University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has banned alcohol in certain tailgating areas for football games. Why? Because a group of drunken idiots got in fights at a recent game. Of course, the idiots are apoplectic about this, because that’s how idiots react.
President Capilouto also banned DJs in those same areas. They may not have anything to do with the fights. Maybe it’s just a nod to good taste.
(Apropos of nothing, I should note that a friend of mine and I always refer to the President as “Doctor Copulate-O.” Oh, how we laugh when we say that)
This recent edict got me thinking about my own history as a fan and various fan personalities. I don’t have much to say about fans acting like fools. My friend, Meisterblogger, wrote an excellent piece on that subject. I have nothing to add to that. It does, however, make me ponder the behavior of fans, behavior in which I have engaged on some level my entire life.
I’m a sports fan. Always have been. When did it start? I can’t really remember, but I know it started with baseball cards. The one I remember best was a 1966 Willie Mays card. For some reason, I loved that card. I kept it under the desktop glass of a desk in our house. I would sit and just look at it. I loved it right up until my little brother managed to get it out from under the glass and tear it in half. It was then replaced by a 1969 Willie Mays, which I kept in my pocket for safekeeping.
I’ve cheered my teams. I’ve screamed myself hoarse. I’ve also cried. Yes, cried. Literally. Who are my teams? At various times, I’ve been fanatic about:
- Los Angeles Lakers: I’m not talking about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80’s. These were the Lakers of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Why? Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was the first basketball player of whom I was aware. He was bigger than life. Headband; knee pads (on his shins!); tape and rubber bands on his wrists–he had swag before there was swag. In those days, there was only one NBA game a week on TV. The Lakers and Knicks dominated. I remember when the Lakers won 33 games in a row. The starting line-up was Wilt, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and Jim McMillan. Wilt retired, then West, then my interest in the NBA.
- Kentucky Colonels: After Wilt retired, my interest shifted to the American Basketball Association. Kentucky had a team. Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Darrel Carrier and many others. We rarely got to see them on TV, but I followed their every exploit. The ABA was great. Red, white and blue ball; three pointers; big Afros. I loved it. A couple of times, ABA barnstorming teams came to Harlan and played exhibition games. We’d get Dampier, Carrier and a few other stars. They were great guys. They even let one of our local basketball coaches, John D. Wilson, play in one of the games. Great stuff. When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels folded. THAT was a sad day.
- Cincinnati Reds: When I became a baseball fan, it didn’t take long to become a Reds fan. Everyone in Kentucky was a Reds fan in those days. You didn’t have much choice in the matter. Johnny Bench was my icon. He could do no wrong in my eyes. I followed the Reds as closely as one could during the 1970’s. I listened to the games on the radio. I cut the box scores out of th paper. When they finally won the World Series in 1975, I was as happy as a kid could be . My fandom continued in earnest through the mid-1990’s. I’ll confess that it burned off through a combination of things. One, free agency in baseball took away the concept of “my” team. Rosters change too much and too quickly. Second, I’m one of those who never got his passion back after the 1994 players strike. I still follow it, but I don’t live and die with it.
- Dallas Cowboys: From Craig Morton to Tony Romo. Calvin Hill to Demarco Murray; Bob Hayes to Miles Austin; Bob Lilly to DeMarcus Ware, I’ve followed the Cowboys. Roger Staubach was the hero of my youth. I’ve reveled in the salad days of the 1970’s and 1990’s and suffered through the 1980’s and 2000’s. Jerry Jones is the bane of my existence, but I still watch and hope. Mostly, I long for the day when the Jones family dies out.
- The University of Kentucky: I save this for last, but it is certainly not least. This is the one where my fandom has not waned. Oh, being older, I’m not as psychotic as I used to be, but I’m still a card-carrying member of Big Blue Nation–basketball and football, of course. I’m a two-time alum, but that doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to be a grad to belong to BBN. Hell, you don’t even have to ever set foot on campus. It’s bigger than that. It IS Kentucky. My obsession with all things UK has evolved, but it has never died.
Against this backdrop, I’ve learned a lot about fans. I am one. Who are they?
I’ve been this guy. He shows up at 9:00 a.m. to tailgate for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. He drinks and drinks and drinks. He’s loud and obnoxious. He freely uses foul language. He’ll insult opposing fans. He’ll insult his friends. He’ll pick fights. He’ll randomly vomit. He watches the game–maybe. It doesn’t matter if he does or not, because he won’t remember it.
Here’s how I used to do it. Show up several hours before kickoff with a grocery bag full of beer. Drink the beer. Wander from the tailgate to tailgate bumming more beer. Watch the football game. Try not to pass out or puke. Drink more.
I would find myself with people I didn’t know. Drinking and cheering. High-fiving and hugging. Once, I was tailgating and a woman asked of me and a friend: “Do you mother****ers wanna dance?” We declined. That’s the crowd we were in.
Drunk Fan isn’t to be confused with his cousin, Drinking Fan, a mostly amiable fellow who occasionally goes over the edge. He’s okay.
Fortunately, the strongest thing I drink these days is coffee. The good news is that I remember all UK’s basketball games. The bad news is that I remember all the football games, too. Nothing is perfect.
This guy believes he’s part of the team. More accurately, he is the team, and the team is him. They are one. WE win. He wears jerseys of his team. He paints his face. He names his kids after players.
If his team wins, this guy is a better person. Not only that, he’s just better in general. Healthier, happier, stronger. Better. He will gloat. He will post things on Facebook like:
Cats win! Yeah, baby, we’re rolling! Suck it, Louisville!
Of course, he can also lose. Losing is crippling. He can’t face the light of day. He won’t read the papers or watch TV, lest he be exposed to the terrible truth of his own failings. Losing makes him a lesser person. Unworthy. Yet, he will tweet this:
U of L fans suck! Chipstrapped losers! Enjoy your one win, because we’re still BIG BLUE!! #UofLblows
The Demented Fan sees each game as a personal triumph or failure. It never dawns on him that he isn’t playing and has no stake in the outcome of games played by others who are not conscious of his existence. Sadly, I’ve been there, too. Why, oh, why, dear God, did they lose??? My cheering, my clothing, my very presence should have made the difference. They did not. I have failed. Life sucks.
He rants. He raves. He yells obscenities. He throws things. He does all of these things just watching on TV. I’ve been that guy, too:
- Christian Laettner’s shot hits the bottom of the net to beat UK in the Regional Final. In one seamless motion, I sweep a full ashtray into my hand and hurl it against the fireplace. It shatters into a thousand pieces. A stream of obscenities follow. I can’t sleep for days. It takes 20 years for me to watch a replay of the shot.
- Colt Jim O’Brien’s kick splits the uprights to beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. I cry.
- Remember Dwight Clark’s famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys? The “Catch?” I screamed and fell to my knees.
- LSU beat UK on a Hail Mary pass with no time left. I was watching the game at home and drinking. I stepped outside, pick up a basketball and hit it with a baseball bat. Not understanding the immutable laws of physics, I did not know that the bat would fly back, instead of the ball flying forward. The back cracked me in the middle of the forehead. I immediately went into a swoon and puked up about 2 gallons of beer.
- North Carolina beats UK in the regional finals. I am so deranged, I don’t know what to do. First, I punch the door. A steel door. Bad move. Then, for reasons I don’t understand, I tore my jeans in half–while wearing them. You know how the Bible talks about people “tearing at their robes?” That was me.
- I once spit on the TV screen. By “once” I mean innumerable times.
- I have used every foul word and phrase in the English language watching games–even when my team is winning.
- In a futile effort to protect our possessions, my wife bought me foam bricks to throw. Not enough heft to them, but I did shred one.
Remember what I said above about fans acting like fools? Burning couches and fistfights are for fools. My actions were acts of passion. Fortunately, I’ve outgrown this behavior–for the most part. Now, my wife acts worse than I do. At least I get to see what an annoying pain in the ass I was.
THE CASUAL FAN
I really have nothing to say about this guy. He is just one step above the contemptible Fair Weather Fan. The Casual Fan only pretends to be a fan. He never loses sleep or acts like a jackass over a game. He doesn’t know the players’ birthdays or their hometowns. He’s a fraud. I’ve never been him, and I won’t be.
I have crawled from top to bottom of the Fan’s Tree of Life. I’m now a passionate–yet mostly normal–fan. I still get agitated and take it too seriously. But, I tell myself that the sun will still come up tomorrow and life is good. I even believe that sometimes.
So, what kind of fan are YOU?