Fantasy Worlds: Superheroes vs Sports Heroes?

I was invited to the Calgary Stampeders vs. Hamilton Ticats game on Sunday August 28th, 2016 by a friend who knew I grew up as Ticat fanatic - literally. While at the game memories of my childhood (some mine and some told to me by others) flooded back.

Family Day Stampeders

Starting at about 4 years old, I lived and died with Ticats’ wins and losses. When I was in kindergarten, I went to the Quarterback Club with my Mom and I am told I was keen to ask Ron Howell a question – “Do you like football or hockey more?”  Yes, in those days players not only played both offence and defence in football, but could also play more than one professional sport. In addition all of the Ticats had day jobs – many at the steel mills. Being a CFL football player was more of a passion than a profession in the 60s!

By the time I was 6 years old, I knew all the Ticat player’s names and went to all their home games. There were 10+ family and neighbours who would go to each game so it was easy to sneak me in….I can remember by Dad handing the attendant a batch of tickets and we’d all rush in. No scanners or searches in those days!  By the time I was 8 years old, I knew most of the offense and defensive plays and would predict what formations and plays would/should be called throughout the game.  I loved it when someone would say, “that kid should be the coach.”

Football became like a religion for me. I would often sneak away when watching a playoff or Grey Cup game and pray to Jesus to help them win when they were losing (I don’t recall every thanking Jesus when they won).  We would also go to the city pep rallies that were common before big playoff or Grey Cup games in the ‘60s.  The radio stations would even create fun fight songs to motivate the fans and players. For me, players like John Barrow, Angela Mosca, Bernie Faloney, Hal Patterson, Smokie Stover and Garney Henley were my superheroes. 

In fact Henley, was very similar to Superman and Clark Kent - a very unassuming man with black geeky glasses by day, but put on a football uniform and he became a superstar.  He would play safety on defence (a position I would later play in high school) for the most part, but when the game was on the line, he was often put in as a receiver on offence.  And, while everyone on the other team’s defence knew the pass was going to go to him, somehow he found a way to get open and win the game more often than not.

future cheeleader

Cosplay vs. Sports Fans

As I watch the game, I began to see all sports are just another form of cosplay, a phenomenon, which has become all the rage since the mid ‘90s.  Cosplay, is contraction of the words “costume and play,” applies to any costume wearing and role playing of characters from comic books, cartoons, video games, action figures and super heroes from television and movies.

Earlier this year, I attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo (aka Calgary’s cosplay convention, one of the largest in North America) and was gobsmacked by the number of people who attended, the attention to detail of the costumes and level of role-playing that took place.  For some reason, I felt quite comfortable but didn’t know why as I am not a big comic book or super hero fan.

But a light bulb went on for me while at the Stampeders Ticat game.  I realized it was because when I was young I too would often fantasize about being a super hero, however, in my case it meant a superstar athlete.  When, I would play football on the street and in the park I was always fantasizing. If I was throwing the ball, I would imagine myself as the Ticat quarterback of the day - Bernie Faloney or Joe Zuger. If I was catching the ball, I would be Hal Patterson or Garney Henley.  The same when we played street hockey or in the back yard rinks, we always fantasized what player we wanted to be. In my case it always was Jean Beliveau.  Yes I lived in a fantasy world.

Oskie Wee Wee?

As I continued to watch the game, the similarities just kept coming.  One of the workshops at the Calgary Expo was a lesson in the fictional language of Klingon from the cult Star Trek culture. At the time I didn’t make the connection, but how was this any different from the nonsensical Ticat Oskie Wee Wee chant.

Oskie Wee Wee / Oskie Waa Waa / Holy Mackinaw / Tigers ... Eat 'em RAW!!

Vince Wirtz developed the yell in the 1920s as part of his role-playing as the Hamilton Tigers mascot, Pigskin Pete.  FYI…in 1968 the cheer was the subject of a National Film Board of Calgary documentary.

In fact, mascots, majorettes, marching bands and cheerleaders, which were very much associated with football in 50s and 60s, were really a form of cosplay back in the day.

And then there is the football uniform - helmet that could easily be linked to some super hero or space creature hat, the huge shoulder pads and skin-tight pants that further fostered the idea the players were larger than life.

Superstar vs. Superhero

Fast forward to today. Our five-year-old neighbour is passionate about dressing up as his favourite super hero. With 30+ costumes, he wears one pretty much everyday.  More than once I have wondered, “is this a good thing” but now I remember back to my childhood, when I too lived in a fantasy world much of the time….just a different one!

Last Word

I am also now rethinking Pokémon Go.  The more I think about it, it too is just part of the human need to play and fantasize.  Humans have been fantasizing for millenniums, but how we do it evolves with time just like everything else in life.  

Perhaps we could all benefit from a bit more fantasy, imagination and playfulness in our lives.

Footnote:

Back to the Ticat Stampeders game.  It wasn’t as exciting as I remembered mostly because television has ruined the game for the live audience with the endless breaks for commercials. And the contests and games that are suppose to entertain us during the commercial breaks are silly and insulting.  And don’t get me started about the endless penalties and challenges. 

Also I was disappointed by the Family Day program that included some players signing autographs, face-painting and a couple of slides and bouncing things.  I was expecting football-related activities.  Why not let the kids try to kick the ball through the goal posts or throw balls through hoops? Why not time them on the 40-yard dash and compare their times to CFL players?  Or measure their vertical leaps? What about letting them hit a blocking sled and see what it feels like.  Maybe even have Jon Cornish (he was there signing autographs) show them how he use to practice his running drills.  Maybe even a mini Pass, Putt & Kick competition.  Missed opportunity….big time.