According to the freedictionary, a fan is an: “an ardent follower and admirer” or an “an enthusiastic devotee of sports.”
Wikipedia uses the following definition: “someone who has an intense, occasionally overwhelming liking of a sporting club, person, group of persons, company, product, work of art, idea, or trend.”
Wikipedia even gives us the following characteristics of “fans,” including internal involvement, the desire for external involvement, the wish to acquire (i.e. sports memorabilia, and the desire for social interaction with other fans. Although these definitions are adequate and sociological, what does it really mean to be a “fan?”
The German is a “fan” of the soccer club, Werder Bremen. Friday night we sat down together to watch Bremen play Dortmond. Honestly, I would have preferred to watch something else, but denying the German his Bremen game could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
It was not good; for Bremen that is. They lost 3 to 0. By half-time I had lost interest and was a bit bored. “Can we please watch something else?” I whined. “No!” he responded in a sharp tone. “Being a fan is like marriage. Good times and bad times.” He was very firm and stared straight ahead at the television. He continued to mumble “good times and bad times” intermittently but eventually even he noticed the lost cause and I was allowed to change the channel.
His comments provoked a thought. Being a true sports fan of a specific team is a bit like being married. You support and love your team. You say wonderful things about them to your friends. You have faith in them and hope that they will not let you down. When they do let you down (which frankly happens in all relationships), you feel betrayed and angry. For example, the German cannot look at a picture of Miroslav Klose (who was a great Bremen forward before transferring to archrival Bavaria Munich this past summer) without getting cross and mumbling, “Traitor.”
I was never really a sports team fan. Sure I enjoyed watching sports, and I followed a few teams, but I was never a “fan;” this despite the fact that I come from a long line of “fans.” My Motown Uncle went to the University of Michigan and has not missed a home game in something like 30 years. But the genes were always inside me, and then, one day, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame.
My first home football game in South Bend was an Experience. There is an entire ritual surrounding the bratwurst, the band and the start of the game. When I sat down (actually stood up, which is what you do when you “sit” in the student section) with friends from my department, I had no idea what awaited me. There were specific cheers and chants that went with specific parts of the game. At one point, the band began to play the theme from “Star Wars,” and all of the students raised their arms and made a chopping motion. As someone interested in politics and sociology, I could not help but notice the “group think” that abounds at these games. I was a bit disturbed. By my third home game I was hooked.
Four years into my “Notre Dame Experience,” I was one of the converted. I taught the first year students the cheers and I ardently defended my school to the “haters,” who were just jealous of our traditions and victories.
Leaving the U.S. was difficult and now I can see that part of it is the rituals that I miss from my time in South Bend. I miss being a fan. I miss getting up on a Saturday and sitting in a parking lot and eating brats and drinking beer. I miss yelling at the opposing team, who always sucked even when we lost. I miss the sun on my face and the planes with really bad advertising overhead. I miss the feeling that I belong somewhere and that I am part of something.
Today the German and I watched college football on the North American Sports Network, NASN. Certainly the action was all a day late, but at least I got a glimpse of some of my favorite things. It was at half-time that I got the bad news. Notre Dame lost to Michigan 38 to 0, and are 0-3 for only the second time in their history. I feel like my spouse just let me down.
It is like mourning a loved one. There is denial, and anger, and finally acceptance. Well, I am not at acceptance just yet, but writing this post helps. These feelings have also made me happy. For the first time, I realized that I can still be a fan, even when I am so far away. The best part is that there is no one to throw my misery into my face. Perhaps one day I will even when the alumni ticket lottery and can go back to a home game.
Until that time, the German and I can comfort each other. With both of our teams playing poorly, it is only a question of whose pain is the worst. I patted my stomach this afternoon and told my son, “You have to be healthy, sweetie, because I think our teams our going to need you.” From the very start, he is going to be a fan.