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O’Neil: How I’m re-claiming my fandom to re-shape my writing for 710Sports.com

A Mariners loss soured Danny O'Neil's mood earlier this season -- but he appreciated it. (AP)

When was the last time you were as happy as Nelson Cruz sounded during last week’s All-Star Game?

I didn’t have to think very long about that one.

Oct. 11, 2009. OK, I had to look up the date, but the moment is absolutely burned into my internal hard drive. It was when linebacker Mason Foster intercepted a pass that had bounced off the foot of an Arizona receiver and returned the interception 37 yards at Husky Stadium. And just like that, the Huskies – who trailed the Wildcats by 12 points with 5 minutes remaining – had scored a second touchdown in the span of 22 seconds of the fourth quarter.

I don’t remember exactly what I said as I first high-fived and then hugged the two guys sitting in the row below me. I hope I sounded as unabashedly joyful and excited as Cruz did as he watched his teammate Jean Segura do exactly what he had predicted before the at-bat by belting a home run in the All-Star Game.

That is the coolest thing about sports. The ability to make us inexplicably and perhaps even unreasonably happy, and often that happiness occurs in the company of others who are just as unreasonably excited over the exact same thing.

In the five years that I’ve worked full-time at 710 ESPN Seattle, I’ve tried to get back in touch with some of that joy and emotion of being a fan, and as I reboot my contributions here on 710Sports.com, I’m planning to include more from that personal perspective rather than as a professional analyst.

I’ll still be covering Seahawks games, but not quite the same way. And my Huskies coverage is going to come from the North side stands where I’ve got season tickets with three of my college roommates.

I’m an incredibly lucky person. I’m one of the only people I know whose job is exactly what I told people I wanted it to be when I was 13 years old. Now, that might say something about the height of my ambitions, but I would like to point out that it represents an admirable level of realism on my part. My love of sports did not blind me to my all-too-evident lack of athletic competence in any form or fashion.

I became a professional sports observer. A newspaper reporter, whose job ranges somewhere between an anthropologist who observes, catalogs and explains the behaviors of the various sports teams, and a medical examiner who determines the exact cause of defeat.

I’ve been witness to some of the most unforgettable moments in Seattle sports from the Beastquake to the Fail Mary to Richard Sherman’s tip of Colin Kaepernick’s pass, but it was all from the detachment of the press box.

That’s where I’ll still be during Seahawks games this season. And I’ll be attending the press conferences, too, but if some of the writing seems to be more personal, well, that’s by design. I’m trying to embrace the experience more and speak to how sports feels as opposed to determining the whats and the whys.

I am endlessly curious about sports, and I think it’s an incredible environment to look at just about everything from how to maximize athletic performance to the ways race and gender impact hiring decisions in front offices and on professional rosters.

But ultimately the best thing about sports is how they make you feel. Wait, that’s not quite right. They don’t always make you feel great. I was reminded of that back in June when I was trying to figure out why I was in such a bad mood. The weather was great, I had just moved to a place with a great view and I was getting ready to go on vacation, and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so sour on a Friday evening as I headed to a poker fundraiser for Food Lifeline at CenturyLink Field.

Then it hit me. It was because I had heard the Mariners’ score. They had lost 14-10 in Boston, blowing two different sizeable leads. And as I realized that I was emotionally deflated by the result, I actually found a bit of joy in that because I realized that what I was feeling was due to being a true fan.

See, I’ve always liked the Mariners. I’ve rooted for them. I’ve had Mariners hats, and there’s no team that I’ve ever liked more than them since moving to Seattle in 1993, but I wouldn’t have called myself a true fan. I was an ardent observer, but more of an enthusiast.

A true fan is someone whose mood will be affected – one way or the other – by the performance of the team. And while I always cheered for the Mariners, I could usually come away from a loss without any true teeth gnashing. Then I realized that a perfectly good Friday night had been spoiled for me by an undesirable result, and I felt a weird pride that any real fan totally understands.

And it’s THAT thing, that emotional resonance of sports, that is the best thing about sports, and something I hope to explore more as I adjust the pitch of my writing here on 710Sports.com.

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