Fan, Fanatic, Fantastic

Fan, Fanatic, Fantastic

I live on a beautiful small farm in southern Oregon; there are jobs to do every day of the year, and my list of postponed projects is long. I don’t care to describe the condition of the lawn, the shrubs, the trees; pears are hitting the ground as I write, left to rot uneaten.  As far as I know, my wife and children are safe and doing … things, but I have not left the couch long enough to swear to anything.  It’s eight o’clock on Saturday morning. My game is not on for two hours, but I need to see the pre-game warm up, the expert breakdown of strength and weaknesses of the opposing team,, the locker room chatter.  I’ll record the game, of course, so I can watch it again during the course of the week, unless the unthinkable happens.

I have been waiting for Michigan football to return since January.  I’m wearing my lucky Michigan shirt, khaki pants (Michigan’s coach Jim Harbaugh wears khaki pants on the sideline), and a Michigan hat I should have retired long,long ago.

OK, I went to Kenyon, a grand place, bastion of the liberal arts, rich with tradition and spirit, holder of record numbers of consecutive NCAA championships in swimming.  Well and good, Go, Lords, great college experience.

But Michigan!

I lived near Ann Arbor after graduation, returned a decade later to work near Detroit, and took the opportunity in each Michigan iteration to get to Michigan Stadium (The Big House), then holding a mere 105,000 rabid Michigan fans.  I suppose the closest analog to watching a game in the Big House might be catching the spirit in a revival tent, a tent holding 105,000 similarly frothing faithful believers.  The usual collegiate high jinx probably takes place near the end zone, where students are packed together without regard for the sanctity of personal space, but Michigan fans are serious about football, really serious about football.  No beach balls bounce through the crowd; don’t look for”the wave”, or a “kiss cam” between plays.

I know.  We live in perilous times, serious matters loom, the world is very much with me. In the big picture, as glaciers melt and polar bears become homeless, football doesn’t matter very much.  And yet.

The game today is against Hawaii, not a conference game, pretty much a warm up for a talented Michigan team, but it’s the first game of the season, and I am giddy with anticipation.  There have been down days, of course, including the heart shattering loss to Michigan State last season, a game torn from the jaws of victory in the last seconds .  It hasn’t been easy to be a fan for a while.  Michigan is only now starting to recover from a decade of mediocrity, but a new coach and a great recruiting season seems to have restored the Wolverines to full ferocity.

I’m not alone in taking college football seriously  .  I’ve seen Auburn and Alabama fans come to blows, in the stands and at a gas station in Huntsville, Alabama.  A good friend flew to Dublin to see Notre Dame play Navy; he didn’t go to either school, wasn’t in the Navy, and isn’t Irish.

I’ve been visiting my son in Portland for years.  You know, Portland – hipster capital of North America, major city with a socialist mayor, home of the World Naked Bike Ride, “As Bare As You Dare”.  I sensed the ground starting to shake in 2010, when the Portland Beavers, a minor league baseball team, lost its stadium to the newly arrived MLS team, the Portland Timbers.  Good bye, Beavers; good luck in Texas as the El Paso Chihuahuas.

Timber fever broke out in Portland even as the Beavers packed up.  How rabid are Timbers fans?   Every game since the first in 2011 has been sold out; there are currently 13,000 fans on the wait list for season tickets.  Portland first claimed the title, “Soccer City” back in 1975, when the Timbers joined the old National Soccer League, drawing more than 30,000 fans to a quarterfinal game vs the Seattle Sounders.  That rivalry remains intense, and the otherwise laid back Pacific Northwest loses all traces of sanity when Timbers meet Sounders, at home or away.  A point of particular contention for Timbers fans is Seattle’s claim as the most successful soccer city in the U.S.  The Sounders play in CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Sea Hawks, a venue large enough to seat more than 67,000 fans.  Seattle’s TV revenues are greater, all the more impressive in that Seattle shares the market with the Seattle Sea Hawks and the Seattle Mariners, but …

The nod has to go to Portland, however, as the women’s team, the Portland Thorns (Portland is the Rose City), is not only the most successful team in the National Women’s Soccer League, but the most popular in the nation by far, routinely attracting close to 20,000 fans, even when some of their stars were absent, playing for the National Team.

Finally, as mascots certainly count in comparing franchises, Portland alone has Timber Joey, an unapologetic logger, saw in hand.  When the Timbers score, Joey grabs a chainsaw and cuts a huge slice from a giant log in the end zone.

Seriously.  What does Seattle’s mascot do?

Oh, wait.  They don’t have one.

Apparently retired, Sammy the Sounder, a pudgy Orca, now kicks back, fins up on an ottoman, watching his team from a senior community in the Aleutian Islands.*

* Probably not true.

That’s the sort of slightly snarky attack  that makes rivalries so much fun.

Timbers – Sounders

Michigan – Ohio State

Army – Navy

Gryffindor – Slytherin

These are tribal rivalries that go beyond personalities and territory. Some fans are born into traditions and tribes, some have tribes thrust upon them, and some are chosen, as Michigan chose me, on a Saturday in October, in the Big House.

Maize and Blue, Hail to the Victors, and “Who’s Got It Better Than Us” – It’s great to be a wolverine.



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