Fandom March 11, 2013
There will be no postgame post, of course. Because I didn’t watch the game. The Sunday before Selection Sunday is my yearly trip to the MVC Championship game. So while all of you were throwing things at your television, I was watching gametracker on my phone. Can we just agree to put the most frustrating game each season on the Sunday before Selection Sunday? Thanks.
Side note: If we’re ever in contention for a Big Ten title again (yes, kids, it used to happen regularly), I’ll skip the MVC title game. But our final game each year seems to be Frustrating Road Loss, so this system is working out swimmingly.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today (talk about? am I giving a lecture?). I was moved by fandom yesterday, and I want to process that.
It started in the car on the way to the game. My wife’s new job comes with a vehicle, and while she’s in training in Minnesota for two weeks, I get to drive her car. Well, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. But if you walked out to the driveway with the choice between pimped out work ride and my car-no-bearded-man-should-drive, you’d make the same decision.
Her car has a 3-month free Sirius satellite radio trial, so I decided to listen to the Ohio State radio feed for the first half. It’s always been so strange to me. The guys on the radio feed are supposed to be ridiculously biased. Bad call, ref. Aaron needs to make that shot. WE could really use a run here. It’s odd that these guys get to be so biased, but the guys sitting directly behind them writing about the game are supposed to remain completely impartial. Weird.
Well, weird but fun. Actual comment from the Ohio State radio guys: “Fouls are 9 to 3 right now – Coach Groce has to feel like he’s playing in Bloomington”. An acknowledgement of bias AND a shot at Indiana. Ohio State radio guys are my new favorite.
When I arrived at the Scottrade Center, I was greeted by the two biggest fanbases in the MVC – Creighton and Wichita State. Both average more than 10,000 fans per game. Creighton averages more fans than programs like Minnesota or Georgetown – Wichita State is nearly the second most attended program in the state of Kansas (and I think a few years ago they easily outdrew Kansas State). And these fanbases travel well. Wichita State probably brought 4,000 fans to St. Louis. Creighton at least twice that.
Think about that for a second. Around 8,000 people traveled from Omaha to St. Louis to watch Creighton play in a postseason tournament. That’s more than programs like DePaul, Notre Dame, or Georgia Tech draw for home games. And it’s worked, too. Based mostly on the fan support and program momentum, Creighton is headed to join the Catholic Seven in the new Big East. And they said fans can’t get together and accomplish anything.
It was a great game, too. I always re-remember two things when attending this game each year:
- I kind of suck as a fan. The Creighton student section – I swear they brought 3,000 students – is as good as anything in the Big Ten. Nobody is dressed up trying to get on TV. Nobody standing around texting, as far as I could see. They simply care deeply about their team and want to will them to victory. It was… inspiring.
- 80% of the time, when I get angry at the officials, it’s just my bias. There’d be a whistle, and the Creighton fans would be angry, and I’d be all “relax – he obviously got him on the arm.” And then there’d be a call at the other end, and the Wichita State fans are up in arms, and once again I’m “yeah, obvious foul”. But when it happens to the Illini? I’m all BIG TEN OFFICIALS ARE SUCH A JOKE.
OK, Big Ten officials ARE a joke. But you get my point. Maybe.
The game was a great one (again), and Wichita State, despite being down 10 with four minutes to go, had a three to tie at the buzzer that rimmed out. A moment like that is always amazing in a 50/50 stadium. Creighton fans are rushing the floor. The blue part of the arena has thousands of fans with their arms raised. The other side of the arena only contains the backs of yellow shirts as they attempt to exit that scene as quickly as possible. Elated. Distraught. Because a three rimmed out. Fandom is amazing.
But I wasn’t done with my study. My friend Geoff is one of the annual attendees of the MVC title game. And he went to… wait for it… INDIANA. We both made a big sacrifice yesterday to keep the tradition alive. I skipped out on Illinois/Ohio State. He missed the beginning of Indiana/Michigan. OK, so his sacrifice was slightly bigger than mine.
Geoff decided to do the “DVR it, don’t check the score, and start watching live later” thing. And I could tell, because near the end of Creighton/Wichita, he had that “our game has started and it’s happening right now but I don’t know what’s happening” look. I checked the score on my phone, saw Indiana was up 10-3, knew that both games were on CBS (and so his tape at home wouldn’t show the beginning of the game anyway), and we had this conversation:
“So do you want to know the score in your game?”
(He studies my face, searching for “you’ll be happy” or “you don’t want to know”)
“No, I’ll just watch it on tape. Wait… OK, did it start good for us or bad for us?”
“TELL ME THE SCORE.”
Fandom is amazing. Yes, even Indiana fandom. It’s crazy how much Geoff affects my Indiana hate. I’ll be all “in your FACE Creepy McCreansterson – I hope you see Tyler’s layup in your nightmares”… and then I remember that Geoff is head-in-hands somewhere, wondering why Cody Zeller didn’t protect the basket. I can still hate, it’s just… tempered. (Also of note: this is why I’ve never befriended a Missouri fan.)
To finish of my day observing fandom, I had to return my tux from the wedding I was in. It had to be back by 5:00, and it was a long drive, so I immediately headed out after the game. Once again, satellite radio helped – I listened to the Michigan radio feed of the Michigan/Indiana game. (Side note: they have a commercial they play 10 times that advertises the official Michigan debit card from Flagstar Bank. And they actually imply that all other banks are based in Ohio, and to have a debit card from any other bank basically makes you a Buckeye fan. Fandom. Is. AMAZING.)
The end of that game… man, the voices of those two announcers at the end of that game. Cody Zeller turned the ball over with about a minute to go (I think he maybe traveled) and the Michigan radio guys got all It’s Gonna Happen. “Indiana now has to foul, and it’s a two possession game, and if we hit our free throws MICHIGAN WILL WIN A BIG TEN TITLE.” And then… guh. Robinson 1 for 2, Hardaway misses a front-end, Burke misses a front-end. By the Burke miss, the radio guys were already fully resigned: Michigan is going to lose this game because of free throws. Even the Morgan putback that rolled off the rim wasn’t a surprise. They knew what was coming as soon as the first free throw was missed.
I turned off the radio and thought about the day. That’s not a literary device – I seriously turned off the radio and sat there thinking about fandom. Somewhere, if he’s caught up to live, Geoff is running around his basement and calling his dad. My former Michigan-fan roommate is crushed. Some of these cars on the road contain Wichita State fans driving 6 hours home and only thinking about a three pointer that rimmed out. Other cars are Creighton fans who, with a tourney bid AND a Big East bid locked up, couldn’t be giddier. And here I am, smack dab in the middle.
I’m thrilled with how this season turned out for us. A tourney bid is a huge accomplishment for this team and a first-year coach. But we’re still sub-.500 in the league and, for the foreseeable future, staring up at Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. We were on that tier not too long ago, and now it’s a long climb to get back. Yay tourney and Groce. Boo the length that Guenther let Weber fall.
When I got home, I asked on Twitter if I should watch the Ohio State game on the DVR. And I got a resounding “DELETE IT”. So I took my dog for a walk. In Missouri. Wearing my Illinois jacket, and my Illinois shirt, and my Illinois hat.