Behind The Thrill Of Victory

We root like maniacs because we are compelled by our tribal ancestry to do so. And because it's fun

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No less compelling is that all major pro sports--baseball, football and basketball--have clearly defined seasons, the culmination of which brings closure with the crowning of a champion. One of the reasons that college football's Bowl Championship Series is under such withering fire is that it fails to offer a definitive title game. In a modern society informed by its tribal past in which wars and scores were originally settled with bows and clubs, the very idea of determining the superior tribe through polls and computers constitutes an evisceration of ancient rules, a form of cultural sacrilege that cuts off the narrative before the end, leaving the outcome voiceless and untold.

And, to be sure, it is that often surprising narrative thread of sports--the suspenseful unfolding of the story line--that is at the bottom of their enormous appeal. It's the kind of rich and delicious tension that gripped everyone who witnessed Secretariat's 31-length Triple Crown victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973, with grown men climbing on dining room tabletops at Belmont Park and later having no memory of how they got there. Or the U.S. hockey team's beating the favored Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Or the U.S. women's soccer team's winning the World Cup in 1999. Nearly every sports fan can recount such a moment of pure, victorious delirium.

That tension, the intoxicating scent of suspense, certainly drove the Red Sox saga and helped turn it into one of the greatest stories ever told in sport. Red Sox Nation had it all--the vanquished enemy, the lifted curse, the World Series trophy and, yes, at last a happy ending to one of sports' longest and most poignant narratives. In an ancient ritual, as though around a campfire, the faithful have been sharing it with both the living and the dead.

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