Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that some people don’t seem to understand the impact sports can have on people’s lives.
Many people see sports as just a bunch of men and women playing a dumb game, somehow drawing millions of viewers and earning millions of dollars. On paper, it seems to be a waste of time, money and resources.
For my family, sports are a way we bond with one another, especially between the Sanders men. I bond with my dad by talking sports whenever I can, whether it is at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, or when we watch games together on Saturday nights. I’ve bonded with my grandpa over the years by talking sports with him whenever I saw him.
There is one team that Sanders men have been watching for three generations: the Pittsburgh Steelers. It not only has been a link to bonding between my dad and I, but my grandpa was one of the loudest, most boisterous Steelers fans in Northwest Ohio. Our status as Steelers fans gave us something to talk about for hours at a time, whether it was over the phone or when I visited.
Personally, the team has been a great distraction in my life. The Steelers have taken my mind off of work for hours and have kept me sane over the course of the last decade, though the games themselves have taken years off my life with a different kind of stress.
My sports relationship with my grandpa started out with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every time we spoke, we debated about how the team was doing. Then, last fall, we started texting each other about sports betting. It had become legal here in Michigan, and my grandpa had potentially been doing it for decades down in Ohio. We talked every gameday about who we were picking to bet on that weekend.
I was terrible at it, and grandpa was sure to let me know how bad I was doing. Eventually, I told him to just to start taking the opposite of what I was picking. During the last week of the regular season, I called him bragging about how I had bought the Steelers into the playoffs by putting $40 on the Colts beating the Jaguars. The Colts ended up losing, giving the Steelers one last playoff berth.
It earned a hearty laugh from him when I told him that my plan had worked.
I also talked about the start of March Madness with him during spring break, and we debated for half an hour about who we liked for the tourney. He had told me when I visited that he liked Kentucky. When Kentucky blew it against St. Peters in the first round, I texted him Friday morning to see who his next pick was. I never got a response.
Our last voice-to-voice conversation was Thursday evening.
It seemed very fitting that the last conversation that I had with my grandpa before he passed away was not about anything other than the Pittsburgh Steelers. My dad was with him down in Ohio, and he sat in the hospital room with the phone on speaker as we talked about how the Steelers had signed the best linebacker available, alongside two offensive linemen that are expected to start for us.
I told him how it looks like our defense is ready to kick some butt for next year, though I have my suspicion that he just did not want to see Mitch Trubisky leading us as quarterback next season. I would not have had our last conversation any other way.
This past weekend, through some of the hardest days for my family, the games gave us brief moments of positivity when we were all battling back tears. I could imagine my grandpa’s gravelly, raspy voice yelling at the television as some of the best upsets happened, and it was comforting.