Football has been a big part of my life for a long time. I’ve been a die-hard Notre Dame fan since my dad brainwashed me as a child. I have watched my Baltimore Ravens win not one, but two Super Bowls in my lifetime. I have relished in the agony of my San Diego and Chicago friends who have never seen a championship in their lifetime. I am the commissioner of two fantasy football leagues to further rub it in those friends’ faces. And it can all be traced back to a single game… Super Bowl XXXIV.
I was 10 years old and living in Brussels, Belgium. Yes, the one in Europe. My family and I lived there for a few years when I was growing up. For obvious reasons, Brussels did not have access to American television. Unless you include Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Simpsons, Full House, Growing Pains and Step by Step with Flemish subtitles on VT4 every afternoon. Brussels did, however, have VCRs. And fortunately, we had some family friends who shared my father’s obsession in watching the big game and were willing to record it in the USA to mail it to us.
This was not my first experience with football, whether it was playing NFL Blitz on Nintendo 64, or catching glimpses of Monday Night Football on the living room TV before we moved. But I had never watched the drama of the game unfold. I never witnessed the sweat and tears that went into a game of that magnitude. I never enjoyed the intense build-up between plays. I never got to experience what it was like to feel happiness, anger, elation and frustration because of people I would never meet. And for the first three quarters of that game, I still didn’t.
Like most Super Bowl party attendees, I spent most of the game waiting for commercials and lamenting the overreactions of more passionate fans. I was giddy to revisit my American childhood filled with characters and catchphrases that were designed to get me to buy anything I could reasonably ask my parents for. But as the game wore on and the snacks dwindled, I found myself drawn to the action in the same way many people are: it was actually a close game. In fact, it was one of the closest games in history.
For those of you who don’t know, Super Bowl XXXIV was between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. With the Titans down by 7 in the final seconds of the game, Steve McNair threw a pass across the middle of the field to Kevin Dyson about five yards short of the end zone. With one man to beat and the athletic ability of an NFL wide receiver, a tie game seemed inevitable. But that one man, Mike Jones, wanted to win that Super Bowl for the Rams and made one of the most famous tackles in NFL history. The clock slowly expired as Kevin Dyson’s outstretched arm desperately reached for just one more yard to no avail. The Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV and that play would forever live in football history as “The Tackle.”
I was ten, so up to that point, the only things I ever got excited about were extra dessert and holographic Pokemon cards. But my heart was in my throat. My butt was on the edge of my seat. I was sweating. This game had brought out a competitive side of me I had never experienced. And, because I had been rooting for the Titans (I liked their jerseys), I also experienced a sadness I would soon become all too familiar with.
Every team loses; literally, every single one. Even if you win the Super Bowl, you aren’t going to win it every year. Every team, every player, every fan has felt the soul-crushing weight of defeat. While there is no escaping the agony of a loss, the chance of winning gives every fan just enough hope to make it to the next season. A delusional curtain of potential and fate seems to fall over every fan’s eyes; a curtain with big bold letters on it that read, “Why not us?” Because when you win, you experience a feeling unlike anything else, and the only thing that can take you down is time – well, time and Mike Jones.