Thanksful

It is something of a cliché, an easy “this thing writes itself” endeavor. I’m talking about the sometimes treasured but often reviled “What I’m Thankful For” column as we approach Thanksgiving. I’ve probably only done it a couple times since college, which was a long time ago. But this year, it feels appropriate.

Two years ago, Thanksgiving was a somber event. The country was in the grips of a deadly pandemic. People were dying by the thousands every day, store shelves were empty, and the country had just endured a fractious and bitter presidential election. And the vaccines, miraculously created in record time, were still months away for most people.

America had endured a months-long period without sports. While some would deride our country’s love affair with sports as wasteful of time and resources, the fact remains that they can provide entertainment, camaraderie, and a shared sense of purpose. Sports in 2020 were almost painful to endure with empty stadiums, “schedules” that became mere hopeful suggestions, the shifting of seasons, and “championships” that felt like anything but.

It feels like it was decades ago, but the Arizona Wildcat football team went 0-5 in 2020. They played fewer than half of the games on the original schedule. The season didn’t start until Nov. 14 (a game at Utah scheduled for Nov. 7 was canceled due to COVID-19).

That first game was actually a brief flash of hope for Arizona. The Cats were tied with powerful USC heading into the fourth quarter. Arizona twice took leads in that final quarter, including a 30-27 lead with only 1:35 left in the game. Unfortunately, USC drove 75 yards in 70 seconds to win, 34-30.

A couple weeks after Thanksgiving, Arizona would lose, at home, to ASU by the infamous score of 70-7. The only good thing about that day is that the official box score reads Attendance: 0.

Last year was not much better. Games were still being canceled, players were missing games after testing positive, and idiots like Kyrie Irving were putting themselves ahead of their teams by refusing to be vaccinated. (It’s really simple. If a person doesn’t want to be vaccinated, such is their right. But then, they’re giving up the privilege of being a part of a team that requires its players to be vaccinated.)

I went to a couple UA basketball games last year and it was painful to watch college kids being paid minimum wage have to go up to the high rollers in the great seats and remind them of the mask policy (which was widely ignored). High school games were played with masks on players, refs and surly parents. It often got ugly.

But now we’re two years on and things are better. COVID-19 is still with us, and apparently it always will be, in one form or another. We just survived another election, the results of which many (but certainly not all) might find hopeful. Maybe we can get back to a place where we just bicker with each other instead of plotting open warfare. And sports are back in a big way. College football stadiums are packing in 100,000 people and the National Football League has resumed its campaign of total world domination. (After having regular-season games in England and Germany earlier in the season, the NFL held the Cardinals-49ers game in Mexico City last weekend).

There are several things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Among them:

• I’m thankful for University of Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke, who had the wild foresight to hire football coach Jedd Fisch and men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd. The basketball team got a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Lloyd was National Coach of the Year. If anything, what has happened in football is even more amazing. The coach went from Jedd Who? To Jedd Lasso in no time, spreading his infectious optimism and watching as victories followed on close behind. Here’s hoping that this Thanksgiving weekend will be topped off with a joyous thrashing of Arizona State at Arizona Stadium.

• I’m thankful that high school sports, of which I am a big fan and a giddy participant, are back in a big way. Kids are having a good time and we’re back to providing lifetime memories.

• I’m thankful for cable TV, because there’s always something on. There’s nothing like flipping channels around midnight on a Saturday night and coming across a football game with a tie score in the fourth quarter. Who cares if it’s New Mexico State against something called Lamar. It’s football!

• I’m thankful that people still read newspapers — and not just this one. Newspapers helped start the revolution that created this country and have seen America through the brightest and darkest of its hours. May they last forever.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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