Superbowls and Under-dogs

The Super Bowl is today. In case it's possible that you don't know who's playing, it's the undefeated New England Patriots versus wild-card team, the New York Giants. Almost every time there is a major sporting event my brother and I get into a polite argument. It's the same argument every time. My brother roots for the team with the better record, on the assumption that if they have the better record they must be the better team and thus deserve to win. I otoh almost always root for the underdog.

My brother does not understand this. "Don't you want the better team to win? Are you gonna hold their superiority against them?" I've thought about this a lot now. Certainly some of it is just emotional. I feel sorry for the underdog team. I feel empathy for them. But then again, I feel sorrow for the team with the better record when they lose; how much more disappointing it must be when you were expecting to win.  Is it that I only like losers? because suffering is redemptive?

But there is something more than just the emotional reaction. My brother assumes the team with the better record has a better record because they're better. I assume that the team with the better record has a better record because they're lucky. By that I don't just mean that plays have gone their way. I do understand that sometimes teams will have a greater number of superior players. But that to me is luck too.  It's "luck" to have a wealthier owner.  Or, if it isn't luck that causes one team to be able to afford a better roster, it's still not something inherent.  

Deep down, I do not believe that any team is superior to any other team.  Deep down, I think they're all the same (unless it's my home team in which case they're not the same).  So if one team has a disproportionate number of wins, I am rooting to even things out.  And I'm rooting for the story, the story that no matter how the odds may be stacked against you - the other side may have better resources, more people backing them - if you perform well, then you can do well.  That is what I want to believe.  

And that's what makes sports so wonderful and relevant.  Just as in the rest of life, in the end, it doesn't matter how much talent you have or what your previous record was. In any given game, even the Super Bowl, it all comes down to who can deliver when it matters.  Even an under-dog can win.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative