LOVE AND GAMES Don’t ever tell me that love and sports don’t mix. I’ve got more than nine years of research to prove it does, and how. If you’re looking for true love, find the woman who follows her husband four hours north for Ozzie Smith Day in St. Louis. She sits through a wet, chilly Friday night “warm-up” game, then finds her two square feet alongside Ozzie’s biggest fan in the standing-room-only section at Busch Stadium the next day. She listens to 90 minutes of speeches from people she couldn’t pick out in a lineup, from a distance that would require a carrier pigeon to deliver a message from her husband to the guest of honor. When the Wizard himself says a few words, and her husband’s cheeks get a little wet, she understands the relationship is about more than box scores and bubble-gum cards. The true love part? Her cheeks are wet too. Find the woman who tags along on a two-family trip to Little Rock to see -- in person -- the great Peyton Manning quarterback the Tennessee Vols one last time. She finds herself in Row MM of War Memorial Stadium on a November night so cold that Hog Nation is adorned more in hunter’s camouflage than Razorback Red. Huddling against her knees to stay as warm as possible, her three hours are spent staring at the backsides along Row LL, Manning merely a rumored celebrity on the field below. The true love part? She’s still his wife come Sunday morning. Find the life partner who agrees to a cross-state road trip to Knoxville to see -- what?! -- women’s basketball. She listens to the hype about these Lady Vols, hears that we have one chance -- ONE! -- to see the legendary Chamique Holdsclaw do her thing in her quest for four straight national championships. When the opening-tip is an hour earlier than expected and her group gets to see exactly one half of a game the home team wins by 30 points, there is nary a complaint. When her husband insists on seeing the next day’s game at Vanderbilt, she smiles and sends him on his way. The true love part? She’s six months pregnant. Find the lady who agrees to another trip to St. Louis for, yes, another Big Day . . . Willie McGee Day this time. The team is not retiring the player’s number, as they did Ozzie’s. The player is not on is way to Cooperstown, as was Ozzie. He’s merely the most popular player the team has suited up (including Ozzie) since Stan the Man. So she goes along for the festivities, the speeches, the chilly early-April baseball at Busch. The true love part? She has an infant in her arms the entire weekend. Find the wife who buys into the newest Memphis hype machine, NBA basketball. She agrees to attend the second home game of the Grizzlies’ inaugural season, her husband’s beloved Dallas Mavericks (huh?!) in town. She tolerates the fan’s clinging to his seat, griping about missed foul calls, cheering when the rest of the crowd boos . . . knowing full well that the last two minutes of a basketball game are all that matter anyway. The true love part? She finds her own hero in Steve Nash. Find the mother who follows the father to AutoZone Park for the 14th (15th?) time in a single season, a three-year-old daughter in Cardinal red at her side. This time, she’s eight months pregnant. It’s Autograph Night at the ballpark, and her husband simply has to introduce little Sofia to the great Stubby Clapp. Camera in hand, the moment arrives. Stubby reaches out to shake the little girl’s hand . . . and she shies away as if Prince Charming himself were proposing. The mother encourages her daughter until she finally agrees to the photo of a lifetime. The true love part? Mom’s in the picture too. True love is understanding the husband’s weakened knees when a statue of, yes, Ozzie Smith is dedicated outside Busch Stadium on August 11, 2002. His wife’s birthday. Coincidence? Sure. Poetic? Absolutely. Happy birthday, Sharon. I love you.

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