Without a Horse in the Race

College football didn’t much factor into my NFL-heavy football upbringing. My cousins and aunts and uncles from Pa’s side of the family were, purportedly, Bama fans, so I was vaguely familiar with the option to Roll Tide, though college football wasn’t a big topic during our summer vacation visits. (Ma and Pa’s alma mater, Ohio University, didn’t come up a lot.) Of course, we lived in Florida, where the ‘Noles/Gators rivalry was a hot topic, and I guess when pressed to pick, the childhood me went with the Gators (I do believe I preferred the color scheme). But then, too, Ma and Pa’s employer had an FSU connection. And we had other cousins who went to Kansas and Louisville.

In the end, I was never inspired to passion in any direction—which was a good thing, in my book: I have enough trouble controlling my built-in inferiority-inspired ire; I was happy to not to invent more reasons to get into meaningless arguments with people.

To put this in perspective with my NFL fandom, when the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Giants in the 1990 NFC championship, I wept, inconsolably, for hours. (I was 11.) (I may or may not have responded similarly when the Penguins beat the Red Wings a few Stanley Cup Finals ago—but let’s be fair: The Penguins.)

My own alma mater, Stetson, had no football team (popular T-shirts read, “Stetson Football: Undefeated since 1948”), and, especially as a college athlete myself, I still feel my greatest athletic fandom loyalties needed to remain with the Hatters, despite their footballessness.

homer+simpson+tv+sports+pennantNot too proud to admit that I actually made myself one of these pennants, simply in support of “football.”

Recent forays into the Alabama/Auburn rivalry leave me, for better or for worse and depending on circumstances and present company, a semi-fan of both teams–not really something that ingratiates you to Alabamans on either side of the rift, let me tell you. But choose one side and face down the hatred of the other. In fact, I might be moved to come out in favor of the Crimson Tide tonight–but I know so many Auburn fans who find that logic detestable, and I feel their pain…intellectually, anyway. My brain works like this: “Yay Alabama teams and SEC and stuff!” Theirs work like this: “Fuck. Bama.” (And, I know, the feeling is mutual.) After all, if Bama wins, their supporters’ taunts will first and most often be directed not at Notre Dame fans.

Being so far on the outside of college football fandom, up until recently I thought Notre Dame was pretty much a universally hallowed institution. In fact, I’ve learned, this is kind of like saying, “But I thought everybody loved the Cowboys!” I guess you have to blame Rudy (as well as, Irish-haters will grumble, ND’s TV broadcast special treatment).

And I know Dolphins fans who hate Alabama with an intense burning rage, for Nick Saban’s ring-and-run on that NFL franchise. (Heh, my knee-jerk reaction is “That’s what you get for being a Dolphins fan,” but yeah…go Bucs.)

There’s so much nuance to who you love and who you hate in sports, and while great strides in my NCAA education have helped me develop some sincere emotional attachments and detractions (let’s just say my preference for the Gators has waned), I’m still on the outside.

Despite—or maybe because of—all of that, I’m really looking forward to tonight’s game. I’m certainly not facing down the stress and anguish I would be if I actually, y’know, gave a damn. I just get to sit back with beer and pizza and enjoy the excitement of the evening and purity of the sport. Yay football!

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