Being a student of sport in our 24-hour analysis crazed world, I have come to the realization that being a mid-major fan is not as bad as the big dogs like to make it seem.
Becoming a fan of Ohio University, when you have spent your entire life in Columbus rooting for Ohio State, is like going from eating $80 steaks at some fancy restaurant to eating fried steak at a Ponderosa in backwoods Ohio.
At least that's what people in Columbus will have you think.
I, on the other hand, have discovered a world unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Nothing will ever match the sheer euphoria I felt when Ohio dominated Georgetown 97-83, and blew up 99.9 percent of America's brackets. Seeing DeVaughn Washington on the front page of newspapers and websites gave us undivided attention from the same people that gave Ohio a "zero percent chance of winning" (Ahem...Andy Katz).
It's not fried steak. It's more like...a home-grilled, perfectly marinated steak that took you all afternoon to prepare, but it was worth it because the enjoyment you receive from that incomparable taste is far greater than that steak you just spent eighty bucks on.
Am I biased? Yeah, a little. But it's the truth. And mid-majors are no slouch. Just ask Wisconsin, Georgetown, and Villanova. They got beat by mid-majors. When it matters the most. And that is the key to all of this.
Sure, Ohio was absolutely dominated by Pittsburgh in December. It set the team back quite a bit in terms of morale and confidence, but it was just December. Fast forward to March, when its one-and-done, and you have to play your best game, every game. What does Ohio do? They play their best four games, in the four games that mattered most.
Don't think so? Ask Ball State, who had a 10 point lead with eight minutes left in round one, but let Ohio back into the game. Ask Kent State, who entered as a one-seed and walked off the court with their tails between their legs after a 81-64 shellacking. And ask Miami, whose offense was stunted by a stellar defense led by DJ Cooper and DeVaughn Washington. And finally, ask Akron, who beat Ohio twice this year, but was shut down in overtime by a team with more heart.
This new mantra, developed by coach John Groce in the heat of battle, makes perfect sense for all the Cinderellas in the Big Dance.
If you flinch, you won't get to experience the elation and satisfaction I felt when I stormed up Court Street on March 18.
What's it like being a mid-major fan? It's rough. We don't get much respect from the big boys, and we don't have the money the big boys have. But, we have just as much heart. We've been through the thick and thin with our teams, the losing seasons, and we've handled the rampant disrespect from the national media quite admirably.
We know our stuff, too. We pore over message boards and newspapers, scouring printed word and digital verse for any nugget of information we can find. We want to be a part of our team. We spend countless hours researching, arguing, crying, weeping, stomping about the room angrily, and many other heartbreaking and emotionally unstable activities.
Most of all, we just wait for our moments. And when they happen, we cherish them like its a Faberge egg in a china shop.
As a fan of the Ohio Bobcats, I just experienced the best week of my life, because of sports. When was the last time you could say that about yourself?
Coach Groce may be gone in two years, off to some job with one of the big boys. But I'll still be here. My heart will still be in Athens long after Groce has moved on from here. I'll be an old man, telling my grand kids about pure shooter Tommy Freeman, and DeVaughn Washington, who captured Bobcats' fans hearts with his glorious turnaround the last weeks of the 2009-10 season.
And I'll tell them about the day that the Ohio Bobcats became relevant again. I'll tell them about March 18, 2010, when Ohio slayed the giant, and the world took notice.
That is what it means to be a mid-major fan. And not only that, that's what it means to be a passionate, steadfast supporter through all the adversities the world could ever throw at you. Sure, the guys and gals in Columbus feel heartbreak and remorse, but its usually when they lose to Michigan and they can't play in the national championship. Or they lose more than three games. But those feelings can be fixed with a bowl game victory, or a prized five-star recruit.
We mid-major fans feel it when no one is watching, and there is no big game to play for. We feel it, because for one moment, one singular moment in sports history, we may catch a glimpse of the promised land. And for those moments, I will suffer a lifetime of misery and heartbreak.
You just can't flinch along the way.