For the Love of Game: How Sports Unify Us in our Craziness

By Davin Wilson 

David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is the best sports movie of all-time, even though it’s not a sports movie in the traditional sense. Sure, Robert DeNiro’s Pat Solatano Sr. is a Hunter S. Thompson-esque gambler banking his future on DeSean Jackson and the Philadelphia Eagles and his behavior resembles the superstitious, obsessive compulsive mannerisms of a die-hard sports fan, but we never see a game. Instead, we see how sports intertwine into the fabric of our lives and shape who we are as individuals.

If Bull Durham is the quintessential movie about surviving life in minor league baseball, then Silver Linings Playbook is the archetypal flick about surviving life in general. Bradley Cooper – who actually proved he could act in this movie – plays violently bipolar schoolteacher Pat Jr. who has just been released from a mental hospital and is determined to find the silver lining in the dark clouds and put his life back together, which he does. The movie ends with the younger Solatano saying, “The world will break your heart 10 ways to Sunday, that’s guaranteed. And I can’t begin to explain that – or the craziness inside myself and everybody else, but guess what? Sunday is my favorite day again.”

Solatano’s words are as sure as death and taxes. Whether it’s watching Jerod Evans throw a game-ending interception in the 2016 ACC Championship game against Clemson or landing a dream job only to find out its been frozen a week before starting, life is going to knock you on your ass 10 out of 11 times. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s just one of the wonderful things life has up its sleeves. Its ability to throw you under the bus one second, then lift you up and dust you off the next. It’s like being 10-years-old and a snowstorm is in the forecast and you go to bed hoping and praying for snow so you don’t have to go to school, only to wake up and find the ground just as green as it was when you went to bed. However, when you arrive at school, you’ve found out the science department won a free lifetime supply Little Ceaser’s pizza that would’ve gone unclaimed if nobody was at school to claim the prize. Or watching your team suffer a heart-breaking last second loss and then win the next one on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in triple overtime. In what is one of the most beautiful moments of the film, a letter written by his love interest, Tiffany (a superb Jennifer Lawrence), writes that The Lord of the Flies and A Farewell to Arms are beautiful books because they prepare the young children reading them for the difficulties of life.

The elder Solatano gets in on the philosophical action as well, telling his son he’s dropping the ball on his life like Jackson dropped the ball at the 1-yard line with the end zone being wide open for both, yet neither one can find it. It’s an experience I’m quite familiar with as I’ve more than my fair share of opportunities to score, but have failed to do so until recently know that I’m 34-years-old and tired of living with my parents, ready for my dare to be great moment.

Cooper’s Solatano has a sense of maniacal optimism that almost makes him pitiable. Once released from the mental hospital, the younger Solatano is determined to turn his life around and win back his estranged wife by sticking to a strict regimen of running around wearing a garbage bag and reading books from her high school syllabus, like Lord of the Flies and A Farewell to Arms. Perhaps some of Solatano’s optimism is perhaps due to he and his family’s undying love for the Eagles, no matter how bad they are. This is a feeling most die-hard fans are used to as they suffer through terrible years, but get to experience the sweet taste of championship victory at least once in their lifetimes. Parallels can also be drawn between Solatano’s rebuilding process and those of professional sports teams and the pain that comes with them, especially if you’re an Atlanta Braves fan like I am. I stick with my Braves, though, like Solatano Jr. sticks with his regimen, because I know darkness comes before the dawn and realize that rock bottom must be reached first before success can follow.

Die-hard fans believe this will be the year our teams will reward our faith, despite all the signs pointing otherwise, thus probably making us neurotic. However, we are united in our neuroses. No matter how many times they had been proved wrong, fans of the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers started their seasons with the same perspectives. For two-thirds of those fans, their teams repaid their beliefs with championships in 2016. These victories brought these fans even closer together just like the junior Solatano’s progress and the family’s belief in the Philadelphia Birds unified the Solatano family.

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