Sports can lift New Yorker’s spirit

I live on the corner of Broadway and Worth Street in lower Manhattan.

Because of Hurricane Sandy, I haven’t had water, electricity, Internet or cell-phone reception since Monday afternoon.

To leave my apartment, I need to walk 15 flights with a flashlight. When I exit the building at the ground floor, there are no working traffic lights, no open stores or restaurants and no real signs of life outside. My neighborhood — home of City Hall, hectic Canal Street and the Federal Building — usually is a bustling center of activity and business.

It’s a ghost town now.

I’ve seen a lot over the past 96 hours.

I’ve seen a line of people at a pay phone for the first time since the late 1990s. I’ve seen the Whole Foods on Warren Street handing out free bowls of soup to neighborhood residents who hadn’t eaten a warm meal in days. I’ve seen cab drivers stop without being signaled, just to see if senior citizens walking the streets needed a lift somewhere. Anywhere.

I’ve seen a lot of things this week I may never see again.

The one thing I haven’t seen?


And I’m not ashamed to say it: Hell, I miss sports.

Tuesday afternoon was the first time I’d left my apartment since Sandy hit the day before. Walking the streets, passing by one dark building after another, I spotted a lit room at the basement level of a hotel on West Street. I popped my head in and found a table full of power cords, free bottles of water and a handful of lost, wandering souls just like me.

A man and his eight-months-pregnant wife charged their iPhones next to me at the table, and we got to talking. She was nervous, he was stressed and their apartment building on Chambers Street was in no better shape than mine. She could give birth at any moment, and they lived on the 19th story of a building now without working elevators. The husband said he practically carried her down 20 flights of stairs an hour earlier just so they could get some fresh air. We talked for a few moments and went back to our charging phones.

Then he subtly pulled me aside and asked a question I was simply too damn afraid to ask anyone else all day. A question I’d been meaning to ask 20 other people, but hadn’t out of the fear of sounding incredibly shallow and absurd.

With an arm on my shoulder and his body turned away from his eight-months-pregnant wife, he asked: “Do you have any idea who won last night’s Monday Night Football game?”

I laughed out loud.

I had no idea who’d won the Cardinals-49ers game. I hadn’t seen a snap. And guess what? I wanted to know the answer, too!

“This sounds ridiculous considering the circumstances, I know that,” he said in an almost embarrassed tone. “But I’m in one of those survivor pools in my office. I took San Francisco! I want to know who won.”

At the mere mention of an NFL survivor pool, two other men — both in their early to mid-30s — perked their ears up and strolled over. One guy had John Skelton (I know, I know) as the quarterback of his fantasy football team, and the other was born and raised in San Francisco.

None of us had eaten a hot meal, placed a phone call or taken a shower in over 24 hours, but all that went away as we found ourselves in deep conversation about how frustrated Russ Grimm — a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Redskins — must feel each week watching his much-maligned offensive line in Arizona. Four guys in New York City — no power, no food, no sleep, no personal hygiene — just talking about the Arizona Cardinals offensive line 24 hours after a hurricane changed our lives forever.

No big deal.

When we finally got the final score of the previous night’s game (San Francisco won, 24-3), we all shared a big laugh over the circumstances.

It was the first time I’d smiled in hours. Them, too.

Sports may be trivial. They may be low on the totem pole when it comes to priority. But they’re a part of our lives. They’re something to turn to when real-life circumstances aren’t so great.

I grew up a few miles outside the Jersey Shore in central New Jersey. I spent my college summers dancing to bad techno music at Bar A in Belmar. I spent my childhood on the Point Pleasant boardwalk. I’ve got friends who lost their homes in Breezy Point up by the Rockaways, others who lost everything in Long Beach, and my parents still are without power, heat or gas in my hometown of Freehold.

I know there are far more important things than Sunday’s Steelers-Giants game.

But I also know how much the guys I grew up with in Jersey, the friends I’ve made in New York and the fellas from that Tuesday afternoon conversation at the hotel are looking forward to it.

When that ball is kicked off Sunday at 4:25, it’ll be something else for all of us to think about. Even if it’s just for a few fleeting moments, it’ll be a welcome distraction.

For three hours, it’ll be OK to take our minds off the electricity, the traffic, the subways and the dozens of still-unanswered questions. For three hours, it’ll be completely reasonable to lose our voices over debating which 2004 NFL Draft QB — Big Ben or Eli — we’d rather have. It’ll be completely reasonable to cheer for a late Heath Miller touchdown so our fantasy football teams notch another win.

It’ll be OK to laugh. To smile. To concentrate on something — really, anything — else.

It’s easy to be jaded and cynical about sports. It’s easier to be dismissive.

And even this kind of article may cause you to roll your eyes and mumble something derogatory about folks in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

But I’m excited for that Giants-Steelers game Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford.

In all my years as a fan and as a working NFL writer, I can’t recall a single football game I’ve looked forward to more.

And I know I’m not the only one.

Play ball.