My Uncle Pete is a Eugene native and he and my Aunt Laurie are perennial supporters of Duck Football. In 2012, right before I was about to graduate from Oregon, I said to my uncle, “I’ll miss football, but now that I’m not a student anymore, maybe games will be a little easier on me. Maybe I won’t care as much anymore. Maybe being a fan will be less intense now that I’m done with school.”
Pete just turned to me and said somberly, “I thought so, too. But it doesn’t get easier. It just gets harder, the longer you’re a fan. You care even more as time goes on.”
That’s when I learned that I was in this for life.
Every year, the highly-ranked preseason Ducks swoop onto the field for the season opener in their carbon fiber/chrome/corrugated steel/neon/Volt/matte/throwback/multicolored/colors-that-aren’t-even-school-colors uniforms and everyone goes “Oooooh,” then they completely demolish some poor Division II cupcake team on live television.
And every year (at least in recent years since I became a Duck in 2008), there is the same hype about the Ducks reaching–and then winning–the national championship. Cue the wild speculation: “These Ducks look like they could give [insert preseason #1 ranked team here] a run for their money next January!” “I dunno, Herbie, I’d say Oregon could be on it’s way to it’s first national championship this season!” And cue the absurd headlines: “Ducks Obliterate Team Equivalent to High School Junior Varsity Squad: Could A National Title Be in the Cards?” And cue the entire community of fans, players, coaches, administrators, etc. getting more riled up and more anxious with each approaching matchup, clinging to the hope that the “and 0” portion of the Ducks’ record will remain as such.
My question is: Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?
All this speculation and hype does is put an enormous amount of pressure on the fan base and especially the players. Then, we just end up losing to Stanford anyway and everyone is disappointed. Let me repeat that: we lose one game, to an extremely good team, and everyone is disappointed. Do you know how many teams wish they were able to say that? That if they lost one game to a top-10 opponent, it would be a letdown?
I used to participate in the hype too, I dreamt of that trophy, I projected and speculated and contributed to pushing the expectations for an already good team through the roof. I completely understand wanting your team to win, and enjoying reveling in its success. Believe me, I went to UO during the Chip Kelly era, so I know ALL about winning and reveling in success (and I was really good at reveling). And I understand wanting to be the best. But having never been the best in the world at anything, and knowing full well that most people are not either, I can tell you it’s not all that bad to be really good at some things and be happy with and proud of that. My fellow Ducks fans, with victories in the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl against quality opponents and an outstanding record in a tough conference for the past 5+ seasons and increasing success with recruiting, Hesiman contenders, and drafted players, I think it’s safe to say that we are a really really good team. Is it not enough to be a really really good team? Why do we need a trophy to validate ourselves?
Flashback to January 11, 2011. It was a bleak and somber day on campus. Most January days in Eugene are, but this one particularly so, because everyone was trying to forget the night before. $cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers had taken down the Ducks with a 4th quarter field goal in the title game. It was the only time we’d ever made it that far, but we couldn’t seal the deal. I scooted in to work that day, feeling dejected and tired but also feeling very poor and not wanting to give up the precious $8/hour I would earn during that shift. I unzipped my coat to reveal an Oregon shirt, our required uniform. My co-worker at the desk was wearing a plain white V-neck tee. “I couldn’t bring myself to wear those colors today,” she scoffed. “I feel so betrayed. They BLEW IT!”
See, I made a decision a long time ago that I love my team no matter what. Sure, I get angry if someone misses a tackle or fumbles the ball, if we lose a game or some cokehead gets himself booted off the team, as much as the next Ducks fan. But I will always wear my colors. I will always stand by my team. I will always show up if I can get a ticket, I will always tune in, I will always speak up if someone’s hating. Because that’s the entire point of being a fan: it’s not just about the game, it’s about the unity, the spirit, the tradition.
If you expect your team to WIN WIN WIN and then throw down your jersey when they skip a beat, you oughta be ashamed of yourself. That’s fairweather bandwagoning of the most heinous degree. Reminder: the team is trying as hard as they can. They have no reason not to. They want that trophy too! It’s your choice to wear those colors, so you might as well wear them with pride. Consider yourself married to them. When you’re a fan, you promise to love your team for better or for worse, for wins or losses, in success and in scandal, to cheer for from this day forward.
Or, maybe I’m just insane. Maybe people like me and my Uncle Pete are taking years off of our lives because we care so much. Or maybe I’m over-simplifying this. Maybe being in the Peace Corps has jaded me a little and that starry-eyed college version of me is lost forever. If there’s a Ducks fan out there who disagrees with me or a football player who can explain why it’s worth it to set extremely high expectations for yourself over something you only have minimal control over and subsequently become depressed and disappointed when you don’t reach that goal, I’m all ears.
But here’s what I know: I love my damn team. Most years, some other team goes to the national championship and I don’t watch it because I don’t care. There are other great teams out there but they’re not mine. I know that Alabama is good, but you couldn’t pay me to watch one of their games. I would rather watch badminton than a bunch of 350-pound guys slamming into each other on every play in order to achieve a 6-3 victory over some equally monstrous SEC school.
Happiness is all about mitigating your expectations. Are we just setting ourselves up for failure by throwing around the NC-word before the season even begins? Are all these projections and rankings and buzz taking up more room in our heads than simply enjoying the game?
I’d love nothing more than if we went to the national championship–and won this time–because our team deserves it, but if we don’t, I’m not going to throw a tantrum and I’m never going to turn on my team. My advice to you is to make a decision about what kind of fan you want to be and then stick with it. Be an entitled flake or actually support the team, it’s your call.
Okay, rant over.