Last weekend, my university won a big basketball game to make them one of the top four teams in the US. Yes, the University of Kansas is going to the Final Four.
Yay!! Yay!! Yay!!!
I have become a big fan of basketball from spending so many years at a basketball powerhouse (don’t ask about the prowess of our football team). Even as I know all the things wrong with college athletics and the inequities for the athletes, even as I know how much more attention and money should be directed toward academics, I love my [start noticing the pronouns that are popping out, not deliberately] KU basketball team, and I love the NCAA Tournament. I am indeed infected by at least a bit of March Madness.
So in my joy from the big win and looking forward to this weekend, I celebrate today all the traditions and rituals, the habits and practices, even the genres that we fans of a team share. I have written on my blog before about my friend the big Kansas City Royals baseball fan, who is also a big KU basketball fan, and I’ve written about those pesky basketball brackets, which are busted for most people this year, too. Today I’m writing about how I experience the big game with my local fan crew.
Here we go, from preparing through the end:
Game day attire — team-labeled T-shirt and sweatshirt, jeans
Superstitions — gray shoes with pink shoelaces, Jayhawk earrings — but I forgot the earrings both of the last two games we won, so they’re out for the next game, too.
Food offering — I buy it at the local store rather than making it myself, which somewhat lowers the status of my offering, but my crew is a forgiving bunch
Beverage offering — wine or beer? Always a tough choice. Like food, dependent in part on time of day of the game, but my offerings are well-received
Watch party — this is the center of it all, of course, the house that welcomes us to share the experience of the game, filled with people who know and love basketball together, even if they don’t know each other outside this context
Greetings — “hello,” “hi,” handshakes, hugs, depending on how long we’ve been watching together
Pre-game chatter — “What’s your prediction?” “This team will be tough to beat” “How are you settling into your new house?” “How was your trip?” “How’s your mom doing?” [Notice work talk avoided even among colleagues, as much as possible] “Wish our center wasn’t injured” “Who made the corn salsa? It’s delicious!” “I’m feeling pretty good about this one” “Don’t say that! You’ll jinx us!” “Getting ready to tip off, everybody!”
Taking up Positions — There are those sturdy folk who sit still in the rows of chairs in front of the big screen, in their traditionally designated seats. There are those of us who stand in the back where we can move and pace and jump and cheer loudly and move closer then move farther back when things get too tense. If you position yourself just right, you can see just the action while a post and ledge block only the score and remaining time. There are one or two of us who leave the room, pacing the upstairs hallways and even stepping out on the porch if it’s all just too much. I know, we take our basketball pretty seriously.
Nervous eating — those of us in the back, near the food, pacing back and forth, back and forth, stopping to dip a chip or grab another wing or cookie far too often
Nervous drinking — same, just extending the pacing to behind the snack bar where the beer fridge and wine counter hold our many offerings
Cheers — “Let’s go, Hawks!” “Defense!” “Rebound!” “You can do it!” “Go Hawks!” “Yay!!” “Yeah!” “That’s the way!” [loud clapping of hands]
Groans — need I say more?
Half-time interlude — Whatever our original positions, we gather in the space near the food and drink, replenishing empty plates and glasses, grabbing another beer or soda, sharing impressions of the first half, praising great plays and the athletes who are hot, worrying about what’s ahead “Phew,” “I don’t know,” [shaking heads]. You might be able to tell we haven’t shared a lot of blow-outs this season.
Resume the position — People don’t generally change positions for the second half. We have our preferences. And who knows what might happen if we change the usual?! Superstitions rear up if someone has to leave early because of a sleepy child, or if someone new attends. That can be good or bad luck, depending on what then happens the rest of the game.
Louder cheering or Louder groans and silence, depending on what’s happening up on that screen, far far away where we can do nothing about it but witness
End of game — raucous cheers or quiet remarks; gathering back in the food space, high fives and hugs or muttered commentary and vows to get ’em next game or next year. Last weekend [we beat Duke in overtime in an incredibly close and wonderful game] was full of “I can’t believe it!” “We did it!!” “We’re going to the Final Four!” “He was incredible!” “Can you believe that defense?”
Departure — fast or slow depending on the game outcome. Last Saturday, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the cheering and laughter and delight in big plays
Post-game analysis — radio interviews in the car on the drive home, professional commentators on TV, radio, and online, our own analyses of what we saw, what went well, what went wrong, and, this time, excitement about the next game
Recovery — drinking lots of water, sitting (finally), waiting for the adrenaline to die down enough to go to bed (we get lots of televised night games)
That’s my local process of watching the big game.
Hey, we do what we can. Since we have absolutely no control over how the game goes when we’re playing away, when even our loudest cheering can’t be heard to give the players an extra shot of energy, all we can do is what has worked before.
All we can do is share the experience. That’s what works. Having a familiar crowd around you of friends and fellow fans, having a role to play — from bringing your usual food to sitting, standing, or pacing in your usual spot — and having the routine, our own game to play, since the game itself will be anything but routine.
And having fun. As someone who goes through a lot of tense agony during the game and is way too invested in whether they win or lose, I remind myself that it’s only a game and the players are kids, and I sometimes ask at the end of a game, especially one we lost, “Is this fun?”
Yeah. It’s fun