By Sam Fisher
Is there anything in sports quite like sudden-death overtime?
Something about overtime just grips you. In any moment, the game could end. Hopes can be crushed, legends made and dreams fulfilled in a split second — or an hour.
It doesn’t even really matter whether you care about the teams playing, or the sport they’re playing, for that matter. The drama and intensity of overtime can just take over your life.
This past weekend, I had this happen while watching the Stanford women’s water polo NCAA Tournament final against USC. On a day when I had to finish an absurd amount of homework and work for The Daily, I found myself unable to focus. I couldn’t stop myself from watching.
Throughout most of regulation, I would go back and forth from my work to the stream of the game. It was pretty easy. During timeouts, lulls in the action or breaks between quarters, I could be at least moderately productive.
But during overtime, I couldn’t do anything. After the soccer-style first overtime periods ended in a tie and the game entered sudden-death format, I couldn’t even work during the breaks. Three minutes wasn’t even enough time to digest what had happened in each successive overtime period.
And Stanford came oh so close to winning on a few occasions. Senior Olympic gold medalist Melissa Seidemann hitting the crossbar was the most notable. All of us in The Daily’s office became entranced, gasping or cheering after every play.
But we barely know anything about water polo. To be fair, all of us care about Stanford, so we did have a dog in the fight, but it wasn’t like my Philadelphia Eagles were playing in overtime in the Super Bowl.
That’s when something I should’ve realized a while ago became very clear to me. Overtime, and especially sudden-death overtime, is not fun when you care who wins.
It’s simply torture. Think back to Stanford football’s 2011 game against USC. Having to sit through three overtime sessions with everything on the line almost gave me a heart attack, and I was only 19.
Someone in my dorm said it best a few weeks ago. When your team is playing, blowouts, not close games, are fun. Sure, it’s great to look back at that 2011 USC game and think, “Wow, I witnessed one of the greatest football games of all time.” But until then-sophomore linebacker A.J. Tarpley fell on Curtis McNeal’s fumble in the back of the end zone, it was nothing short of torture.
But when you don’t care who wins, is there anything better than overtime? Take the NHL Playoffs, for example. My Philadelphia Flyers didn’t make the postseason — did you know teams could actually miss the playoffs in a sport that seems to allow everybody join the party? Watching overtime games has been awesome. There were days last week where there were two overtime games in the same night. Who could ask for anything more?
This phenomenon is interesting but makes sense. I guess I just don’t often try to examine why I watch sports; I just keep watching them. But I do think we can learn something by looking at this difference in the enjoyment of overtime games.
Sports are fun for two very different reasons. On one hand, sports give you the opportunity to go all in behind a cause; in many cases, an entire city will unite behind a team. Look at Boston after the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 or Philadelphia after the Phillies broke the curse of William Penn four years later. Winning can make boring, everyday life feel special, fun and exciting again.
But that’s only why we watch our sports teams. Nuts like myself spend hours every week watching teams that we don’t even care about it. Why is that? Part of it is that we enjoy watching the best people in the world play the sports that we care about. But more importantly, I think we love drama.
Look at the ratings of the playoffs. As the stakes get higher, interest keeps growing. When Stanford football won the Pac-12 Championship Game, one of my friends from The Daily and KZSU started bawling with joy. Sports did that. Isn’t that awesome?
But with that passion and drama comes a flip side. Sports can also crush hopes and dreams. As a Philadelphia sports fan, I’ve seen that devastating side way more often than the other. And for the joy of victory to be so immense, the pain of defeat must be just as sharp.
I’m okay with that. Just let me prepare for it.
Don’t let it happen in overtime.
Sam Fisher was once found on the floor of the Autzen Stadium press box rolled up in a ball and sucking his thumb. Remind Sam of how awkward that made his KZSU broadcast at safisher “at” stanford.edu, and follow him on Twitter at @SamFisher908.