Near Yellow Mountain

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Friday Night Lights

I grew up in a small western New York town near the Canadian border. Sports were a major part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I was skiing before I was in school. Little League football and elementary school basketball followed. As my teen years began, I continued to play football and basketball and I took up golf. For me, the different seasons were more about changing sports than changing weather. I did well in school but never had to expend much energy on homework after school. Most of my after school time was playing, watching or reading about sports.
Years passed, I was out of college and took up marathon running and was on a corporate track team that placed nationally on a regular basis. Children came. Since I married a two sport college athlete and a coach, the die was cast. Our daughters were skiing and swimming as pre schoolers. Once they started school; basketball and soccer followed. 
Like many other western New Yorkers, my heart was broken several times in the early 1990s as our pro football team, the Buffalo Bills, set a record for Super Bowl futility.
Point made - American sports culture was a major part of our family life.  
And then we moved to Japan........
Once we arrived in Kobe our efforts were focused on adapting to our new surroundings: international school for the kids, setting up an office and restructuring Joint Venture companies for me. My wife was probably the busiest one of all helping each of us adapt and getting involved in the local ex-pat community.

Sports in Kobe were pretty low key unless it was baseball or sumo
Weeks passed, then months. I ran every day as was my custom but I never thought twice about the sports world in the US. I got my first exposure to sumo - first on TV and then live. We lived in a high rise and found out that several of our neighbors played pro baseball for the Osaka area teams. We got to know other neighbors that played pro rugby. I was never a baseball fan but as I got to know people who were playing, I found myself watching an inning or two at night on TV. I had never seen a rugby game until I moved to Japan but several months after arrival, I found myself screaming support to my new friends as they raced across the TV screen in the Japan championship.
American pro golf is broadcast on Japanese TV each week but rather than hit the bilingual button on our TV to get the English broadcast by United States announcers, I preferred to listen to the Japanese announcers who made a 20 foot birdie putt sound like a winning goal in a World Cup game. 
In eleven years, I only watched two Super Bowls - one in which our adopted US  hometown of Charlotte played and another when I first got to China. I had my entire office meet at the sports club where we were members on a Monday morning Shanghai time (Sunday evening in the US) to watch the Super Bowl - “cross cultural training” I explained.
My sports knowledge  was a total disappointment to our driver in Shanghai. Phillip knew virtually every player in the NBA. He accepted my lack of knowledge of soccer - fully understanding that most American’s are not into the world’s favorite sport. He was less forgiving about the fact that after five years in Japan my knowledge of the NBA was woefully inadequate. He would excitedly tell me what Yao Ming had done in his last game or ask me if I had seen the Lakers on CCTV - Chinese television. He quickly noticed when he mentioned many player’s name and could tell I had no idea who he was talking about. “How can you not know that - you are an AMERICAN!”. One day Philip told me he wanted to learn the 50 US States. I bought him a US map and highlighted all the NBA franchise cities - this made things much easier.

Our friend and driver Philip holding an impressive kidney stone is a sports junkie

I felt no void as my sports interest and knowledge continued to atrophy. I was busy - work, kid’s school activities, traveling to interesting spots in Asia Pacific on family vacations.  
Eleven years in Asia, about to move back to the US and I had become a US sports illiterate with the exception of pro golf. 
We returned to the US just as the NFL playoffs and college bowl games were starting. My only interest in seeing games was how good they looked on our new 50 inch high definition TV. I watched the Super Bowl only to see the commercials.
My company hired a consultant to assist in my “re-entry” to US life but sports was not part of the program. Co-workers would mention games and players and I would smile and nod; hiding my dirty little secret - I had no idea what they were talking about and no interest. I still missed sumo.
I enjoyed watching the Golf Channel but other sports programing failed to interest me as I focused on getting used to our “new” life in the US. Since we lived on a golf course and had a sports complex a three minute walk away, I could open the back door evenings after work and play a few holes or work out in a well equipped gym. 
Pro football season came. I didn’t pay any attention until the Buffalo Bills won several games in a row. I decided to watch them play on TV but they lost that game and several others in a row. I only watched the one game. A false start....
After 13 months in the US as we were celebrating Christmas, my daughter suggest I needed NetFlix. I shrugged and asked why? The next day I decided to take the Netflix plunge and looked for a show to watch. I stumbled upon “Friday Night Lights”. Still on Christmas vacation, I watched several episodes over the next few days. The show triggered so many memories of high school and small town life, I found myself thinking about my childhood interest in sports - my old teams. I began to notice college basketball games on TV.  I discovered both the men and women’s teams from my wife’s alma mater were having great seasons. We started watching their games on the internet. The sports interest snowball rolled down the hill, suddenly I was watching more and more college basketball as the right of Spring known as March Madness (aka the NCAA tournament) began. 
I watched all 76 episodes of “Friday Night Lights” in less than two months. Time well spent as far as I am concerned.