why do sports have such a powerful effect on people?

i just finished watching the conclusion to game two of the eastern conference finals between the detroit pistons and miami heat and my heart is still racing. i wasn’t able to tune into the game until the final three minutes or so. i was elated to see that the pistons had the game in hand, with a twelve-point lead at 1:46. this turned to worry as the heat mounted a comeback, and quickly gave way to fury as the refs blew a couple of obvious calls toward the end. i was just about ready to meltdown after dwayne wade hit a three to pull within two points with 9.8 seconds left. but, happily, detroit pulled out a four-point victory in the end. sweet reprieve.

in about a month, the world cup will begin in germany. the hopes & dreams of 32 nations hang in the balance. football heavyweights brazil (the 2002 champs), england and argentina will be there… along with a first-time appearance from trinidad & tobago.

i’ll never forget the 2002 tournament. the unheralded korean team shocked the football world and took fourth place. i remember the excitement building with each game… each game would virtually shutdown korean restaurants, bars and markets. because of the extreme time difference, i would watch their games at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning – cheering silently so that i wouldn’t wake up my wife (and on univision no less, because no english-language channels carried their games).

one poignant moment: as korea was preparing to play turkey in the third-place consolation match, i stopped by a gas station in jersey to fill up. as it happened, the attendant was turkish. we smiled and talked about the upcoming match and what a wonderful tournament it had been for both teams. as i left, my new friend looked me in the eye and said, “we are brothers.”

i love the energy of live sporting events. the smell of dodger dogs, the sight of university of michigan basketball fans all dressed in maize & blue and hopping up & down through the entire game, the enthusiastic high-fives from the strangers seated next to you…. and the songs! i love how baseball players will use entrance music – apparently derek jeter cues up eminem before coming to bat. other favorites among mlb stars include metallica, rage against the machine, jay-z and ludacris.

however, for me, nothing will ever top the entrance song the pistons used back in the day (and still might very well use today): “the final countdown,” by 80s hair rockers europe. i can hardly hear the synth-intro without getting all misty eyed and pumped up. thanks, guys.