Shortly after she completed five straight twice-a-day radiation treatments, my sister Kathy jumped on a plane and headed to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
“I bonded with my nurses about it,” she said. “I sent them a Super Bowl basket of fruit.”
That weekend, Kathy pulled on her Packers jersey (No. 77, of course) and left her cancer behind for quick trip to Texas and a glorious football game that ended in a Super Bowl championship.
She cheered, she high-fived, she discussed strategy and the odd moat around Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion stadium.
She did not talk about cancer.
This is the power of sports, and the universal perk of fandom. Game day offers the opportunity to set aside real-life stress — health, family, job, relationship troubles — and envelop yourself in the joyful cacophony of sports, Jim McKay’s thrill of victory and agony of defeat.
You can lose yourself completely, cheer the one-hand grabs, lament the questionable calls, stare aghast and silent at the poor rookie who missed a tackle and cost his team the game.
All these emotions are real, but it’s still a game. So, even for those of us who have trudged dejectedly out of a silent stadium wondering why our season had to end so soon, sports like football offer a respite from the genuine concerns of real life.
In the seven years since she attended that Super Bowl, Kathy has battled fiercely against an insidious disease requiring surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments, and all of the recoveries in between. Still, she has faithfully attended Packer games, helped me fend off the visiting fans in Section 117 and, had our season gone a little more smoothly, I’m sure she and I and other members of our family would be headed to Minneapolis in February.
I’m not sure who I’m cheering for this year, but I can tell you this. I’m grateful for the NFL and the opportunity those players give us to set aside our troubles for a few hours and cheer.