The way fans perceive and react to their teams goes further toward defining sports than any other factor. This is most evident to me during the fall when I’m following high school, college and NFL football.
Of course, my perspective is only that. But I’ve been around this stuff for almost 40 years, so I feel like it’s a well-trained perspective. To demonstrate the differences as I see them, here is a series of questions and how I would answer them (which I’m pretty sure is how everyone I know would answer them). Before I get started, and just so everyone understands I’m pointing the finger at myself the most, my thesis is that we’re way too invested in our college teams. If I could figure out how to change that, I would suggest that as well. But I’m still looking for that answer.
How do you feel when your team wins?
High School: Happy. Like when someone compliments me for being polite.
College: Vindicated. The universe is an all right place to live and I can remember what it’s like to be happy to be alive.
NFL: Interested. Are the Cowboys actually good? What will they say on the radio about this?
How do you feel when your team loses?
High School: It depends on the status of every other factor in my entire life. That is to say, I basically feel nothing.
College: Devastated. I don’t want to watch football the rest of the weekend and certainly don’t want to hear anyone comment in any way on my team’s loss.
NFL: Interested. Are the Cowboys bad? What will they say on the radio about this?
How do you feel when your team is featured in TV highlights?
High School: Proud and nostalgic.
College: High. I’ve never used cocaine, but I have to think that’s what it feels like.
NFL: Encouraged. It will be cool if the Cowboys were really good again. That’s always fun.
How do you feel when your team gets beaten on TV highlights?
High School: Passive. What will the next highlighted game be and can we get on to that one?
College: Anxious. Where’s the remote control? How quickly can I change it to avoid the stabbing feeling in my gut?
NFL: Amused. Oh, man, they’re going to rip that guy on the radio.
How do you feel when a media personality says something negative about your team?
High School: It’s difficult to say. High school athletes or teams are rarely chastised in the media.
College: Is there a word for violently defensive? Violently defensive. What is that (expletive deleted)er’s Twitter handle? What’s the worst thing I can call him?
NFL: Curious. Does what they’re saying have merit? Are they biased? I need to hear more sides of this.
How do you feel when an acquaintance says something negative about your team?
High School: Casually irked and entertained at the same time.
College: Betrayed and victimized. Don’t you know who I am? Why would you say that to me? Don’t you know I’m going to rehash this conversation for the next week and question your integrity and personal hygiene? I wonder what other people think about him as a person?
NFL: Amused. To quote Al Pacino in Ocean’s 13, “You think you hit me. You don’t even know where my soft targets are.”