Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Fan's Lifetime
I wonder what it's like to be a Yankees fan. Or a fan of Duke basketball. Every year when the season starts, they know their team has a chance to be champions. Must be nice. Of course, it's easy to be a fan of the Yankees or Duke, precisely because they win championships frequently. It's what makes them attractive, especially to people who aren't from New York or North Carolina. Walk around the average shopping mall where you live (outside of New York or North Carolina) and count the number of people wearing Yankees or Duke apparel. I'd wager practically none of them were Yankees fans in the early 90s, when the team was below .500 every year, or could tell you who coached Duke before Mike Krzyzewski. (Bill Foster, actually.) Such fans are not really fans in the traditional sense. They're consumers, and they maximize their emotional "buying power" by picking what looks like the highest-quality product--and they'll switch if something better comes along. That's a fine idea if you're buying a car or a brand of frozen peas, and it's actually a weird sort of ideal at this time in this country, when being a good American is defined by being a good consumer. However, when picking a sports team to follow, it's a betrayal of who you are.

Let's leave aside the broader question of why people come to care passionately about corporate entities such as the New York Yankees or Green Bay Packers, but not corporate entities such as General Motors or International Widget. Most of us become fans based on geography. Around here, we're Packers fans, Badger fans, Brewers fans, because our parents and friends are. (Although I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, because when I discovered baseball, Milwaukee had no team, and the Cubs were what I could find on TV.) This fandom becomes part of who we are, and we could change it no more easily than we could change our appearance. Oh, it's possible to change it, like getting a face lift or a boob job is possible--but it's not something most folks can do without causing people to talk.

Being a Wisconsin sports fan builds character--because it's true that you can learn more from losing than from winning. We've had our successes in my fan's lifetime. The Packers won a Super Bowl in 1997, but--and this is the point--they lost out on the way to the top many more times than they made it to the top. The Brewers made it to the World Series in 1982--and lost. My Cubs won pennants in 1984, 1989, and 2003 but crashed spectacularly each time, falling short of ultimate victory.

Which is why today is a special day. Today marks one of the rare occasions in my fan's lifetime that my team has reached the pinnacle with a chance to win it all in one game, when the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team plays Boston College for the NCAA championship. As I wrote earlier this week, Wisconsin has won five hockey championships, two of which I remember. In 1977, my girlfriend and I watched the championship game in her parents' basement, although honesty compels me to report we weren't always paying attention to it. In 1981, I was at a party in college on the night of the game, but I was more interested in the contents of the beer keg than the game on the TV. The '77 and '81 Badgers were not my teams in the same sense that the '06 team is mine.

The Mrs. and I are hockey fans, and have been season ticket holders since we moved back home six years ago. But as Wisconsin sports fans--Badgers, Packers, Brewers, whatever--we know the bargain we've made. This ain't Duke. Being a Wisconsin sports fan means that you will win sometimes, but you will lose often, too. That's the way it is. As a Wisconsin sports fan, you know going in that you will rarely win it all because you will rarely have the chance. Tonight we do. And we are ready. We are ready. We are ready.

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