Happy New Year. 2007 has a nice ring to it, no? (James Bond fans worldwide are dancing as you read this. Daniel Craig, by the way, is the best Bond since Connery. Check out "Casino Royale" if you haven't already.) How many resolutions did you come up with for the next 12 months? And how many of those have you begun resolving? I think I've managed to come up with the most basic -- and thus possibly most profound -- resolution of my life: I will spend 2007 embracing beginnings.
In my topsy-turvy world of priorities, this resolution will impact the way I see, experience, and write about sports. We fans tend to be consumed with how our favorite teams and athletes FINISH a performance or game. It's the post-mortem we all want to read or hear (and consider that grim description, as your eyes dance across the next box score). Who finished first? Who won the most games? Who raised the trophy?
I've come to believe that sports fans don't give enough enthusiasm to the beginning of things. Sure, when the gentlemen start their engines, the crowd rises to its collective feet. Baseball's opening day, football's opening weekend . . . the spotlight is certainly brightened, but for how long?
Take last year's St. Louis Cardinals, a team that surprised everyone but the ghost of Dizzy Dean by winning the World Series. Euphoria in Cardinal Nation! But ask any Cardinal fan worth his red, and you'll hear that the 2006 season -- the six months before the playoffs began in October -- was sheer misery. After the month of April, the Cardinals lost more games than they won, and snuck into the playoffs by a tail feather when Houston lost its last game of the season. Baseball scribes were that close to placing the 2006 Cards among the most disappointing in franchise history. Then . . . euphoria.
The truth of the matter is that Cardinal fans -- or Steeler fans, or Heat fans, you name the champion -- get to celebrate their greatest glory only until the next season begins. With the dawn of the 2007 season, fans of 29 baseball teams will tell you there is no baseball champion, not THIS year. Reality perhaps, but a bit clinical in an enterprise where emotion fuels a fan base.
So I'm going to celebrate the beginning of a title defense. And enjoy seeing a Cardinal team -- with a few new faces -- tackle a new challenge St. Louis hasn't seen in a quarter century. (Yes, I'll be wearing my world championship t-shirt.) Instead of being obsessed with an outcome, I choose to attach myself to a process.Two of the preeminent teams in Memphis will welcome the concept of new beginnings more than most of us. The Redbirds had their worst season since coming to the Bluff City in 1998, and the University of Memphis football team suffered its dreariest campaign in 20 years. So cheer these teams -- early and often -- when they return to the field. A good year to remember that "way you play the game" cliche.
June will likely bring the dawn of a new era for the local NBA outfit, as the Grizzlies are playing their way toward a few extra ping-pong balls in the league's draft lottery. Whether or not Ohio State's Greg Oden winds up at FedExForum, you'll likely see a Memphis team next November that would run the current edition out of the building. (Here's hoping this doesn't take a trade of Pau Gasol. Some "old" valuables are worth retaining.)
This time of year, I usually find myself imagining what the next 365 days will bring, in my life, the lives of my family and friends, in the life of our community here in Memphis. But this year, I'm telling myself to embrace the start of the year, the beginning of something new worldwide. That journey of a thousand miles looks less daunting when we pause to enjoy the first few.