As I sat in the audience for the matinee showing of Stanford Light Opera Company’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” I couldn’t help but fight back a few tears. I had seen a fair share of Broadway shows before, but never had I felt such an emotional pull by any one of those professional performances. The reason was clear — the lead, Miles Petrie performed with so much passion and conviction. Miles made me believe he truly was the Phantom of the Opera, and I was experiencing firsthand what true tragedy and heartbreak feel like.
The ordeal elicited feelings reminding me of why I love sports: the raw passion. When the Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Finals, claiming its first championship, I remember more than any individual play the footage of Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki immediately after the game ended. Nowitzki was trotting to the locker room to have a moment alone to cry. Minutes later at the trophy ceremony, a close up of Nowitzki’s face showed a man still overcome with emotion and exhibited why winning the championship, and playing basketball, mattered so much. It’s a level of importance one can’t put into words. Rather, you just have to see to understand.
Nowitzki wasn’t the first nor last to exhibit such emotion in sports. Brandi Chastain was photographed at the 1999 Women’s World Cup after she iconically dropped to her knees. She is pictured holding up both of her arms in a triumphant moment of joy after claiming gold in the championship match. It is difficult to recount U.S. soccer history without bringing up that image and the magnitude of the moment.
While sports are about hard work and grit, they are also just as much about passion and deep emotion – which is why some of the fondest moments in sports occur when all that passion and emotion come to the forefront.
One of the most memorable plays in NFL playoff history took place a mere five months ago, when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum hit Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints as time expired, sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship for the first time in almost a decade. Almost immediately after the game, Twitter and Facebook flooded with reactions of dismay, shock and joy. The Minnesota Miracle is remembered for the myriad of hysterical fan reaction videos almost as much as it is for the improbable play itself.
Moreover, when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, cameras cut to a teary-eyed Bill Murray, who will forever be linked to the Cubs historical feat. Sports are important because people — whether they are a fan or athlete — care so much about them. Personally, for the brief window in time when a sporting event takes place, nothing seems to matter other than my team winning. All the stress of life melts away as I lock into my team and watch its players fight their hearts out. As a close game progresses, a new type of stress bubbles to a boiling point in my chest, but this is different from the stress I face in my daily life. This is about watching my team battle through a slugfest and hoping it comes out on top. This is fun. I had similar feelings of escape from reality while watching Miles, and the rest of the cast of “The Phantom of the Opera” for that matter, chiefly due to the engagingness of their sheer passion and exceptional talent. Obviously, every cast member was talented, but their emotional investment took the entire performance to another level.
Miles and his costars did an exceptional job evoking emotion through a display of unfettered passion. And just as Nowitzki, Chastain and Murray have done before, many more athletes and fans will continue to do the same.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu