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The Fan

Posted: October 6, 2011 10:58 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Dark clouds have been lifted, giving way to blue (and white and orange and black and garnet) skies -- football season is back. For this, fans of every age and team color are grateful. And with immense pride and bliss, they don the jersey of their beloved team; their team that will go all the way this season. At least that’s what we, the fans, want to believe; it’s what we hold on to year after year as if “it” was the winning lottery ticket; a victorious season in our clutches. Fans want to believe this is the moment; one filled with only wins and titles; the instant when the stars and moon perfectly align. If we believe, we will achieve. Well, not exactly and not always.

I will not pretend to know what is going wrong (or right) with the Gamecocks. I suppose I could make some assumptions, but, safely, I won’t. I do know, however, I am a lifelong fan, and I’ve watched the games, for the most part, from the same section, same row, same seat for 38 years. I was present in 1984 at Death Valley and watched USC in Annapolis -- a win over Clemson and a loss to Navy -- a high and a low. When USC’s 2011 season was just weeks away, the predictions came in – SEC title and the murmur of a national championship. Quarterback Stephen Garcia, a fifth-year senior, would be back and within reach of the all-time passing mark at USC. Predictions would also put on top Alshon Jeffrey, one of the most talented receivers in the country; National Freshman of the Year, Marcus Lattimore; and Jadeveon Clowney, top recruit. The stars would line up but would these individual luminaries come together like a championship team? After the Cocks’ match-up with Auburn, most fans would deliver a negative response to this question. 

For every team who experiences the thrill of victory, there is a team who must face and endure the bitter agony of defeat. Agony of defeat can be defined as the feeling or pain a person gets when he or she does not win; a substantial loss, or failure to complete a task. Nobody ever likes to lose. It is, however, inevitable that someone must. It’s the essence of competition. Athletes and teams devote an incredible amount of time to winning, and avoid losing. A loss can prove to be a shock to a team’s system. The effects of tough losses and overzealous expectations on athletes have been studied by experts in sports psychology and neuroscience. Their research has shown that athletes can choke when they focus on outcomes -- the final score. A more positive outcome can be achieved when focusing on aspects of performance, which are the only factors that are really under an athlete’s control. A team has to come back quick from loss and focus on their next performance. I can only imagine the thoughts running through the mind of USC’s Garcia. Looking back to all the perfect opportunities, missed, and all the unlucky touches or unconnected passes, wondering what would’ve happened if he had done something differently. Garcia and his team still have time to acquire those flawless chances.

That lingering sting of defeat has become a reality for fans as well, especially college football fans. For some, an entire day can be spent in preparation for the game. Later, hours are spent rehashing the last game and forecasting the next -- on message boards and talk radio, in the office. For the fan, time spent can be a spectrum of perspective. Some think being a fan equals several hours of enjoyment. Others see it as a way of life. For these fans, the pendulum of emotions swings strongly based on the outcome of a game. Sentiments can go from despair, to hope, to frustration, to unbridled fervor, to devastation. In their intensity, many of the peaks and pits of life are paralleled with their team’s devastating defeats or unmitigated triumphs. It can be exhausting trying to make sense of this curious phenomenon, but through sports, fans can experience a connection; they want to be part of something big. To be a fan is to detach from the serious in our hectic lives. Here, typically mild-mannered fans like me can be observed shouting phrases like “Kill them! Take him down!” The “us” and “them” is clear. So, we will spend six months yelling and screaming like the ship’s going down all the while consuming large amounts of unhealthy snacks and drinks. Some fans will even exhibit physical symptoms including chest pain and heart palpitations when their team chokes. While disorientated, they may vocalize out-of-order statements like “What the…,” “How in the name of…,” “Oh, God, no” and almost always followed by: “I can’t watch this anymore.” It is best not to approach fans at these moments. They are fragile and prone to hurling nearby objects including phones, cans, bottles and slices of pizza.

Though in the final analysis, keeping it real and light may be the best approach. It’s a game. Some will win; some will lose. And we will do it all over again … next year. 

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