“Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house at a casino.” -Bill Simmons1, with a modern adaptation of the great Jim Murray’s quote.2
I don’t think I’d enjoy rooting for a perennial powerhouse program like Ohio State Football or Kansas basketball. Having come to Indiana in the fall of 1996, I instead saw the fall of a former power.
But if I was an alumnus of an SEC power in football or one of the perennial final four contenders, I just don’t know if I could enjoy the sports as much. Every year, the slightest dent in the armor is scrutinized, every loss can be cataclysmic. Failure to reach the championship game or the final four leads to conversations about whether or not the coach is still getting through to the players.
While I can certainly say I don’t like watching my teams get their collective asses kicked3. Fans sometimes lose sight of the enjoyment that comes from watching a team finally breaking through. I remember being so excited when IU finally reached a bowl game for the first time since I had come to Indiana. Seeing Austin Starr’s field goal sail through the uprights to beath Purdue and clinch a berth in the legendary Insight Bowl and fans screaming, high fiving and hugging each other is one of my favorite sports memories. By any objective standard, that was a thoroughly mediocre team. It was 7-5 mainly because it carved up three different MACrifices4 to go with it’s Division 1-AA opponent du jour. The Hoosiers desperately needed a win that week because they gave up a last second touchdown to equally mediocre Northwestern the season before. But inspite of that, indeed because of that, I truly appreciated the accomplishment, meager though it may have been.
I was thinking about that after IU lost to Minnesota on Thursday. Perhaps Hoosier fans did need a little comeuppance. Perhaps the rise from 12-20 to #8 in the country had in fact gone to our heads as we looked past such 2nd division B1G Ten Squads as Minnesota, Penn State and Nebraska as a level below IU and certainly not a team to worry about when you’re clearly going to be in the B1G Ten title chase.
In the wake of the loss, as criticism of Verdell Jones, Christian Watford, and other players ranged from fair minded frustration to insane vitriol, I noticed a number of fans taking the opportunity to note with glee that soon VJII and other seniors will be replaced by much more talented freshman. It stung at me because few things irritate me more than talking about next year’s recruits while this season still has a lot of promise. So please, I beg of you Hoosier fan.
Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the fan who celebrates every win but deflects every loss with “well wait until our recruits come up next year” You know who that guy is? That guy’s a Kentucky fan who is used to seeing his team assemble the best talent money can buy recruited to stay at the school for one year and be replaced by the next 5 star recruit in line. That guy is the Notre Dame (football) fan, who goes through the same cycle with each 8-4 season 1) This new coach is awesome, look at this recruiting class! 2) Well they’re still young, but they’ll get better, and we’re still cleaning out from the previous idiot coach’ players. 3) These guys aren’t improving as much as I thought, but that’s okay because the next recruiting class is awesome! 4) This coach sucks!
One of the things that’s always made IU such a great fan base is there’s a soul with IU that doesn’t exist at programs that operate more like professional franchises. There’s always been a general appreciation for the efforts put in by the athletes. Certainly players disappoint with their play, and I would never begrudge a good hardy DAMNIT VERDELL from anyone, but if Indiana is truly as special as it ascribes, there shouldn’t be any joy in seeing a senior class go. Only an appreciation for what they did while at IU.
Perhaps in future years when IU’s place as a top seed in the NCAA tournament is once again considered a birthright, I’ll be upset about a loss to Minnesota at home and the terrible damage it will cause to the seed. For now, I’ll simply recognize that when it doesn’t play well, IU can still lose to anyone. Of course unlike last year, IU can pretty much beat anyone too.5
1 Since I referenced Simmons’ I only thought it might be useful to emulate the style of every writer on Grantland.com who just discovered footnotes. Perhaps this will make you feel smarter as your read them.
2 The original quote “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel” was ascribed to a number of sources, but legendary sports writer Jim Murray claimed it and his words good enough for me.
3 Unlike watching a powerhouse, I have a good deal of experience watching my favorite teams get their collective asses kicked.
4 Of course since Indiana is only 3 for its last 6, I suppose I should probably refrain from derogatory references to Mid American Conference opponents.
5 That reminds me, my prediction for this one is IU loses by 10. Hoosier fans rescind their coach of the year support for Tom Crean, and everyone just looks forward to the day Verdell Jones no longer casts a shadow on Branch McCracken court.