21 years as a race, 21 years as a marathon
I’ve been on this earth for 21 years. I started off life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I have gotten through life with multiple bouts of pneumonia. I have made plenty of risky choices and failed to be punished for a single one. In fact, I almost got hit by a car yesterday! That I’ve made it this far is a testament to sheer luck on my part and raw determination on the part of those who love me. My mother, sister, father, grandmothers and friends have all kept me grounded in spite of myself. I’m marginally better at staying alive now, but I can’t thank them enough for helping me stick around when I wasn’t very good at it.
21 years is a lifetime as a sports fan. Franchises rise from the dregs of a league to the pinnacle of excellence in 21 years. The New England Patriots had never won a championship before I was born. The Oakland Raiders, who were at the cusp of greatness in my infancy, have not won a Super Bowl since I came on the scene. Players have started and ended illustrious careers over my lifetime. I remember the day Luke Kuechly was drafted. I remember the day he retired.
I have been blessed to be a part of multiple championship winning fanbases over the course of my life. The University of Kansas Jayhawks won a national championship in basketball in my youth. The Kansas City Royals rose from a historically bad franchise in the mid-2000s to the best team in the MLB in 2015. The Golden State Warriors—whom I have loved since Monta Ellis was hoisting shots like volume shooting was going out of style—became one of the most formidable franchises in the history of the NBA. I have been as fortunate as any fan of sports can be.
This year, my beloved Kansas City Chiefs won a championship after a 50-year long drought. Of the teams that I have loved, the Chiefs are easily the team that is closest to my heart. Every hiccup they have suffered has been felt as a personal slight to me and my family. Which made their Super Bowl win, spectacular in its own right, feel even greater. It was like watching a dear friend achieve their dreams. It was one of the happiest moments I have experienced. I went to bed that night still giddy with elation.
But when I woke up, everything was back to normal. The occasional wave or congratulations notwithstanding, the world for me on February 3, 2020 was exactly the same as it was on February 1, 2020.
What happens the day after the best day of your life? When the honeymoon ends and you return to work, is that glow still with you? When you hold your newborn for the second and third time, does your heart pound the same way? Or does it beat like it did the days before, when you were unmarried and childless?
Getting to 21 feels like a significant marker. I’ve been ticking off the days on my calendar, waiting for the days where I can buy cigarettes and beer and rent cars and grin as I show people my ID free of fear. But after February 21, when I stop ticking off days myself, they just keep ticking. I have reached the point where my adulthood is undeniable. There are no more age milestones to be excited about.
Winning a championship does not make the Chiefs a champion in perpetuity. In August, the Chiefs will start playing football again. Their status as a champion will be challenged every day until the end of the season, at which point they will either have defended their title and they will have to start their defense once again or they will have lost it and they will start the fight back to the top of the league once again. It is endless.
The next 21 years are likely to be as up-and-down as the last 21. Teams I love will win. Teams I love will lose, probably spectacularly. In the best and worst moments, I will forget that there was ever a time when they were in the middle, when they were a mediocre team in transit between high achievement and embarrassment. But at the end of that period, I look back at the full picture and appreciate the times between the crests and troughs.
You cannot live at the summit. Eventually, you must come down and face the rest of the mountains. If you’re lucky, you can quickly hike through the parts between the peaks. But most of the time, it takes time to climb down, set your eyes on a new challenge and begin the journey up another obstacle.