As a fan, I readily admit to unreasonable expectations. I’m not remotely objective. I create wildly optimistic scenarios and pretend they are objective and realistic. It’s what fans do and it’s entirely human, if not quite “normal.”
We all live in an overconfident, Lake Wobegon world (“where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”). We are only correct about 80% of the time when we are “99% sure.” Despite the experiences of anyone who has gone to college (even at Duke), fully 94% of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. Since 80% of drivers say that their driving skills are above average, I guess none of them are on the freeway when I am. While 70% of high school students claim to have above-average leadership skills, only 2% say they are below average, no doubt taught by above average math teachers. In a finding that pretty well sums things up, 85-90% of people think that the future will be more pleasant and less painful for them than for the average person.
In 1980, Duke University graduate students could purchase basketball season tickets for $25. The seats in Cameron Indoor Stadium were reserved and required only one overnight wait before the season to make the purchase. I sat in section ten and up pretty high.
It was from that vantage point that I watched Mike Krzyzewski’s 74th career win – his first for the Blue Devils – as Duke beat Stetson 67-49 on November 30, 1980 behind Tom Emma’s 19 points. I saw every home game of his first season from up there.
Coach K had been a surprise hire the previous March when Bill Foster left for South Carolina and another rebuilding project at the end of the 1979-80 season. Foster had brought the Duke program back to prominence with a championship game appearance in 1978, a #1 ranking in 1978-79 and an Elite Eight team in 1980.
We all like to think that we carefully gather and evaluate facts and data before coming to our conclusions. But we don’t.
Instead, we tend to suffer from confirmation bias and thus reach a conclusion first. Only thereafter do we gather facts, but even so it’s only to support our pre-conceived conclusions. We then take our selected “facts” and cram them into our desired narratives, because narratives are crucial to how we make sense of reality. They help us to explain, understand and interpret the world around us. They also give us a frame of reference we can use to remember the concepts we take them to represent. Perhaps most significantly, we inherently prefer narrative to data — often to the detriment of our understanding. Keeping one’s analysis and interpretation of the facts reasonably objective – since analysis and interpretation are required for data to be actionable – is really, really hard even in the best of circumstances.
That introduction is a helpful predicate to a perfectly obvious conclusion: fans are inherently irrational. If we are exceedingly prone to various mental biases in life generally, when we’re in fan mode we can readily go off the rails entirely. And when we’re in fan/rivalry mode, almost anything is possible.