Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Split Loyalty

Just a few short weeks ago, I was completely excited about the NFL Playoffs.  My beloved Denver Broncos were tearing through opposing teams and appeared to have completely come together as a team.  They struggled offensively through the first few weeks, falling behind early and trying to make monumental comebacks.  Once they finished off division rival in week five, the San Diego Chargers, in an unbelievable 24 point second half comeback, it was all systems go.  Week in and week out, no team could touch them as Denver routinely took games over early and let the Von Miller-led defense destroy their opponents’ will.  It was the best Broncos team I had seen since the 2005 Jake Plummer-led squad went 13-3 and was one win from the Super Bowl.

Additionally, word broke from Baltimore that Hall of Fame (we all know he will be) linebacker Ray Lewis was back on the practice field.  Growing up a fan of The U, Lewis has been a personal favorite of mine since he was in Miami.  I was pumped to see him back on the field, along with Ed Reed, ready to make another run into the playoffs.

Last week something weird happened; Ray Lewis announced that this was his “last ride” and would retire after the playoffs.  I immediately began to dread the inevitable.  I knew the moment he announced it that we were on a collision course for another Manning-Lewis classic match-up somewhere down the line, which I always look forward to.  This will be the last time, the final act in an amazing play.  Their previous match-ups have always been fun; watching them match each other audible for audible, adjustment for adjustment.  It was always a violent ballet, a mental chess match between two of the greatest at their positions.

However, this time will be different.  Not only do I have to cheer for the Broncos, a team I’ve been aligned with since childhood, but I have to cheer for them to end the career of a man I have watched since his freshman year at The U.  We’re talking about 20 years of cheering for one man, on the field and off.  I’ve been a Ray Lewis supporter in the best times and the worst.  His action figure (along with one of Ed Reed and Willis McGahee) sit prominently on my desk at work.  Underneath them is a hand-written acronym for which I pull from daily; P.I.G.S.  It stands for Perseverance, Inspiration, Greatness, Swagger.  These three men embody those words to me.  How do I cheer against Ray, and Ed Reed for that matter, in hopes that my team will advance down the road to a possible Super Bowl?

There’s an additional wrinkle.  Those of you that have ever talked football with me know my 15 years of cheering against Peyton Manning.  As I have previously written, I can’t just flip a switch and cheer for him simply because he is wearing the Broncos logo.  Have I softened a bit over the course of the season, even catching myself cheering for him at times?  Absolutely.  You can’t help but get swept up in winning.  This situation is a little different, though.  My hope was that Ray Lewis would win one more Super Bowl, retire alongside Ed Reed and then go see them inducted into the Hall of Fame together.  It really isn’t a far-fetched dream.

So I sit here today, essentially torn as to which dream I want more.  There’s no guarantee that either team will make it to or win the Super Bowl, but there’s a good chance one of these two teams can do it.  What do I want more though, a third Super Bowl title in Denver?  Or do I want Ray Lewis to go out on top, similar to John Elway?  As much as I want sports to be easy, it never is.  One thing is for sure, Saturday evening will come and they will step on the field against each other.  Three hours later I will be pumped, but also disappointed.

Regardless, I will watch with a smile on one side and a tear down the other.  This is why we love sports…

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