Making of a Sports Fan: Monica Esenwein


Writing on the internet about sports is an unusual thing. Each time one of the Backline Soccer writers publishes their work, they do so through the lens of a lifetime of sports moments and experiences.

No writer is totally unbiased. The past moments that make up our sports lives define the fans that we are today. Our past experiences color how we view sports now—each kick of the ball, each card a ref pulls from their pocket, each tackle, each moment of triumph and of desolation, etc.

In order for you, our readers, to better understand the sports history of our staff, we’ve decided to have each writer describe three to five moments that changed and shaped who they are as a sports fan.

May I present our new series, “The Making of a Sports Fan”.

I struggled for a while to try and come up with these few stories, because my whole life has revolved around sports. Every aspect of my being is imbued with presence of sports. It doesn’t matter which sport or country or level—if it’s on, I’ll watch it.  And I’ve always been that way. My mom laughs and says that I’m addicted, but she wouldn’t change it for me, ever.

I guess I’ll start with this, then. It’s not one game in particular but, rather, my love affair with one team.

A little background first. My grandfather was born and raised in Cleveland; we grew up an hour and half from there, in Pennsylvania. We are Indians fans.

When I was 6 years old, my father left, when I was 8 he passed away from cancer. Every time something would happen—him leaving, him dying, losing a game in summer league, or school getting to be too much—we would drive to Cleveland. My grandpa’s aunt had season tickets, and we would go, right behind home plate, and watch the Tribe. I always remember the walls leading into the city on the highway, welcoming me into a safe place, welcoming me home. The old Municipal Stadium, your typical old-school baseball stadium, was a sight for sore eyes and no matter how bad their record was, we always had hope.

The mid 90s were amazing. We had winning records, got a new stadium, and went to the World Series a few times. We kept going, driving up and becoming part of the record 416 straight sellouts, multiple times. My mom, my brother, my grandparents, and I went to Winterhaven, Florida for Spring Training once. It was amazing. I got my favorite player’s (Omar Vizquel) autograph. I still have it tucked away in a case. None of my friends understood how I went to Florida and didn’t come back with a tan. Explaining to a bunch of girls who don’t play or watch sports that you were at Spring Training, not the beach, was like explaining physics to a newborn.

There have been ups and downs since then, but we still go at least twice a summer. This team is so deeply embedded in my soul that I don’t think I could ever give them up.

My second moment is, again, not one team or game specifically, but I’d be a fool not to say that the 1996 Olympics will be with me forever. The first time that these particular women’s sports were in the Olympics and they were here, in the United States and we swept EVERYTHING!

The women put on a clinic in all sports. We took basketball, softball, soccer, and gymnastics. It was the greatest summer of my life! I knew that it was possible to become an Olympian. And that the sports I loved were finally in the Olympics and in my country was the best! Hearing the Star Spangled Banner time after time after time and seeing Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Lisa Fernandez, Michelle Smith, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and all of their teammates wearing the gold, standing at the top of all of their podiums and belting out the anthem—I will never forget those moments.

The one that sticks out most, the one that makes my eyes water, is Kerri Strug. No one, NO ONE, nails a landing like Kerri Strug! She broke her ankle on the first vault, came back with it wrapped and made the most amazing vault run and landing ever! She hit that mat, threw her arms up, smiled and then hit her butt and cried. There is nothing I love more about sports than those moments. Those are the true test of will and sacrifice and are what dreaming all of your life and then doing it are all about.

The US women’s soccer team. I could go on for days, months; years about these women. They have made a huge impact in my life. Growing up and watching them was magical—knowing that it was possible and that they were fighting for me to have that chance was amazing.

This current team, this 2015 World Championship team—they are my favorite women, period. They have taken on the fight from all directions. Not only playing and winning with gratitude and grace, but fighting off the pitch with fearlessness and purpose. They truly love this game, their fans, and each other. They are the most open, the most friendly, and the strongest women you’ll ever meet.

They showed that it’s not always how you start but how you finish and that when everyone is wondering what is wrong, if you stick together, you can accomplish anything. I loved watching them last summer and I can’t wait to watch them in the upcoming weeks in Rio.

Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? For my Manchester United heart, it will always be Ronaldo. My heart broke when he had to leave the final of the Euros this summer. You could see on his face the pain, the thought that he had let his whole country down, as well as his teammates and his family—everything he had ever worked for, done.

Do you know what the true sign of an athlete is? It’s not how many times they lose, or get knocked down, or have adversity but how many times they rise above it and how they respond when doing so. Ronaldo could have gone into the locker room and thrown a hissy fit; he could have pouted and cried and succumbed to all of the doubt and negativity, but he did not.

He got checked out, got wrapped up, and apparently gave one hell of a speech that turned the flame up for his teammates. He was back out on the sideline for the second half, and, honestly, their coach could have sat down, because Ronaldo sure didn’t. He was in the box screaming, encouraging, and doing whatever he could from the sideline to will that team to victory. And they won.

You can have your say on who is the best, but for me, this is the true sign of a champion—of a captain and of a player that gets accused of being selfish. He pulled himself out of, arguably, the biggest international game of his career because it was what was best for his team. And then he did whatever he could to encourage and help from the bench. That is how it’s done. That is how you keep a promise to your country and to yourself.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this story. This one is about one team, one city, one dream, and one man’s promise. LeBron James, you gave us hope, you broke our hearts, and then you made it right. For those of you outside of Cleveland, you will never understand. I don’t care how many years it’s been since your team has won; you will not understand. Watch Believland and you’ll get a glimpse, but you will still have no idea.

Once LeBron left, no one dared think that Cleveland would ever see a championship again. The night of game 7, my great-aunt called my grandpa and said, “We gotta do it Richy, the boys are gonna do it! We’re gonna win Richy! We’re gonna be champions again!”

That night, Kyrie Irving crossed up Steph Curry and put a cold-blooded ice dagger in the center of all Golden States hearts and made Cleveland champions once again. Granted, the game and series were much more than just that moment, but that moment will live forever in Clevelander minds. In that moment, with that bucket; on that night, Kyrie and LeBron—they brought it home.

LeBron hit his knees, and so did I. I cried, he cried; we all cried. None of us knew what to do. I’m 31 years old; this had never happened to us before. My Penguins won the week before, but this, THIS was it. My grandfather has waited 52 years for this moment, and I never thought he’d live to see it. My mom and aunt were on the phone together for the last minute, screaming and jumping. My brother was away with the Army doing training and he was jumping and crying and hugging his fellow soldiers.

There were 1.3 million people to welcome home the Cavs; my family was among them. There was no rioting and no looting, just plain coming together, climbing all over things, and welcoming home our heroes. The city was packed— you couldn’t move—not just because of the trophy, but because LeBron made us a promise when he was 18 and again at 31, and he made good on it. It meant just as much to him as it did to all of us and he deserved to know that weren’t mad. We had nothing but love, bro.

If you ever ask me why I love sports; why no matter what I do or where I go in life, I will always watch, these moments are why. They bring out every emotion, they bring people together, and, although it can be heartbreaking at times, they can be downright fun. It’s my addiction, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.