I carry within me a deep, nagging and mostly illogical need to watch pivotal sporting events. If I miss a big bowl game or an NCAA tournament upset because one of my wife's college friends is getting married (this happens about every four months) or I get stuck at work or the cable goes out, I find myself feeling absent from the cultural fabric of the present tense. It's as if the sporting world has left me on the side of the road and continued on without me. Sure, I can catch the next bus and watch the 1:00 a.m. replay, but that's not the same. It's almost cheating.
This is what happened on Saturday. I missed the Oregon State vs. Boise State game. All of it. Didn't even catch the highlights. I was at the Bend Roots Revival all day Saturday (totally worth it) and finally asked someone wearing an OSU hat what happened and he gave me the score. It was both defeating and relieving all at once. On one hand, I hadn't missed what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the young season, but conversely, I live in Oregon and I enjoy when things from Oregon do well, be they beers, pregnant men or football teams.
Now here's where it gets weird. When I miss games like this and the team I'm pulling for loses, I feel just a tiny, little bit, kinda responsible. This is wholly irrational thinking; I realize that. But I have a name for it: The Mutombo Effect.
I'm, of course, referring to longtime NBA center, Dikembe Mutombo, the man who in 1994 laid on his back on the floor of Key Arena, clutching the ball above his head as he wept celebratory tears, his Denver Nuggets having pulled off a game-five upset victory to knock the Sonics out of the first round of the playoffs. I was 11 years old and a devout Sonics fan, but was also a boy whose good friend was having a birthday party at an indoor swimming pool equipped with a high dive. Figuring that Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp could overcome the jitters that had hindered their squad throughout the series and polish off the Nuggets, I opted for the party. I had to - my mom had already RSVPed and, again, they had a high dive.
I was standing on the side of the pool when my friend's dad approached. I asked the score. He shook his head and I had to hold back tears. In downtown Seattle I figured Shawn Kemp was sitting at his locker wondering why one of his biggest fans had let him down in favor of indoor swimming (and probably also how to care for his 17 children, but mostly about why I'd deserted him).
From then on, the Mutombo Effect became the only streak of superstition to, however irrationally, sneak into my life. And it haunts me at times - partially because actually believing one's television viewing schedule could affect the outcome of major sporting events is borderline psychotic behavior, but also because there will always be big games I'll miss.
Damn you, Dikembe Mutombo.