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On Second Thought

Sports, like the rest of life, will never be the same again

Like the backboards shorn of rims to discourage gatherings, something is missing from our lives, something we probably won't get back.
Like the backboards shorn of rims to discourage gatherings, something is missing from our lives, something we probably won't get back.Patrick Smith/Getty

Our sports have crossed into a second month of government-imposed behavior modification here in Massachusetts. It’s no fun.

All games have been placed in deep hibernation. It’s an especially unfortunate time of year because everything around us, especially here in New England, is supposed to be waking up, our days full of sunshine and spirit, and the anticipation of our winter teams about to reach playoff delirium.

Everything suddenly is backward, foreign, disorienting, and unsettling. We’ve been crushed by a tumblin’ tide of utter sports nothingness, with no hint of a return to normal in sight. If our normal ever was normal.

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When we emerge from all this, what will we be? What will we feel? Will we be as invested, engrossed, devoted, fanatic? Or is this mother lode of “PPD” deprivation going to rearrange our emotions, our habits, all the connections (psychic, spiritual, financial, and otherwise) that have made some of us devoted fans for years, decades, even lifetimes?

We’ll find out someday. Be it later this spring, or in the thick of summer, or maybe later, in the fall, say, around Thanksgiving. No one has a clue. Last week, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were tolled forward to 2021. Olympus got hitched to a tow truck. That’s a huge haul.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl remains on the schedule for Feb. 7, 2021, and even that could be in peril, no matter what Roger Goodell and his band of Goodfellas want to tell us. The NFL may be bigger than government, but even it must duck when Mother Nature puts down the hammer.

On the morning of March 8, we here in the Hub of the Universe turned the clocks ahead, lost an hour, and in a flash, summarily lost the Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox, along with the Revolution, not to mention all college, high school, and youth sports. We got clocked.

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Can we get that hour back? Please? Surely someone in Greenwich (UK) can do something.

The Patriots, meanwhile, did not go away. However, Tom Brady did. For a lot of us, that’s ostensibly the same thing. Tampa? Really? OK, sunshine, sure, that’s an OK trade for stone walls and crisp autumn afternoons and 1 p.m. kickoffs out there at the Lighthouse in the Forest.

But beyond that, be real. Tampa is just Dubuque without the cow patties and the $3 happy hour shots down at Earl’s by the Pasture.

Our new life devoid of sports has been a beating. And beneath it all, we are slowly and undoubtedly being changed, in ways we cannot fully realize, comprehend, detect. We are being disconnected, like it or not (I suspect it’s the latter), and we won’t know what that truly means for quite some time.

We’ve gone from crowing to coping, from living for the next game to dying to get them back, from chain-smoking box scores, WAR, Corsi, red zone efficiency, and third-down conversion rate to vaping on reruns of games of the ’70s and ‘80s and montages of our duck-boat parade glory days.

Man oh man, the old is getting old in a hurry. Every old game just ain’t a classic. Maggie, it’s early April, and maybe we really should be back doing some yard work. In a week, even the most loyal in Patriots Nation will be jonesing for an XFL franchise.

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Virtually every business, school, and church is closed. All arenas and ballparks shut tighter than Jeremy Jacobs’s wallet. Based on the guidance from Beacon Hill and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we’re not going anywhere until at least May 4 (the Red Sox, always ahead of the curve, are scheduled for a day off, prior to the Angels arriving at Fenway).

Right now, no one is playing anything, beyond maybe ping-pong in the basement, sock hockey in the hallway, or practice putting in the family room. Every one of us is deadly in the 5- to 8-foot range on berber carpet, but few among us can tap one in from 18 inches on a groomed, billiard-table-like green. That, of course, was true long before the pandemic struck.

Some communities have gone so far as to place ties across basketball rims — restraints similar to plastic handcuffs — to discourage shootarounds and games of H-O-R-S-E as a means of muting the spread of COVID-19. No shooting. No jumping. No elbowing. No sweating, sneezing, or germ sharing.

Right now, we just can’t have nice things. Not even a rusted orange rim of steel nailed to a moldy backboard on the town courts.

They may be coming next for our bicycles. If so, I hope they first hunt down the amateur weekend Tour de France crowd, the pack bikers, their shirts and pants so stretched that they clearly restrict the oxygen going to their brains.

We’re not living in a sci-fi movie. Rather, we have been thrust into a sci-fi dystopian reality, one absent all sports.

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Friends and family are dying, often with no family members allowed bedside, only a trained medical professional, gloved and goggled, permitted to bear witness to their final breath and then record the time of death. Grim beyond all words. There is no placing our games in any context alongside that.

Virtually all of our favorite places are closed. Some will soon be facing the harsh prospect of going out of business. Main Street in the center of my hometown, usually bustling, has only a couple of places open for takeout. But Dunkies remains open, a reassuring sign that, should Nuclear Winter one day befall us, America will always have jelly-filled doughnuts and iced lattes.

The DPW in my town rolled out a small electric sign, the kind that might normally flash reminders of the springtime high school play production. Instead it encouraged all to “WASH YOUR HANDS." The storefronts were all dark, the sidewalks empty.

Our games will come back. Our lives and sports will continue. But in the meantime, our emotions and senses and memories are being belted like so many rods of hot, malleable steel under the blacksmith’s hammer.

We will not emerge from this unchanged. The leagues of our favorite teams won’t want to acknowledge it, and in many cases, if not most, neither will we. Everything going forward will be different. And right now, we don’t even know where forward begins.

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Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.