What it Feels Like, for a Fan, With the Defense on Her Side

This is not a sports blog. I don’t write about predictions, scores or stats. I write about life, and things I’ve learned along the way, and how I can apply them in my quest for acceptance. To that end, I have to address a big something I’ve learned this last year – and I learned it in the sports arena.

I’ve had a really, really good sports year. As a Michigan State alumna and Denver Bronco season ticket holder, I’ve had opportunities to watch both incredible highs and very challenging periods in football this year. You can say that football is just a game, and that is probably true, but it’s also a game that we spend a lot of our free time watching and thinking about and learning from. This year, I’ve learned that defense wins championships … and I don’t just mean on the field.

Both my Michigan State Spartans and my Denver Broncos hit some roadblocks this year when their starting quarterbacks were injured. In both cases, the back-up quarterbacks came right back to win critical games. In other words, when their star fell, the teams weren’t lost. They were far from lost. They pulled together and they made it happen.

What my two teams also had in common this year was that they each had very strong defenses. In the Broncos case, they had the #1 ranked defense going into the Super Bowl, playing against the #1 offense. The winning team would prove once and for all which was more valuable – defense, or offense – and as the golden confetti rained down as the time ticked away, it was the defense that prevailed.

I don’t need to bore you with stats on this subject, of which there are certainly no shortage. I want to tell you what it’s like as a fan watching those games.

It’s December in Indianapolis. The Big Ten Championship is on the line. Two defensive powerhouses are on the field duking it out. Down after down, the offense tries to make headway and is denied by a hungry defense. I huddle nearly motionless when my Spartans are on offense in eager desperation of getting some points on the board. Time after time we are denied by the Hawkeyes. Then our defense comes on the field and I scream and pound my feet on the ground for what feels like hours, quietly confident that the defense will hold them. There’s little doubt in my mind that they will keep us in the game, but my stomach leaps and I can practically hear my own heart racing. The defense will hold. We’ve got this. And we do – the Big Ten Championship, in the end, is ours. The offense eked out the points we needed, but it was the defense that won that game.

It’s January at Mile High. We aren’t supposed to win the game … but we have Von Miller. We have Talib. We have Ware and Ward and Marshall and Wolfe and Chris Harris, Jr., and because of them, we also have hope. My FitBit logs over 10,000 steps taken during the time I “sit” in my chair, because we fans are a part of this. Our stomping and screaming is for the D, the guys out there that are keeping us in it. The fourth quarter is a brutal roller coaster as again and again I say to my mom, my husband, my brother, and my new best friends surrounding us – “Ok! Let’s get some points!” and … we don’t. Then I say again, “Come on D! We just have to stop them this one more time!” Except it doesn’t take just one more time. It takes many, many more times. We are on our feet, we are hoarse from the screaming, we are battered and beaten but not discouraged, because defense wins championships. I turn to Lancelot and manage to scream above the 115 decibel blare of the crowd, “I don’t think I can take much more of this!” He answers, “Yes, you can!” There’s no alternative. The defense will hold. We’ve got this. And we do – the AFC Championship is ours.

And yesterday, that same defense brought home the Lombardi.

It feels as if all season long I’ve been oscillating between the quiet confidence the defense inspired in me, and the heart-wrenching seed of courage and optimism that our offense would get some points on the board. The same scenario wasn’t just repeated once or twice – it was beaten into my soul.

It’s great to score. It’s nice to be dazzling and pretty. It must feel pretty darn great to be named MVP and answer when people call you Superman. But it doesn’t last, and that’s not real life. Real life is gritty. It’s dirty. It’s standing up when everything isn’t necessarily going your way and saying, “It’s okay. I can handle this. I’ve been here before. I can do it again.” It’s eating some humble pie and admitting that you may be the Sheriff but you can’t do it alone. It’s relying on your teammates. Most importantly, it’s never, ever, ever giving up.

The Spartans and the Broncos inspired me this year to look within myself and find my own strength. I don’t need to be a star to be a champion. I don’t have to be aggressive to be confident. I can be beat up, but I will never be beat down.

Go ahead, life. Give it to me. Give me the ugly, the hard and the seemingly impossible. Hurt me, test me, make me cry and scream and rage.

It’s okay. I’ve been here before.

I’ve got this.

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