Born and raised in Colorado Springs, I am very familiar with transplants from other states. We didn’t like them. We were proud to be from Colorado and upset that anyone had the gall to think they could just move to Colorado. There were bumper stickers proclaiming “Native” just so that everyone driving around you knew that this traffic issue wasn’t your fault; they closely resembled the “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For …” monstrosities (coming soon to devastated drivers/voters near you!)
I understand why I’ve been called a front-runner for the better part of 17 years. Growing up 1600 miles away from Chapel Hill still causes people to question why I would be a Tar Heel fan, and how dare I cheer for basketball royalty so far away when the scrappy teams around me were playing in front of empty seats?!
Name the last time the University of Colorado had a captivating basketball team. Or Colorado State University. Or, how about my hometown squad, the Air Force Falcons. Answers: don’t know, don’t care, Jeff Bdzelik’s (!!!) squads.
The point being that there wasn’t much local basketball being played well or watched in droves. If I wanted to watch good basketball, I gravitated towards the Saturday broadcasts on CBS and other nationally televised games, all culminating in what was becoming my favorite 3 weeks of my young life: March Madness.
I probably did start as a front runner. All kids do.
I can’t remember the very first time I cheered for the Tar Heels, but I know it was sometime around my 11th birthday. I can’t rattle off all 1997’s starting five, but I know the first time I was enthralled by the team: 2000’s run to the Final Four as an 8 seed and it was magical. I was hooked. I loved that team.
Then I earned my stripes with Doh. Doh vetted me and made me feel like a real fan, loss after loss, embarrassment after embarrassment.
Around the end of Doh, I went off to college and got an up-close feel for what real passion for a college squad is like. My first stop was a small town in Nebraska and I learned what passion looked like in football just like Jamaal Lord learned: through vociferous boos directed at Jamaal Lord. After I trasnferred to a small college in Missouri, and married into a family of huge KU fans, I learned what a college blue blood looked like up close when watching the Jayhawks play in the Phog.
My wife took me to Chapel Hill in early 2011 for a Tar Heel game and brought my passion education full circle in the process. It was the best Christmas present ever. The highlights included Kendall replacing Some Other Kid in the starting lineup and a victory over Clemson.
However, the tour around the campus taught me the most. I was chided for not knowing where the argyle came from in the unis. I heard superiority drip from our tour guide’s lips when he spoke of State and hatred spill out as he described Duke. Just like my stops in Nebraska and Missouri, that tour shed light on what I missed growing up in Colorado.
I’m especially excited for this season, though not for basketball reasons. This year’s squad could be great or middle of the road or, if everything falls apart, terrible. All of that factors into fandom and is a part of our experience. The excitement this year stems from feeling more a part of the Carolina fan base than ever. Regional alliances will always provide the strongest connections, but we live in a time where you can follow a team several thousand miles away and follow them well.
Want to watch all of the games? Thanks FullCourt and illegal internet streams!
Want to feel close to the players? Thanks twitter! (@DaBully35: “I want a french bulldog, anyone selling or know somebody to refer me to?”)
Want to talk smack and feel like an integral part of the bad blood during rivalry weeks? Thanks message boards and trolls! (#specialshoutout @TheDevilWolf, King of Trolls)
Our kids will grow up in this new world and cheer for the flavor of the week just like kids have always done. People have never had to grow up around a “football school” to love the Tide or suffer with Irish. We have never had to hail from a basketball hotbed to appreciate Roy’s uptempo style and take naps during the first 3o minutes of Big Ten games. The difference now is that we can choose a team, stick with them, and feel like a part of the region, a part of the fan base. We can just about fit in with the folks from the Triangle (the actual Triangle, not UK, UL, and IU) and can passably feign belonging to their passionate fanbases. The availability of knowledge and information can make fanatics out of us all and for that reason alone, I can’t wait for the season to officially tip off, overreact after every Heels game, good or bad, and start trolling rival fans after their first loss.
I’ll always be the kid from Colorado who drove around with a “Native” bumper sticker, glaring passive-aggressively at the folks from California and Texas, but now I’ll be the guy with the ‘Sheed avatar, taking passive-aggressive shots at Duke and State fans.
Happy College Basketball Season!