Careers in Government likes when this article has a link to the month in which it is published. Valentine’s Day was suggested as a possible thread with which to weave but I have opted for a February event a little less obvious, but perhaps even more loved! An event that has now gone way beyond just football fans and Americans. When it comes to February, just about the entire world now knows that one the greatest dates on the calendar is the Superbowl.

I simply love sport. It just takes me places the rest of my life can’t reach. I can appreciate the legitimate arguments of its detractors. It is, after all, no more than 22 ordinary humans, masquerading as gladiators, who are trying to get a ball over a line. Or 10 exceptionally tall individuals trying to drop an oversized ball through a hoop.

But it is so much more than that!

This month’s Superbowl was the very proof of that. Nobody could have written the script. Movies are manufactured knowing that we will be watching, but sport just happens before our eyes.

Sport is our escape, our passion, our joy, our despair. It provides a release for emotions that many are forced to keep contained for the remainder of their day. The remainder of their lives. No matter how good the new contract is, you can’t start jumping up and down and hugging people in the middle of a board meeting with your face painted in your company’s colors. You can in a football stadium.

All of my football teams seem to be, if not no-hopers, little-hopers. My first love, Athlone Town, the little soccer club in the middle of Ireland that I have been raised on, have now spent 20 years in the lower reaches of the second division after scaling the dizzy heights of success for a few seasons in the 80’s. The team that stirs my blood from my time in England, Everton, have similarly had a bare trophy cabinet since 1995. And when it comes to American football I simply love the Cleveland Browns.

I have written previously how I seem to have a perception of everything coming together at this later stage of my life. And so it seems to be with the football teams I support. I somehow don’t think I was ever destined to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, or Manchester United or Barcelona. It appears to be the underachieving teams that will always fascinate me more. I feel a great affinity with the loyal bands of supporters who follow their generally unsuccessful team through thick and thin, often knowing that soon after the first ball is kicked, their season is practically over for another year. But they never give up. They always have hope. Every year they start out with that hope all over again. Your team is for life.

Supporting a downtrodden team seems to reflect more of the qualities I believe that are important to me in my life. Stoicism, strength of character, patience, not being afraid to be different from the rest. Then, when success does eventually come, it is as if the agony of the long wait will hugely magnify the pleasure it will bring. Our little morsel will somehow seem far sweeter than the feast that many of the big teams are gorging themselves on every year. The value is in the journey, not in the destination.

So following the Cleveland Browns is a bit like believing in God. It is not fashionable in many quarters. You are unlikely to attain a tangible reward for your efforts this year, or next year or even in your lifetime. There are much easier options if you want a quick-fix for success. And people are often surprised when you don’t opt to take them.

But that is not what it is about. It is about hope and loyalty and faith and indeed love. Love of your team. It is about belief rather than proof.

It is about you, not anybody else.

Through faith and hope you can by-pass reality and believe a day will come when everything will make perfect sense. Through my faith I believe we will eventually all find each other and discover that most of us are pretty much the same. The results won’t have mattered, only how you played the game. The last will be first and the first will be last. Or perhaps we will all just be equal.

So one February the Cleveland Browns will win the Superbowl. After the long wait it will be an occasion that would even grace heaven itself. But the great thing about faith and hope is that, every year, I always start out believing, I won’t have to wait that long.

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