Thursday, May 15

Looking Back, Part I

On a recent late Saturday night (or early on Sunday morning, depending on your definition), I found myself driving fast on an open road for the first time since returning from the Stagg Bowl in mid-December. With my music blasting and the Corolla bounding along at cruising speed, it reminded me of all the miles I traveled last fall.

Writing my book has been cause for reviewing all of the notes I collected throughout the season. As you might imagine, there are a whole lot of 'em. I already declared my Tailgate Awards back in January, but I thought it worthwhile to cover some other aspects of football fandom and give everyone further insight on what this observer saw along the way. When possible, I'll focus on what everyone else believes, not just my thoughts. All the fans I spoke with have a wealth of opinions and they were not shy in sharing them. Next week, we'll continue the roundup with another slew of judgments.

Most hated fans
This topic came up way more than I expected, and I expected it to come up often. Y'all love to hate one another. While the Florida Gators are widely considered rude, abrasive, and generally obnoxious by fans throughout the south, no fan base engendered quite so much out and out disdain as the one that supports the Ohio State Buckeyes. People from all across the nation regretted encountering nuts dressed in scarlet and gray. Sure in Ann Arbor, there was enough mutual hatred to go around, but from South Bend, to Seattle, to Austin, to Lincoln, to pretty much every southern school, the Buckeyes were deemed the most notable of a-holes. Everyone had their own story about their obnoxiousness. I was treated very well in Columbus, but had they asked about my college football pedigree, things may have gone differently.
How can you hate a sweet face like this one?

Most resented team
Having your own network will piss off a lot of people. I don't believe I heard a single bad word about Notre Dame fans or South Bend or really even the football team (though that may have been because of their pitiable performance this season). But all across the country, everyone seemed particularly sensitive to the special treatment afforded the Irish. Whether it's the whole NBC thing or claims of being overrated in the polls or an easier time getting into the BCS, many folks wish that Notre Dame would just go away. They even quickly dismissed the team's glorious past while in the same breath lauding their own program's history. A lot of this is envy, but it's not going anywhere, no matter how well Notre Dame plays in upcoming seasons. Honorable mention here goes to Rutgers for the special attention they get from the New York media at the first signs of success.
Resented or not, this tat is an All-American

Most hated team
Why is there a team that's most hated and one that's most resented? Because to say that people resent USC would be a gross understatement. They hate those guys. This is likely all ESPN's fault. When their "pundits" gave the Trojans a two-month tongue-bathing in the leadup up to the 2005 Rose Bowl, they simultaneously turned everyone against the team. I vividly recall Mark May claiming that Michigan's 1997 defense wouldn't hold USC under 50 points. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "If USC was in the SEC, they'd lose four games every season," my gas would have been free.
OK, maybe they deserve it?

Greatest "respect for the game"
This is really a tough call. I'm tempted to give Notre Dame the nod simply because nobody gave me even the smallest sideways glance when they learned I was wolverine. But by a hair, I'm going with Nebraska. Sure, one guy nearly started a fight with me after inadvertently poking me in the eye, but all day, the fans seemed to put the game above their own program. Really, at every stop, I found tons of fans who eagerly claimed that this is the best sport on the planet (not that I needed any convincing).
Least "respect for the game"
You think I'm going to say Rutgers here, but you'd be wrong. Even though they're relative newborns, they couldn't be more excited about joining the masses and doing things the right way (though the pathetic shuttle bus system there is an affront to all that's right in the world). Honestly, this is a really tough one, and I am having trouble labeling any fan base the "least respectful." In a pinch, I'd go with Wisconsin simply because of the harsh attitude toward any Hawkeyes in town, but there were enough good fans that I feel a bit bad saying so.
Stay classy, Madison

Funniest Fans
The splendor of the in-game Wisconsin Badger student section is pretty amazing. It's incredibly well choreographed and joyfully irreverent. But at Tennessee, everyone made a point of being hilarious. They were either drunkenly making a sweet fool of themselves or cracking one-liners about all measure of topics.
Can't recall what they're laughin' about, but it was pretty funny whatever it was

Best razzing
There was a ton of banter in all shapes and sizes at the Cocktail Party, but as the day wore on it degenerated into arguments about fashion (yeah, the jorts thing). All in all, pretty good. There were mocking t-shirts galore at the Red River Shootout as well. Surpassing those efforts, however, was a gang set up on Donohue Drive for the Iron Bowl brought a toy megaphone and hurled the most creatively vociferous invective available at every Bama backer that passed. They told me that they were "collecting birds" and the over/under for the day would be 20. I think they surpassed their goal by mid-afternoon.
This guy didn't get razzed in the least, though

Meanest thing I saw
On the whole, people were pretty respectful out there. Some people told me tales of knocking over porta-potties or violent fisticuffs. But I didn't witness much true hostility. The worst incident took place in Ann Arbor, where some Buckeye fans were doused with beers. Shame on you Michigan kids. We're s'posed to be better than them.

Best Surprise
When I set up my itinerary, I knew I wanted to hit a non D-IA program. Thanks to a compelling recent history and the fact that their homecoming game lined up perfectly with my schedule, I had the good fortune of selecting Bridgewater College. Not only was I welcomed with open arms, I was lucky enough to have stumbled on to one of the great tailgating crews in the country, Stone Station. I ate high on the hog and made some great new friends who I got to see again at the Stagg Bowl.
A post-communion handshake

Best in-game tradition
I have to go with a split decision on this one. One for the players, and one for the fans. At Clemson, the ceremonial rock-cannon-hill combo is incredibly exhilarating. That I was there for the season opener and a nationally televised Monday night Bowden Bowl certainly didn't harm the energy. Equally exuberant is the jump-around between the third and fourth quarters at Wisconsin. I don't know if I've ever grinned harder than watching that entire stadium bounce around to House of Pain. TV doesn't do it justice. You simply must go jump for yourself some time. Seriously, check this out and try to tell me you don't want to be there:

My favorite fan photos
This is nearly impossible to choose. Many of the above would certainly be in the running. Here are my top three:
Why I love this one: Shows just how much fun everyone has at the tailgate leading up to the game

WILTO: The kids at Nebraska had been lined up the night before. Still a few hours away from kickoff, they couldn't contain their excitement, hosting the #1 team in the country and hoping they had a chance to win

WILTO: That moment in the seconds following a huge TD against the #1 team in the country. There's nothing in the world like it. Look how happy these people are!

Least rational fans
Every program had a ton of these. Many in SEC country conveniently forgot that USC had beaten Arkansas 50-14 in '06, and then when I brought it up they often denied the game's existence. Notre Dame probably deserves a mention as everyone thought they were in for a strong season, but that's pretty much your standard pre-season delusion, right? I'm just gonna go ahead and call this one a 25-way tie. It's part of the college football fan experience that we believe what we want to believe. No team has cornered the market on that one.

Biggest Disappointment
There was honestly very little I that I could claim disappointed me. Washington's crowd was pretty difficult to get talking about anything (with a few pretty cool exceptions). I was foolish enough to accept my dinner from a very sick waitress, nearly ruining my Grand Canyon trip, so shame on me there. But the greatest true disappointment was that Michigan didn't manage to find the endzone against Ohio State. I didn't even care that much about winning the game. I knew it would be tough with Henne and Hart injured. But I wanted that moment where everyone goes crazy and falls all over each other in jubilation. I saw it everywhere I went - got addicted to it, really. But in Ann Arbor, it just wasn't meant to be...

That's it for round one. If I seemed unduly harsh on your school, rest easy. I'll have more to say next week where perhaps I can change to lauding your finer qualities.


Anonymous said...

Great column. It first surfaced on Brian's new MAC. And your writing style gets ever more fluid. Keep it up and we'll keep reading.

Willy Mac said...

Good to see you're still cracking away at it. Still rockin that sweet beard?

Reed said...

Nah, I hit my interim milestone so the beard is gone. I'll bring it back some day, though...

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