Wednesday, January 06, 2010

First Person Fanhood

It is a big game for "us" tomorrow.

Only I'm not part of the team.

It's a strange phenomenon in our culture that we can as fans identify so closely with the teams we favor that we speak of them and us together in the first person. It's not, "Alabama had a great season," but "We had a great season."

What is it? Is a measure of one's devotion and love to the great efforts of his favorite group of athletes? Or is it more a measure of a lack of self-esteem that people are moved to latch on to and identify with a group greater than themselves?

I don't suppose it to be either something to self-adulate over or to loathe, although I've heard both. I suspect it has more to do with the shared experiences of emotions over the course of the roller coaster ride of a season. When you're high, you're high together with the team. When you're low, you're low together with the team. So that whatever the final destination is, you sense that you've felt every emotion right along with the team to the extent that you feel a part of the team.

Looking back at the Tennessee game, Terrence Cody embodied on the field (just in this clip) every emotion we were feeling while watching on television at home: from the "we CANNOT let this happen" sense of urgency, to the unbridled outburst of happiness, to the feeling of "OMG, that was too close."

As a Red Sox fan, it was the depth of the doldrums of 2003 that made 2004 so rich and satisfying. The '03 team, one of my favorite Boston teams, brawled with the Yankees like boxers. Those two teams stood toe to toe just exchanging blows. To the point where it went to a 7th game. And when Boston blew a lead in Game 7, and then ended up losing in extra innings, as a fan you took the heartache personally. And you felt the devastating emotions of losing for days. (To the point that, for me, THIS COLUMN still stands as maybe the greatest Simmons column he's ever published)

So, because of that, you take the joy of winning personally too. And obnoxiously so. I've begun to wonder if it's possible to celebrate anything without being perceived as obnoxious. Because celebration is just that: a wild joy that can only be perceived by non-participants as obnoxious. Hopefully you don't become that guy who acts like he's better than everyone just because his team does well. But it's a darn fine line!

So this phenomenon of shared experiences and emotions is such a powerful thing that people begin to refer to their team(s) in the first person.

My only hope for myself is that I keep a healthy perspective for the sake of the players and their accomplishments. Unlike the people in this story from Mark Ingram's hometown of Flint, MI who seemed to take more pride in Mark's Heisman award for themselves than for Mark. I was happier for Mark than I was even for Alabama that night he won the Heisman. He's had a lot of hurdles in his personal life. And also with Alabama having had no Heisman's, the pressure on him had to be immense. So I was glad for him that he wasn't burdened even further, but in fact rewarded.

As for tomorrow, I just hope we get to celebrate. I don't wanna go digging through those Simmons E-mails again.

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