IT HAPPENED more years ago than I care to remember. It was stressful. It was ugly. And I swore I'd never let it happen again.

The Phillies were battling the Dodgers for the National League title. The pivotal game went into extra innings with the Dodgers' winning run at second. A fly ball, the L.A. sun, an error, the agility of the Dodgers' Ron Cey and the fates combined to hand the game, series and the championship to the dreaded Dodgers.

I shouted. I screamed. I threw things. I nearly lost my voice. And by the time it was over, I was actually sick to my stomach.

How did I become so engrossed, so committed?

And then it dawned on me: I'd forgotten that it's only a game!

Somewhere along the way, I allowed the game to become more than a game. And it got blown all out of proportion. It lost its real meaning, its perspective. And this, I think, is what has happened to Philadelphia sports fans.

For far too many of them, it's not a game anymore. Sports has become their life. It's what they crave. What they can't get enough of. What they eat, drink, breathe and dream. What they live for, and, in some cases, what they die for.

Since that day long ago when I allowed myself to get physically ill over the Phils, the situation has only gotten worse. Professional sports are a full-scale mania. The stadiums have gotten bigger. The boxes have become more luxurious. The scoreboards flashier, the halftimes splashier. The stakes are so high that the region's sense of pride and self-worth seems to hang in the balance every time one of our teams prepares to play.

I did say "play," didn't I?

But now it's play that runs into billions in salaries, ticket sales, licensing, advertising, media, food services, taxes and related income and expenses. It's staggering.

An example: I know some kids barely out of kindergarten who know the names and numbers of every Phils starter. I wouldn't mind so much if our education system produced kids who added, subtracted and read well, but that isn't the case. Beyond that, the endless dribble of box scores makes Johnny a dull boy. And dull boys often grow up to be bad boys.

These rabid, bellicose, irrational, in-your-face fans of every stripe and color are now perverting our culture and doing our region an injustice.

It's gotten so that even the outgoing ombudsman for ESPN was forced to admit that sports coverage, talk and commentary are fueling an alarming excess. She cited ESPN's "endlessly swirling synergy of events programming continuously reinforced by pre- and post-event shows, by preseason and postseason shows, by news shows that cover those events and by opinion shows that derive their topics from those events."

And she admitted that even die-hard fans have written to her crying: "Enough!" But Philadelphia fans never seem to get enough. So what we have is an incessant rat-a-tat-tat of trade rumors, pampered-player antics, instant replays, windy celebrity sportscaster pronouncements and dim-witted bleacher grumbling that can only be termed oppressive.

WHEN THE local nightly news leads with sports or sports-related stories, I say, "Enough!"

When Monday or Tuesday mornings mean you can't ride SEPTA or get on an elevator without hearing about how the Iggles did yesterday, I say, "Enough!"

When you have to worry about what mood your boss will be in tomorrow because the Flyers lost tonight, I say, "Enough!"

When Phillies fans flash lasers at the opposing team's batters, I say "Enough!"

Give it a break, Philly.

Turn off CSN, ESPN and sports-talk radio. Keep your sports logo gear on the shelf this season. And spare us those Eagles inflatables on the front lawn this fall.

Forget all that oafish tailgating and take a drive in the country for a change. Hug your kids or grandkids and read them a book.

In other words, chill. And remember: It's only a game!

Daniel A. Cirucci is a lecturer in corporate communications at Penn State Abington. He blogs at dancirucci.blogspot.com.