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Sports Don't Matter, Until They Do

Not all losses are created equal

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

My father and I have a quasi-tradition since I left college. Once a year I'd come to Austin & we would catch one of the UT/A&M baseball games. The tradition has tailed off in recent years(hence the 'quasi' caveat), partly because there's no UT/A&M series any more and partly because life has a way of interjecting itself into plans if you let it. It's not a lack of desire to see my parents, I visit with them on the phone & in person regularly; but sometimes you get wrapped up enough in your own life that you let things slide. The baseball game is something I let slide, so this year I called him & setup a trip to catch the Saturday game against Oklahoma State. We've been chatting about it off & on for the past couple of months and we were both looking forward to catching a game again for the first time in a couple of years.

I also have a grandmother that lives in the Austin area who I see almost as much as my parents. She is 83 years old and the sweetest woman on the planet(I will breakdance fight anyone here over this point). She's never said a bad word about anyone(believe me, I've tried to get it out of her), she goes to church every Sunday & sings in the choir, and is quicker to laughter than most anyone I know. She listens to classical music and Stevie Ray Vaughan. She got her first tattoo when she was in her 70s(it's a rose on her shoulder), and I've spent a holiday watching movies & drinking fuzzy navels with her. And she's dying. I don't mean in the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word dying, I mean she's deteriorating in front of our eyes. We've been through some serious situations with her before; she has had more health problems than I can count. There are steel rods in her back(that they've had to install twice) that make a 5'4" woman 4'10" on a good day, she's been dealing with rheumatoid arthritis for decades, and she's got lung & heart problems with descriptions that will decimate the spell-checker; you name it and she's probably been in the hospital for it. If they had frequent flyer miles for hospitals she could retire in Bali. It's remarkable she's even here at this point, and yet I've never heard her complain once. She's been through oceans of pain and fought back every single time against odds I don't even want to calculate, and she's done it with a level of grace & positivity that would make Mother Teresa uncomfortable. She is literally amazing to me. And she's dying. I've talked to her on the phone and she's starting to let go; you can hear it in her voice. The fight she had in her previous battles just isn't there any more, and I don't blame her. She's fought so hard for so long & she has earned the right to leave.

This weekend is likely the last time I will ever see Nanny alive. I'm going to see her, talk with her, and let her know I'm OK with her leaving us(even as the weight of that statement sits on my chest like an anvil). My first inclination is to ditch the baseball game with Dad & spend every waking hour of the visit by my grandmother's side, to soak in as much time with her as humanly possible; it's the normal reaction to finding out there's a tangible end to a relationship with someone you love. Everybody considers cramming for their finals regardless of how much they studied beforehand. In the end it doesn't really matter, you make your bed way before the last week of class. Whether I spend 15 minutes or 15 hours with her this weekend, the real quality time was put in the years leading up to now. She knows I care about her, she has told me as much. She has also told us to live our lives. She doesn't want us surrounding her for days on end, holding our breath while watching hers to see if it's the last. She wants us to make memories with each other in the same way we made memories with her. She wants Dad & I to go to the game so we have memories to share when it's his(or my) time to go.

Sports don't matter in the grand scheme of things, not really. They're a pastime, a diversion, a hobby, and for most of us that's where it ends. Terms like 'life & death' are figurative in sports, a way to raise the stakes and imbue a value that makes it feel more important than it really is. The value of sports - the way that it matters - is in the memories you create with friends & family. It's the backdrop to the important bits. The 2005 Rose Bowl is a good memory for all of us, but the 2009 loss to Alabama will always mean more to me because I spent the 2nd half on the phone with my sister who lives 1200 miles away, both of us watching the game together & talking about the game & our lives. The 2003 Final Four run was great, but I'll treasure the 1990 Elite Eight loss to Arkansas more because I watched it with my Dad. I'll be at the game on Saturday with my father and we'll talk about all sorts of things. We'll talk about the game, we'll talk about Charlie Strong, we'll talk about Augie and the hitting and good god almighty why are we bunting again. We'll talk about buying a home and how work is going and all the other things a grown man talks about with his father. The whole time I'll be thinking about my grandmother and trying to do what she wants: living my life and creating a treasured memory with Dad. The sport doesn't matter until it does, and Saturday it will.