video. Needless to say, he deals with defeat poorly. My Mom once witnessed one of these meltdowns and decided to write a song for him.
It’s hard to explain a good song in writing. You know that already. If you don’t know that, think about how you would explain “Beat It” to an alien that had a working knowledge of modern human music but had never heard the specific song. You would tell the alien the words of the song, but would you describe the sound of the music or instruments? The feeling of the beat? Would you mention the passion with which MJ sang it? How about the way people dance to it or the iconic video? There are no easy answers. Here is a better question: Is there any way this alien leaves the exchange (still not having heard the song) thinking that you are in any way a sane example of the human race? There is no way you could adequately describe the song without playing it for this deprived alien.
Anyway, the song that my Mom came up with for Ethan is amazing. For reasons stated above, I’m not going to get into lyrical content here, but let’s just assume the intricacies of the second and third verses are on par with any that Shakespeare or even Andre3000 have ever written. For a white woman in her early-60’s my Mom has some soul, some funk. We’re talking about what Curtis Mayfield would sound like if he was white, female, had one bad hip, a loose denim jacket, and hard-candy in his pocket. Think about the best possible melody for a song that repeatedly says “sometimes you wiiiiiiin, sometimes you looooose.” Add in that thing where you snap your fingers and quickly move your hands up in the air with your palms down (I realize that sounds like a description that Stefon would use on Weekend Update) and you are getting close to understanding what has been created here. Just a strong melody with an even stronger message: No matter the outcome in front of you, life goes on.
“Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose” encompasses everything that Ethan ever needed to hear, maybe for the rest of his life. But see, here is the thing about this song…. that night after Super Bowl LI it was exactly what I needed to hear as well. Sometimes you really do win and sometimes you really do lose. I know it sounds obvious, but the key is to think about your wins and losses in life beyond the most recent result. I understand that it is tough to see the wins anywhere after shattering losses. But something happened after the Falcons’ devastating Super Bowl defeat. I saw some other wins that I should have been paying closer attention to the whole night.
After the game, when the agony was still so fresh for most of us, my five-year-old gave my stunned father a big hug and said “Pop-pop, thanks for having us over. We had fun eating all the food and watching football.” These types of gestures are not unexpected from my youngest son. That is just how he rolls; he is probably the exact opposite of an Ethan. My boy is an easy-going kid, and he knows when to show true appreciation. His connection with my Dad in that moment was truly freeing for me. This night did not have to be about the last hour of anguish. Or even the legacy of the loss that will follow. It was about the entire four-hour experience. It was about a season’s worth of celebration and the connection that we were all able to experience. Sometimes you win. There is no way I would have driven out to my Dad’s house and spent four hours with family and friends on a random Sunday in February without the game. There is no way I would have felt united in a similar cause with so many random people in the office, at church, and even in line at the grocery store over the past months without this game, this team, sports in general. Sometimes you win. Did the final score (the entire final hour) suck? Yes, sometimes you lose. Nevertheless, I was able to give my 9-year-old a valuable lesson on dealing with loss and disappointment. Sometimes you win. But I am a sports fan who grew up in Atlanta, so more often than not I have seen the tough losses at the worst possible times. Despite being such a big fan, the losses do not define me or anyone else. Even for the biggest sports fans in our culture, (and I feel like I am on that list), our lives are so much bigger than the sports we so passionately follow, or cover, or even play. Would I trade my history as an Atlanta fan for any other city? Absolutely not, because that would mean trading away my personal history that is connected to it.
A not so quick aside on my Atlanta credentials…. I grew up in Atlanta, went to Atlanta Public Schools for all of middle and high school. Have been stuck in freaknik traffic, angry with W Peachtree St for being one-way, and I am scared of tiny amounts of ice on the roads. I will defend the quality of the onion rings at The Varsity and legacy of Willie B. until my last breath. Our rap music is better than everybody else’s and Coke makes Pepsi taste like bathwater. Oh yeah, (with a strong accent) stop by the Buford Highway Flea Market and be sure to ask for Donna (not the Wolfman) when you are up in Gainesville.
My Dad has been a massive sports fan for my whole life and it’s been the way we have connected. If you went back and looked at the last 1,000 text messages between my Dad and myself, I would guess that 750 of them are somehow related to sports. What would happen if we didn’t have this shared passion? Would we just have communicated 75% less over the past couple years? Would we even know each other? That’s not an alternative I am interested in, even if it means having to suffer a couple devastating losses along the way. My Dad has taken me to dozens of Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State games over the past twenty-five years. I have taken my sons to each one of those as well. More than any loss, I remember the adventures I have had with my Dad, and I hope my kids will feel the same way.
Sports truly has shaped my adult connection with my Dad and will likely shape my sons’ connection with me. Again, we are true Atlanta sports fans; we know better than to expect to win championships. But every time those negative thoughts start to creep in and define me, I have to think about a couple of five-year-olds. Ethan listening to his life-changing song and my son telling his Pop-pop how happy he was to hang out with family, stay up past bedtime, and watch a football game. Sometimes you win.