March Madness, part 2.

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My wife and I graduated from Clemson University. Our best friends graduated from the University of Tennessee. When these fine instutions faced off in football in the 2004 Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl, it mattered.



Why? Aside from the fact Clemson won 27-14? Because we're fans of our teams. Well, my wife isn't, but being an alumni, she, at least, preferred that Clemson win, though watching the game wasn't strictly necessary.

Off to dictionary.com we go:

fa-nat-ic

-noun. a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religious or politics.

I'll make a bold guess that most sports fans don't want to be lumped in with extremists. Although certainly derived from fanatic, we're fortunate that being a fan has been societally accepted, with a resulting leniency inherent within the word that defines us.

fan

- noun. an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.: a baseball fan; a great fan of Charlie Chaplin.

Sweet! Being a fan conveniently falls outside the fanatical world of politics and religion, but we're allowed to be just as fervent. But really, what is all this about? Why do we allow ourselves to become fans of a team or an athlete? First, let's consider the ways in which we might relate:

  • A school affiliation. Go Clemson! (Boo Vols!)
  • Geography. I live in Atlanta; thus, Go Falcons!
  • Birthright. If you watched TBS since childhood; Go Braves!
  • Inherited Interest. "Like my father before me, I root for the..."
  • Friendship. Knowing an athlete or anyone directly associated with an athlete or given team.
  • Shared Values. From interviews, press events, or other media, we find aspects worthy of admiration or shared values.
  • Favorite/Underdog bandwagons. Many favor teams that consistently succeed (Yankees), or pull for the guys that consistently fail (Cubbies' last World Series in 1908).

Well, that's some. But to the non-sports fan, all but "friendship" are incomprehensible. They won't deny that you are a fan, but you may as well be from another planet. You're an alien life form, and you're occupying the TV for insensitive amounts of time.

That's okay, though. It's the price of being a fan. Of course, there are other costs. As fans of a particular team, we buy the merchandise. The jerseys, the bumper stickers, the keyrings, the T-shirts, the golf club head covers, etc. Oh yes, and the tickets. As fans, we're obligated to visibly demonstrate our support. We spend $.

What do we get in return?

Much as music is the universal language, sports is also a buddy bonding endeavor. Race, politics, religion, etc... it doesn't matter. If you're a fan of the same team, you're among friends here. That's good. Maybe being a fan provides a sense of belonging, but... a sports fan just won't go there.


Even better, there's (don't read this kids...) beer. Yes, outside of sports, a person drinking alone is subject to an immediate diagnosis of depression or alcoholism. But if a football game is on... hey, it's cool! Maybe it's effective advertising, but it works.

Another "benefit" is, debatably, sports radio. This is practically intolerable unless you're a sports fan. Sports radio is certainly a source of information, but in a sense, it's also a competition for supremacy of opinion... and a sports fan is all about both.

But it's not all good. We live and die as our hopes and aspirations are raised or dashed based on others' performances. Human beings are loaded with luggage; sports fans take on an extra bag knowing it is as likely to be filled with woes as good tidings. College recruiting, professional drafts, wins and losses, injuries, coaching changes, improper conduct, contract holdouts, salary caps and free agency... that's a lot of satellites orbiting around the sports fan's world.

So it's the season of March Madness, where 65 basketball teams compete (and hundreds of thousands of office pools) under the understanding that either you win or you go home. To borrow a phrase from "Highlander," in the end, there can be only one. It's that time of year that the unscripted couldn't be scripted, and the heroes rise to the occasion. And for the goats, as they used to say on the Braves' Opening Day (pre-Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz), "there's always next year."

Or, for the sports fan, we must only wait until April for the Masters.

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