“Isn’t it great to see so many other IU fans in one place?” I asked my five-year old as we walked through the crowds of red or purple clad football fans around the southern end zone of Ryan Stadium in Evanston. It was a perfect late October day. Beautiful blue skies, a nip in the air, light wispy clouds, no wind and I was taking my son to his first Indiana football game.
“I’m not an IU fan,” he replied. SCREEEEEEE
“What do you mean?” I asked, a mild panic starting to rise in my chest. I had expected a fair amount of squirming and impatience on his part at trying to sit through your standard-length college football game. I was even prepared for him to not like football. Hell, I’m not that big a football fan myself. But, if I’d failed this grandly in raising this child through the first five years of his life, it might be in both our best interests for me to find a kindly looking older couple dressed in cream and crimson and send him home with them after the game. Maybe they could succeed where I had clearly failed.
I had very little fear that he’d reply with something as offensive as, “I’m a Kentucky fan.” – we’ve discussed the nature of good and evil and I didn’t think I’d lost his soul, at least not yet. But I did worry that there was something he was learning at that school of his, surrounded by other kids who were also growing up in Chicago, that I hadn’t gotten wind of yet, that was antithetical to the values I try to espouse in my home. It was possible that he thought he was a fan of some other team because one of his classmates was, maybe Illinois or something equally repellant.
I was kind of worried there were societal forces at play that I would have to battle actively while they passively undermined all my efforts for the rest of his childhood.
What he said was, “I don’t know if I’m an IU fan, yet.”
He’s a bit of a skeptic.
This is new information about his personality. He wants to know why he should be a fan of IU. He’s just not going to accept it as the way the world is.
What a relief!
I’m not fighting the unseen forces of outside influence. I’m fighting against his natural curiosity, his desire to understand why he should bother being a fan, not necessarily of IU, but possibly of anything. “What’s in it for me? Why should I invest my time and emotional capital on being a sports fan?”
It’s a fair question.
And now I have the job of helping him answer it for himself.
We had a fun day at the game. He got a hot dog, some popcorn, and half a pretzel. He got to collect the cards they hand out that provide you with a rooting interest/financial incentive during the quarterly races being run on the stadium monitor between, go carts, or coffee cups, or donuts, or the like. He got to hang out with a friend and run around a bit pretending to be a ghost chasing a zombie. It wasn’t, however, the transcendent sports experience that imprints fandom upon you.
We grabbed a free smoothie on the way home, thanks to one of the coupons and the successful pursuits of smoothie #3 “Tropical Twist” during his turn in the spotlight midway through the 1st quarter, which he liked as much – if not more – than anything that had happened during the game that wasn’t eating a hotdog.
Thus far, the day had resulted in creating a smoothie fan. Not terrible, but not the goal either.
Upon entering the house, I fired up the DVR and began to watch Liverpool best West Bromwich Albion to rise to 2nd in the Premiere League, tied in points, but one goal behind Arsenal in goal differential. He went and played legos.
No surprise here really. He kind of likes playing soccer, but he mostly just likes getting the snack at the end of the game and sitting out when it’s his turn to do so. I’ve no expectation that he’s ready to fully embrace the beautiful game yet.
Next up was Hoosier Hysteria. Something I streamed on my iPad while we played legos. I tried to explain how much fun OG was going to be to watch this year. He was intrigued, but not overly interested. In his defense, there’s very little about Hoosier Hysteria that I find exciting or worth watching.
And they lowered the ante this year by having a dunk contest between three people, none members of the actual IU basketball team, and only one of whom could dunk. It was like if WWE suddenly decided that James Ellsworth was suddenly the WWE Heavyweight Champion and Survivor Series was going to consist entirely of a tournament of jobbers trying to earn a chance at his title.
I did enjoy the incredibly long video package they put together highlighting last year’s Big Ten title run. And I understand why they omitted it, but I have stronger memories of Bill Walton talking about Maui Jim’s, loving his bike, waxing rhapsodic about Colin Hartman “The Adonis of the Night…the symmetry” and describing Maui as having “seven climate zones and 1000 emotional zones”* than I do of the game at Iowa, and it would have been nice to hear one last “Maui Jim’s Maui Jim Classic here on Maui Jim court in Maui Jim’s Arena. I’M WEARING MAUI JIM’S RIGHT NOW AND I LOVE MY BIKE.” But, as I said, I get not including the actual low-point of the season in a feel-good highlights package.
I also found the piece they put together about Tom Crean’s postgame speech particularly moving. It’s as goosebumps inducing as hearing Fish call the end of UK game or Jim Nance announcing “Keith Smart is the hero!” And if I can get a link to it, I’ll post it here so you can see it yourself.
And things like that help demonstrate why you want to invest your time and emotional capital in being a sports fan. I’ll show that to my son at some point, if I can get him to sit still long enough to watch it.
But, by the time that video package ran, he was asleep.
And by the time the Cubs won the NLCS and advanced to their first World Series in my (or either of my parent’s) lifetime, my wife was also asleep. I was able to show him video of that this morning, and we’ll be heading out in a bit to buy our Cubs World Series T-Shirts.
This may be the one that makes an impression. And it should.
Tomorrow is Cubs Day at his school. He’s going to see other kids excited about it and get to experience the thrill of a city caught up in a chance to win a title.
I’m hopeful that is the jumpstart his fandom needs, even if it is for baseball.
I can work with that.
But the more I think about this challenge of proving the benefits of fandom, I think the best thing I can do is show how much fun it is to cheer for a team. Something that hasn’t been top of my mind when watching IU these last few years. I’ve been more focused on understanding, explaining, contextualizing, and writing than I have on enjoying.
So, that’s my challenge for the year. Focus on the fun. Enjoy the ride of the season. And, of course, share that experience with him, you – the teeming masses.
We’ll see how that goes, but I’ve got a job to do, turning this little guy into a proper IU fan, and he’s gonna have to see it and live it in order to feel it himself.
Time to lead by example.
Basketball season is here.
*This kind of Bill Walton nonsense directly influenced the title of this post. I love my bike.