Tonawanda News

February 9, 2014

Of Sochi, sport and a momentary miracle

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — When it comes to the true meaning of sports there are two over-simplified narrative traps.

Sports are a meaningless distraction played by a bunch of overpaid, vain athletic freaks desperate for attention.

Sports are a metaphor for life and the struggle to overcome obstacles and reach the height of human achievement in the face of adversity.

There are elements of truth in both but I think it’s more subtle than either narrative would suggest.

Playing sports is about having fun, first and foremost. Picture any great athlete in their quintessential moment of triumph, you’ll never see someone having a better time in life.

Watching sports is about becoming part of something larger than yourself. It isn’t a hobby. It isn’t an obsession. It’s about coming together with like-minded people. It’s democracy at its finest. The great leveler of barroom banter and arena attendance. 

It’s why I love the Olympics. 

Four years ago, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller put Buffalo at the center of the sporting universe for his dazzling performance as the tournament’s most valuable player, leading the Unites States to a surprise silver medal — and within a whisker of upsetting host Canada for the gold.

Here’s what I wrote of watching that game four years ago:

Some 500 people crowded into an upper floor banquet room, glued to the large flat screen TVs. ... When Buffalo native Patrick Kane found the puck on his stick in the high slot, 30 seconds left and America down by a goal, the place was already on its feet. We held our breath as he turned and fired. Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo got a pad on the shot, but Zach Parise stood poised at the goalmouth to slam home the rebound and send America and its hockey capital of Buffalo into a frenzy.

I jumped, screamed, high-fived, hugged some strangers and reveled in the feeling that only the greatest moments in Buffalo sports can bring. The chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” echoed out into the downtown streets.

The moment crystallized. “I” became “we” and we were pumped!

Too bad the hockey gods didn’t see fit to write the ending that way. ... Canadians rightfully rejoiced and, filtering down the stairs and onto the street we receded back into the individuals we were when we walked into the room. Cell phones popped out, conversations between strangers came to a halt. People went back to their own parked cars, drove them to their own houses and went back to their own lives.

But for a single moment, there wasn’t a person among us sending a text message, checking their Facebook page, listening to an iPod or doing any of the thousand other things that distract us from engaging with the people around us. There was only the sport and its fans, united, strengthening our ever-stretched sense of communal existence.

I was sad we didn’t win a gold medal, but more than that I was proud proud of my countrymen who played hard and proud of my city for caring. 

What a moment! A bittersweet memory but something I’ll remember for a lifetime.

Miller is back on Team USA in Sochi. We’ll see how much he plays, now four years older and likely the backup this time around. But you never know. Great players have a way of finding their way into great moments.

And there will be those moments of incredible success and failure again. Enjoy it. Drink it up. 

Don’t miss an opportunity to do it with the world around you. 

A moment of pure joy — or heartbreak, for that matter — shared with friends, strangers, countrymen famous and not and free from all the filters of modern life. As Al Michaels once asked, “Do you believe in miracles?”

Yes.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.