Sports are a great option for small talk because they're easy to bring up naturally (just point at whatever game's on the bar's TV and go), people actually like talking about sports instead of the weather or their job, and once you start you can go forever. You can trade statistics and debate opinions all night, or if you'd rather not carry a conversation you just have to nod and say "uh huh" at the right intervals. You can always count on a sports fan to ramble through a void.
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"We're definitely losing this case. Also, go Bears."
It's like being able to hack awkward conversations. Maybe there's a co-worker you normally can't stand the sight of but can talk baseball with for hours. Maybe you're at a family reunion and have no idea what to say to a distant cousin -- just drop yourself in front of the big game together and shoot the sports shit. Maybe you're meeting your significant other's parents and you're worried they won't approve of you, but then you discover that you both think Vancouver Canucks fans are the scum of the Earth and suddenly it's smooth sailing. It's a topic you can discuss with almost anyone, even if you're both only casual fans, and that's immensely useful when you have a boring life and a terrible personality, like I do.