“Why would anyone care about this?” asked my friend while we were at a bar in Berkeley Saturday. The Colorado vs. Colorado State game boomed out of every speaker around us. Hoards of fans, seemingly from both teams, huddled around the three TVs in the room, anticipating every word said by the announcer and emphatically responding to the highs and lows of whichever Colorado team they decided to root for.
I looked around and found myself having the same question. Since when are there so many Colorado fans in Berkeley? Why would any Cal student cheer on the Buffs in particular when they are in the Pac-12, and therefore a conference rival?
Although I wondered why fans in California were particularly invested in a game taking place more than 1,240 miles away, every other component of the excitement over this match-up made perfect sense to me — regardless of whether those watching were really from Colorado or not.
One, this was a classic rivalry known as the “Rocky Mountain Showdown.” Two, the game had an extra layer of NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders taking over as the Buffs’ head coach with his sons Shilo Sanders and Shedeur Sanders playing defensive back and quarterback, respectively. Three, the game was in double overtime, tied 35-35 after midnight — what’s not to love?
So, I turned to my friend to explain these three major factors, but I could see in her face that even though she was trying to follow along, she didn’t really care about what I was saying.
That was when I then realized that she wasn’t asking why anyone would care about this game — she was asking why anyone would care about football in general.
As the lone football fan in my social circle, I am used to ranting and raving over exciting new recruits and beautiful plays only to be met by disinterested ears. This time was different, though. This moment made me confront a fact I had never fully recognized before: When it comes to being a sports fan, you either understand it, or you don’t at all.
The situation also led me to reflect on why I am so attached to football, and why I believe many other people are too.
Once you commit to rooting for a particular team, you are provided with the guarantee that regardless of how poor or great it may be, the team will always play come fall, assuring the hope that “this year it will be better.”
For three hours every week, excessive, reactionary behavior is socially acceptable, and fans are encouraged to channel all of their energy into cheering for the peaks and jeering for the valleys of the game they are watching.
Although we are not in uniform on the field, after years of cheering on one particular team, fans can’t help but overidentify with the players and coaches on the gridiron, taking on their team’s wins and losses as their own.
Fandom exceeds the parameters of just viewing sports at times. I have many significant memories associated with football, related to who I may have been with when I was watching a game, or where I was the exact moment we scored the winning touchdown or fumbled the ball at the goal line.
More than anything, my connection with the teams I follow is completely entangled with the people I love, who introduced me to watching sports and rooting for “our teams” with unwavering loyalty.
Trust me, as someone who has followed Cal sports and the Oakland Athletics my whole life, sometimes this is a difficult task. But as a sports fan, it is what is expected of me — and I gladly oblige.
So that night at the bar, I thought deeply about what it means to be a sports fan and why anyone would care about football. Even though I have loved the game since I was a little girl and my dad brought me to see the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time, I shouldn’t judge those who do not enjoy the sport.
If things were slightly different in my life, perhaps I would be the one scoffing at diehard fans in a crowded bar, waiting for double-overtime to end. At the end of the day, people are justified in having their opinions and interests, and I enjoy that my friends and I are not completely the same.
But all I know for sure is that I care, deeply, about football. And I believe many other people do too.