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Helplessly hoping

September 22, 2011 - Zach Baker
One of my favorite songs, and I have a few versions of it on my iPod, is Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Helplessly Hoping."

My belief, and trust me, I give music way too much thought, is that Stephen Stills was one of the best songwriters of the era, maybe ever. It's less than certain if Stills has any interest in sports. But when I hear the song, sometimes I think of the phrase in that context.

Every coach I have ever interviewed tells me about the team aspect --unless I'm talking about a specific golfer or cross country runner. But the phrase "we are one person, we are two alone, we are three together, we are four for each other" is such a poignant one for me. There's a beauty to its meaning and its construction. "Four for each other" can mean many things, but I often think it means four people working for the greater good. In sports, that happens somewhere every day of the week.

The song's title also can be interpreted in sports. "Helplessly Hoping" is a fan. We sit in the bleachers, we watch on TV, we listen on the radio, and we give full attention.

We buy tickets and t-shirts, hats and sweaters. We lend vocal support.

But for all our effort and capital, we are helpless. The action will go on whether we are there or not. We hope, in some cases pray, for victory. Then there's that feeling of connection. I was once certain Cecil Fielder hit a home run for me at Tigers Stadium, not because I am a Tigers fan, but because he knew I may never see him play again.

Then there was Tim Couch's desperation pass in 1999 that somehow fell into Kevin Johnson's arms and somehow liberated Browns fans -- momentarily -- from the oh-too-familiar feeling of defeat.

I used to think these moments had something to do with me. Now I know that's nonsense.

But I rarely miss a Browns game. "They may lose with me, but they'll never win without me," I tell myself. It's why I'm almost never available Sunday afternoons in the fall.

But as fans, we're helpless. Unable to affect the outcome but certain we can. The only thing a fan can control is hope, and hope is the only reason we watch.

I doubt this ran through Stephen Stills mind when he wrote his song. But music has always been open to loose interpretation.

So has the role of the fan in sports. I doubt any of us want it any other way.


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