I watch a lot of sports.
I can confidently say that I’ve seen about 60 percent of all NFL games this season, including every single game on wild-card weekend. I’ve seen the benign highlight reels of every NCAA football game from the last year — especially of teams whose schools are in states that specialize in barbecue. And I’ve probably clocked as many hours watching the Warriors dominate every reputable team in the NBA as I’ve spent sitting in sweat-caked convention centers watching my little brother’s AAU team flounder through yet another Memorial Day weekend basketball tournament.
But I watch sports the way most people go to lecture — I kind of just sit in the back and passively consume what’s in front of me, laughing when the announcer accidentally says something inappropriate such as “wild, flinging balls.”
So maybe I don’t really “watch” sports. A more accurate statement would be to say that I watch my dad watch sports.
It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized how big of a sports fan my dad actually is. Throughout high school, I knew there was no chance of me watching TV from September to February, and rejoiced when the season premiere of “Glee” coincided with the end of the seemingly endless NFL season. The TV in our house was on more frequently than our lights, and 90 percent of the time, there was a game buzzing in the background while my dad cooked dinner or idly scrolled through his phone to check on his fantasy teams.
I never understood the appeal of watching other people play sports. Unathletic as I am, I could at least understand why people got so much joy out of playing them — the rush, the adrenaline, the burnt calories as an excuse to have Chipotle for dinner. But watching people run around and throw a ball at a hoop or toward an end zone for hours at a time — why would anyone want that?
After getting rejected from my top two college choices, getting into UC Berkeley seemed completely out of the question. Hours before UC Berkeley results — and my inevitable rejection — were to be released, my parents attempted to quell my disappointment by planning a trip to visit my then-backup school, UC Santa Barbara.
“Their football team is undefeated,” my dad said, pseudo-enthusiastically. “Because they don’t have one.”
When my dad left the Philippines and arrived in Chicago in the 1990s to begin training at the U.S. Navy’s only boot camp, one of the first things he bought himself was a Chicago Bulls baseball cap, marking the first of the Bulls’ six Michael Jordan championship years. I’d heard this story dozens of times, and regarded it as a cute story of a sports fan getting sentimental over a beloved piece of merchandise, kind of the same way I feel about my 2008 Jonas Brothers World Tour concert tee.
There is a photo of me at about 2 years old, eyes wide and beaming in braids and barely balancing in chunky Air Jordans, dressed in a miniature version of Michael Jordan’s uniform. The photo is from 1997 — Jordan’s penultimate championship year, and most likely the last year I cared about basketball outside of Troy Bolton’s championship streak with the East High Wildcats.
My dad played basketball all throughout his life in the Philippines, and coming to America, he found himself serendipitously dumped into the golden age of that very sport. Wearing his Bulls hat proudly, he tried to connect his life back home to his new life in his new home, and basketball was that common ground.
As he started working in boiler rooms and mechanical facilities, his stereotypically bootstraps-American supervisors sprouted his love for basketball into an obsession with the most stereotypically American sport — football.
The year we got cable, my dad and I would rock my then-newborn brother to sleep while CMT played Lonestar’s Greatest Hits. Once he was asleep, my dad would switch channels to whatever football game was on and suddenly, both his kids were rendered unconscious, and the soundtrack of his new home alternated between a distinctive country twang and the muffled sounds of college football marching bands.
When I got into UC Berkeley, the first thing my dad said was, “I’m so proud of you.” Followed immediately by a beaming smile and a whole-hearted, “Go Bears!”
Because Cal has a football team. And with my moving away for college, my dad had once again found a new home.
My entire family came to the first Cal football game of the season my freshman year. There is a picture of the four of us standing in front of Memorial Stadium, decked out in blue and gold, my dad smiling excitedly, and me, dreading the next four hours standing in the sun.
We watch the Cal games at home now, because I’ve never seen them win in person and am convinced that I am personally responsible for the team’s bad luck. I sit on the couch and watch my dad watch the screen.
“Is Cal winning?” my mom would say, popping her head out of the laundry room while folding the mass of laundry I had brought home for the weekend.
“No,” my dad would say with a scoff. “Good thing we didn’t go to the game.”
“Yeah,” I would say. “It’s good to be home.”