The Inner Struggle of a College Hoops Fan
Sometimes, a sports fan can't help but develop strong ties to multiple teams. Most fans will avoid rooting for both USC and UCLA, North Carolina and Duke, Red Sox and Yankees, and Arsenal and Tottenham, to name a few.
But it's not uncommon for a fan to have multiple interests. Perhaps they've moved to a new city and adopted that team, or sent a child to a different college. Whatever the reason, people can be conflicted.
A few years ago, I thought my interests would safely stay away from each other, but I was dead wrong.
Our story begins in 1986. After spending the first month of my life just outside of Los Angeles, my family moved to Lexington, KY, home of the Kentucky Wildcats. I was too young to watch hoops during the Eddie Sutton era (thank goodness), so instead I was raised by Rick Pitino.
I grew very close to the Wildcats. It was a childhood dream of mine to play basketball at UK. One look at my body today will tell you just how ridiculous that dream was.
I've got a good jump shot, but ask me to create my own offense or play D on somebody quick, and I'll laugh at you. I'm slow. Explosively slow.
But I digress...
Mashburn, Walker, McCarty, and Mercer helped me mature. I desperately wanted to go to a game at Rupp Arena, but my dad, a professor at UK, couldn't even get tickets during this period of revival at UK. So I settled for a couple of football games to whet my appetite.
Unfortunately, both games pitted a terrible Kentucky team against a Steve Spurrier Florida team. Ouch.
Then without warning, we packed up and moved to Michigan when I was a wee second-grade student.
I'd play football and basketball with my new friends, and while they were busy pretending to be Tim Biakabatuka and Chris Webber, I was showing off my talents as Wayne Turner or Heshimu Evans (unfortunately, there were no notable UK football players to imitate until Tim Couch. We all know how that story turns out...).
While my friends were engrossed in the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry, I directed my anger towards Florida and Tennessee. Even as recently as 2003, I hadn't immersed myself in the UM/MSU rivalry. Remember the Basketbowl? I tried to get tickets and would've showed up in a hostile arena decked out in blue.
The extend of my devotion to UK is a little scary. I still can't watch Christian Laettner's shot without freaking out (I'm only a little comforted by the fact that he did nothing in the NBA). I could never date Erin Andrews because she went to Florida, a huge character flaw. And I wasn't surprised by Tony Delk's 50-point game in the NBA.
In the fall of 2004, I began attending Michigan State. The people I met in my first few days as a music student told me how painful the Basketbowl was to watch, while I just grinned. Kentucky was the team I blindly picked to win the NCAA Tournament every season (nobody could accuse me of being a fair-weather fan), so damned if I wasn't going to enjoy a big victory.
As the year progressed, I couldn't help but fully dive into the MSU sports culture. They had some very exciting talent, and I had rooted for them to beat Florida in the 2000 title game.
MSU and Kentucky were not scheduled to meet during the 2004-2005 season, which was good for me. Then the tournament seedings came out.
Uh-oh—the two teams were in the same region and would meet in the Elite Eight if they both advanced that far. To make matters worse, my roommate had moved out (been arrested) and took the TV with him, so I had to watch games in the lobby of my dorm, a high-traffic area.
Elite Eight weekend came, and both teams were still alive. You probably remember that weekend. Louisville (another team I had adopted, thanks to Rick Pitino) had come back from 19 down to beat West Virginia in overtime, and Arizona took Illinois to overtime as well before losing.
But the marquee match-up was Michigan State vs. Kentucky. I took my usual seat in the lobby, wearing my 1996 National Champs t-shirt (no, it didn't still fit. I was nine when my mom bought it). The looks I received from passers-by frightened me. They said, If Kentucky wins, you won't be able to safely set foot outside your room for a week.
It was the team I grew up with versus the school I was attending, and I couldn't turn my back on Kentucky. To this day, I maintain that Patrick Sparks was behind the line when he took the shot to send the game into its first OT, and he was probably fouled as well.
The final result was bittersweet. I was definitely happy that MSU was sending a team to the Final Four. But at the same time, I was really hoping that Tubby Smith would snare a title with his own players and finally get accepted by the fans.
Luckily for my soul, the two teams that I love haven't met since. I don't think I could handle it. I don't think my roommates would let me live.
Now I'm curious. I want to hear about the internal struggles of other sports fans. I know they're out there.
Maybe you're a kid from French Lick who ended up in East Lansing. Maybe you're a Syracuse fan who married a Kansas fan (my mother did this). Share your stories.
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