The reason may surprise you, though. First, a little background.
I have two brothers, one on either side of me in age, but both of them significantly bigger than me (and have been since we were pretty young). I've been well acquainted with physical pain since my earliest memories of 'brotherly love.' The last time I cried from physical pain, my age was probably in single digits. It was always an invitation for more 'brotherly love' in my house. Not having ever broken a bone or sustained any really serious injury, though, may have something do with not crying, but in any case by the time I was in high school, my threshold for physical pain was pretty high. Being a high school boy, few things were more fearsome to me than the idea of crying in front of other people anyway. Crying in front of my brothers was simply out of the question...it would be tantamount to crapping in their shoes and then painting a big red target for them to aim at on my own sleeping head. Just not something anyone in their right mind would do, or so went my thinking at the time.
Emotional pain, on the other hand, is something I've never been so steadfastly resistant to, probably because I've never been in a lot of emotional pain before, and thus really haven't had to learn to cope with it in its many forms. I've been extremely lucky in almost all facets of life...great parents, strong relationships, loving brothers, good schools, et cetera. But there's one (non-tragic) thing that does have the capacity to make this (as yet child-less) man cry: A good tearjerker, whatever the medium.
I've never watched "Old Yeller," but I bawled at the end of the TV movie, "The Hank Gathers Story." If you've ever seen it, you probably know what I mean. Same with when Reggie Lewis passed away...I was (am) a diehard Sonics fan, but I was old enough to appreciate what a tragedy his sudden death was, and I can remember, around the age of twelve or so, having a good cry in my bedroom when I heard the news. It was just so unfair. He was just so talented. I felt the loss even though he wasn't even on "my" team. I watched him collapse 13 minutes into that playoff game against the Hornets in '93, but it never occurred to me on that day that he might succumb a few days later on the practice court to the same condition. You don't really understand congenital heart conditions when you're twelve, much less understand yours or others' mortality. So it was a difficult thing to digest for a sports- and basketball-obsessed little boy, and it makes about as much sense to me now as it did then. Just senseless and tragic, to lose someone so suddenly.
As I listened to caller after caller on Seattle sports radio over the last few days, sharing stories of the meaning of this win to them and their families, it sounded and felt "right" to me that many of them were breaking up a bit into tears as they related their experience to the listening audience. It's undeniable, the deep meaning of this Super Bowl win for so many fans of our team, especially when you listen to them tell their individual and family stories from the heart, one by one, through a tone of obvious and great emotion. The themes of family, and sacrifice, and competition, and patience are universal, even if the focus of all of it in this instance is really a game at its heart.
I wondered, though, after hearing so many of the callers and their stories, why this victory had brought only complete and utter joy to me, and not even a brief emotional breakdown as the years and pain of perennial losing and near-misses washed away for good. After all, it sure seemed to be doing so for many others with similarly disappointing experiences of fandom over the years and decades. Not a bad thing that I wasn't crying, at all, but perhaps a slightly incongruous thing to detect in yourself, especially when you know you have always been a sucker for emotional story lines in sports. It really doesn't get more emotional than this, does it? I mean, it's the first one, and you, like me, have waited a lifetime for it to happen, knowing all along that there are no guarantees. I couldn't come up with an answer why the tears hadn't come though, except to speculate that maybe my confidence in this team has been so high for so long that the loss never even seemed like a realistic possibility to me. It did in the NFC Championship Game, but that one wasn't for all the marbles the way the Super Bowl is...it was just to get us back for another shot at the title we'd so nearly missed out on several years before.
Then, this afternoon, as I drove slowly through the school zone and by the elementary school a few blocks up the street from my home in Everett, something unexpected happened that finally broke the dam of emotion loose.
The kids were just getting out of school for the day, and I was being careful to get through the school zone as safely as possible. As I rolled to the end of the school zone, I came to a complete stop at the red octagonal four-way sign, glancing to my left at the young elementary school crossing guards, the three of whom had just taken up their post on the corner of the intersection. I drive by these kids every day on my way home from work. I often smile at them; sometime they'll smile back. More often, though, they just stare, as the seemingly fearless children of 21st century America are wont to do.
Today, though, I barely had time to register them there on the corner, and before I could even crack a polite smile at them, all three boys in their orange safety vests saw the Hawks logo on my beanie, square in the middle of my forehead, and, with eyes going immediately wide, all three of them began screaming, "GO HAWKS! GO HAWKS!! YEAH BABY, WE'RE #1!!!! WE DID IT! HAWKS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!" They were jumping and dancing and screaming at the top of their lungs about the great accomplishment of our mighty Seahawks.
What had been the start of my polite, willful smile turned into an automatic Cheshire grin in about a nanosecond, and in the very next nanosecond, my vocal chords erupted before my brain could even fire off a synapse, and I instinctively joined their refrain in a tidal wave of glee and excitement. It was such a spontaneously cool thing to have happen...if you live here (Puget Sound), you know strangers don't exchange more than very vanilla pleasantries, almost ever. I've driven by these kids hundreds of times without ever exchanging more than a polite smile with them. But today was different...when they saw that two-inch Hawks logo above my eyes, we were instant Hawk-brothers. It was kinship.
This shared experience of multi-generational celebration only lasted for about 30 seconds, at which point a line of cars was forming behind me and I had to promptly move through the intersection. Then as I rolled down the hill toward my house, feeling giddy about the spontaneous and unexpected instance of mutual Hawks-celebration, I could still see those boys jumping and hear them yelling from their corner behind me. And so it was at that moment that it all hit me like a ton of bricks. The tears I had expected to feel on Sunday night as I watched the game with my family, or even yesterday at the parade, finally began to well up in my eyes, and that unique feeling of vulnerability overtook me.
I knew at that moment what the best part of this whole experience, this awesome experience of the Hawks' winning their first Super Bowl, is to me. It's these little kids who will never know the emotional pain and embarrassment of rooting for a perennial NFL also-ran. It's these kids, whose joy is so pure, so unabashed and free-spirited, that they weren't letting go of any baggage with this victory. They don't have the baggage I've had as a Hawks fan, as so many of the callers whose stories touched me also had as Hawks fans. While we celebrate what we've won and that which we now gladly leave behind, we can rest easy in the knowledge that the next generations of Seahawk fans will know this franchise more as what it is now, than for the darkness and gloom from whence it's come over so many years. We still get to teach them and show them all about everything that came before, the long struggle before the ecstasy of final triumph, but it will be history for them, a set of object lessons. They'll bear no scar tissue from it.
I don't really know why this is the experience that finally brought forth the well of emotion I'd expected days before when we won. Maybe I saw some of myself, the young Hawks fan, in them...in fact, that's my best guess.
The knowledge that these kids won't spend the next 30+ years wondering nervously if it's their lot to go through life never seeing their favorite team reach the pinnacle, well...that's priceless to me. And well worth a few earnest tears shed on the top of the mountain.