Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Attention Span of the Sports Fan

A Line in the Dirt - Eels (mp3)

- marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion

That's what "fan" means. If you're a True Fan of Bruce Springsteen, your enthusiasm for The Boss is excessive and often lacks proper perception. And, in fact, if you're a fan of his, you know this and are even quite proud of it (see: troutking). True fans take pride in their semi-osmotic and impermeable devotion.

College sports fans, however, are slightly mutated breed. Their devotion to the general notion of a school and/or a specific athletic team is strong, but this love does not prevent you from bad-mouthing any and all cogs in the machine that makes up said school or said team. It's very much like being devoted to Jesus yet comfortable talking complete shit about church and all those pesky Christians.

"We are an embarrassment."

A friend and former UNC classmate of mine texted these words to me as our beloved Tar Heels fell in a blowout to the University of Texas in December. The loss put UNC at 8-3 for the year, with all three losses going to what are all currently Top 5 teams. The Tar Heels' fate has since dipped lower, having lost four of their last five games, including an eyebrow-raising overtime loss to the College of Charleston. Needless to say, the end of the world is near.

The unbiased and passionless observer would point out that UNC has been named by ESPN and others as the "Basketball Team of the Decade," that we just came off our second National Championship in four years, and that we lost our top four scorers -- three of them with a year of eligibility remaining -- to the first round of the NBA draft.

And oh yeah, did I mention that only just last April we won the whole damn National Championship by dominating every team we played, winning every game by double-digits, something that's only happened two or three times since the field went to 64 teams?

So I'm at a bar with two particularly possessed Tar Heels fans in late December, and they're lamenting how awful and sucky and pathetic we are, and I casually try to make these very observations. Particularly that whole "National Championship last year" part.

Both of these guys, men whose opinions I respect, looked at me like I'd just suggested they wear chaps and knee-high Go-Go boots to a gay bar.

"That was last year."
"That's the past."
"We're in the now."
"The motto is 'What have you done for me lately!'"
("Oooh oo-ooh yeah!")

And they're kinda kidding? But really they're kinda not.

The endangered species known as the Reasonable Fan can be sated with a National Championship for quite a while. Some NC State fans I know would happily trade two years' of watching sports altogether if either their basketball or football team made a BCS game or a Final Four (although that makes them Desperate Fans, not Reasonable Fans).

But I guess what I'm wondering is: how much patience and understanding is appropriate for a true fan?

Urban Meyer, in the span of a month, went from leaving football completely, to cutting back his involvement, to a full return in the summer, to participating in spring practices. A month ago, he was on the verge of death and had to leave the sport in order to keep himself alive and available to his family, and his kid was excited to get her daddy back. Now? He's either happier chopping years off his life to coach, or he's determined he's healthy enough to continue neglecting his family.

He and Brett Favre, a.k.a. The Man Who Retired More Times Than He Took Painkillers, are the living embodiment of what every Insane Fan wants to be, which is so obsessed and driven to root for their teams that they would risk limb and life to get back out there just one more time. Except for the whole "get back out there" part. The Insane Fan is pretty much OK with their view from the stands. Or their favorite lucky living room love seat.

I guess I understand these people, but I'm not sure why we applaud them, or glorify them.

I don't want Roy Williams to be satisfied with last year's National Championship. I want him and Urban and successful coaches everywhere to want the next ring and never be satisfied until they retire. But fans? They're supposed to appreciate history. They're supposed to know just how damn hard it is to get to the top in sports. And when they get that rare chance to share in the glory of their school's success, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask them to be happy, and content, for a little while longer than it takes Bret Favre to unretire.

Eels are creators of an odd, post-pop Peter Gabriel-esque sonic experience. End Times is their newest release. It ain't gonna top the pop charts, and you won't see any duets between E (the creative force and lead vocalist) and Taylor Swift, but if you like carefully-crafted albums drenched in melancholy and loneliness, turn on the blacklight and emerge from your drug-induced stupor long enough to order this album!


Hank said...

I love that picture of the Duke kid crying. It makes think that everything in the world is going to be OK.

troutking said...

Sometimes one fan can even embody both the reasonable and unreasonable. I saw the Boss 17 times in concert in 2009, and I'm kinda feeling withdrawal with him currently not on tour. Yet, at the same time, the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and I'm feeling OK still celebrating that one.

Randy said...

But let's not forget, Trout, that a couple of years ago you tanked an entire season of fantasy football by ignoring the draft, just because the Cubbies were on TV in the other room. I don't know what that means, but it remains a great piece of Renegade Lore.

troutking said...

It's a better story to blame the Cubbies, but season-ending injuries to Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk had something to do with it too.

Daisy said...

You think Carolina fans are bad? Clemson fans will boo thier own team from the stands mid-game...sometimes even when they are winning.

Billy said...

Daisy, Clemson hasn't made a Final Four in its history and hasn't made a BCS-caliber bowl game since 1981 when they won it. That kind of drought makes any true fan crazy (see: NC State, Michigan).

But if you've not only seen the mountaintop once but twice in very recent history and still get yourself bunched up about a singular less-than-stellar season, it seems you've gotten downright annoying and are begging for karma to kick you in the butt.

Coaches and players can never afford to be complacent. But fans? WTF does it matter what they do?

Bob said...

I'm a little disappointed that Troutking didn't rewrite this entire post using primarily lyrics from Springsteen songs.

(if you're wondering, yes, I have just thrown that gauntlet down)

goofytakemyhand said...

Let me give it a whirl, in honor of troutking:

Everybody wants to be the man at the top...
Like soldiers in the winter's night with a vow to defend...
The deck's stacked...
I'm counting on a miracle to come through...
So put your foot on the floor and darling don't look back...

troutking said...

57 years and nothin' won.

A good (baseball) team is hard to find (Pittsburgh).

Daisy said...

Thank you, I am well aware of when Clemson lst won anything significant. There is in this house as I type a copy of the 1981 champonship game and it is watched at least annually (not by me if I can help it.) The owner of said tape did not even attend Clemson Clearly I understand fan insanity and the born-again ones are the worst!

goofytakemyhand said...

There's a faculty member at Bob/Billy school who coached on that team.

I don't even think he wears the championship ring. I'd be showing off that bling all my life, but that's just me.

Randy said...

Fans are definitely a weird thing to observe. I like watching "my team", Titans, Bulldogs, Tornado...whatever, especially with friends. But if I wasn't a player or coach in the contest, I get over the result pretty quickly.

BeckEye said...

That Eels song "Little Bird" would have made my Best of 2009 list but I don't think it was ever really released as a single, or it was officially released at the beginning of 2010. But I love it, regardless. I haven't heard this one you posted, so I'll have to check it out when I get home.