Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Pride and The Glory

One of the basic human urges is to compete, to test oneself against an opponent, to strive against the limits of one's body and spirit. The basic competitive urge compels us to seek food, defend ourselves against preditors or aggressors, and to find the best mates to continue the species. As we have evolved and developed civilizations and societies, the urge to compete has taken on the aspect of spectator sport and entertainment, along side the basic instinct to survive, compete, and to live.

Those who do not enjoy or understand the allure of playing or watching sports have, in my view, lost something important in their lives. Granted we do not need the basic urge to survive any more, unless we are caught in exceptional circumstances. Modern life grants us food, water, medical care, shelter and companionship in great abundance. But if life was merely to be measured in the basic necessities to survive, our whole purpose would be simply to exist, to live in a daily exercise of obtaining that which we require to draw breath. What would happen to our humanity, our very souls, if we denied the beauty, the nobility, the exhilaration of achieving high levels of accomplishment?

Thus, we have reached a sophisticated and high level of competition. We aspire to push ourselves to greater heights, faster speeds, marvels of strength and agility because it makes us god-like and helps us aspire to something greater than simple survival.

But there is in sports, as in all aspects of human endeavour, examples of how this lofty ideal has become debased. Greed, avarice, cheating, egotism and cynicism have crept into what should be a pure and ideal practice. Non-sports fans point to current professionalism as examples of how humanity has gone wrong, and how priorities have been turned upside-down.

When an example of the purity and nobility of sport arrives, it is worth note. The recent Yates Cup football game between Queen's University Golden Gaels and the University of Western Ontario Mustangs last weekend stands out as a beacon of hope for all of us. The game was a work of art: two powerful and sublimely gifted teams, evenly matched, gathered for a game of supreme importance. Two talented quarterbacks, playing their last game of university football , prepared to duel. Two coaching staffs hailed as learned and visionary strategists and tacticians brought their creations to the playing field. The weather was almost perfect for the struggle.

Those of us who gathered on Saturday November 14 in Kingston to witness this game saw something more than just a good football game. We were reminded, in no small way, of the greatness of the human spirit when it is applied to a task of extreme skill and difficulty. The game was noble, inspiring and enriching. We marvelled at the athletes, extended to the very limits of their strength, spirit, speed, and intelligence, and stared in disbelief at their exploits. When one team made a great play, the opposing team answered with a greater effort. The lead changed hands no fewer than seven times. The quarterbacks, Dan Brannigan for Queen's and Michael Faulds for Western, passed for more than 500 yards each, an amazing feat in a championship game. Queen's finally prevailed 43-39: the partisan crowd was whipped into a frenzy of elation and joy.

But, tellingly, there was no gloating or trash talk among the athletes. They gathered together to salute each other with handshakes and embraces. Opponents who, moments ago, were trying to exert physical and emotional control and mastery over the other, recognized each other as brothers who had participated in something special. Queen's players and coaches rejoiced and danced on the field: Western players quietly exited the field, their heads held high, beaten that day, but not really defeated.

My friends, Rick and Dave, and I realized as we left the stadium and relaxed for some food and beer that this was the true measure of sports. There was no sordid arrogance in the game. We toasted both teams and to the pride and glory of the fine young men who showed us what we all could be.

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