Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Heart of a Fan

I love college basketball, in particular the University of Louisville. I love it so much that it's probably unhealthy -- or maybe so much that it actually is healthy.

A friend recently criticized me for, when talking about U of L basketball, using the word "we" because I haven't done anything to create successes or failures for the program. I could probably make a counterargument about the importance of fan support, but I generally accept the criticism. I have no direct impact on whether the team wins.

Still, it got me thinking. I can remember a game a few years back that I watched with my dad. U of L lost and we were both a little drunk and pretty upset. After awhile, he leaned over and said, "You know, it's pretty stupid to get so worked up over something like this."

I think the sentiment of the two comments is the same. But I'm not apologizing for it, as we (U of L) are in the Elite 8, one game away from a Final Four and a potential match-up with rival Kentucky.
Needless to say I'm excited. But I've never played a single game in a U of L jersey; I couldn't even make my high school team. And yes, maybe I'm not a part of the program's successes or failures, but they are certainly a part of me.

After 26 years of attending games and cheering on the Cards, I think those successes and failures are arguably as much or more a part of me than they are of anyone currently playing, and I think the same goes for a lot of long-time fans.

Louisville is an interesting place. There's a lot of diversity here, and while there are several transplants, many of the citizens are born here, live here, and die here without every truly having left. U of L sports, particularly basketball, are a cornerstone of the community, a common thread (and the same is true of UK, though I hate to admit it). I don't mean to say that I live completely vicariously through the team, but there's a sense of community, connectedness, and camaraderie in their achievements that's just not there in any personal triumph.

Sport brings that out in people. Consider the Dodger's 1958 move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Brooklyn was devastated, and not just because they struggled through half a century of loss to finally win the World Series and 1955 just to have the team ripped away three years later. The loss of a common community bond was simply crushing. The borough gradually became absorbed into New York and lost that much more of its identity, independence, and unique spirit.

I feel much the same way about the Louisville Cardinals. It's just a part of who I am, from a personal level to a community level. In truth there's no apologizing for co-opting the team as my own because there's nothing I can do about it. I'll be rooting for us through victory or defeat, but like Dodger fans of old, I'm just hoping this isn't another "wait 'til next year." Louisville fans have seen to many of those...26 straight to be exact.