As I have mentioned over the course of the past month, as I have essentially been initiated into the Pacific 10 way of life, I am not a natural Oregon Ducks fan. I was raised in Michigan and have lived all over this beautiful country, from coast to coast.
The biggest reason that I follow the Ducks instead of their rival Oregon State may seem dumb or even childish to the outside observer. But being a University of Michigan fan, I could not allow myself to support a team with the initials OSU. I know it's dumb, but that hatred runs deep in me.
Through all the moving, two things in particular fascinate me most about my new digs, wherever they may be. First, the way people drive. The style of driver in each region of the country really says a lot about the people that live there.
For example, Midwesterners tend to hoard their lanes, rarely allowing people merging from the on ramp into a lane. Ask your waiter the next time you're in west Michigan and I'm sure they will tell you that this conservative nature is reflected in their line of work as well.
Portland, Oregon drivers are passive to the point of annoyance, no doubt a direct result of the sense of entitlement that pervades pedestrians that have no problem walking out in the middle of traffic on a four lane street. Portlanders basically have to drive that way or else they would splatter countless folks any time they drove down Burnside or Quimby.
Ask any driver in D.C. if that kind of brashness would be treated the same way in their city, and you would probably hear some sort of hearty laugh and a quick "no". They drive fast and aggressive over there, and yet they are probably the most efficient drivers I have ever come across.
The second thing that I always notice is how people root for their teams, and what type of feeling they have for them.
Being that I was cursed to be a Detroit Lions fan, I am used to knowledgeable, yet pessimistic fans. For example, everyone I know saw the injury to Matthew Stafford the other day and treated it with the same refrain, "the Lions are cursed".
The two exceptions to the rule in Michigan are the Red Wings and Wolverines. University of Michigan fans are always optimistic and always enjoy their team. They expect to win, and they can come across as condescending and somewhat patronizing of other schools.
In the south, college football fans are generally maniacal, often looking at opposing viewpoints on teams with something more than disdain. For instance, if you find yourself on the wrong end of the Florida-Georgia rivalry, you may be viewed as though you were a Communist in 1950's Kansas.
Football fans in the greater D.C. area are a strange breed of cat. Their college teams are basically an afterthought on the national scene, but you wouldn't know that if you lived there. Everybody loves the Terps. And although the Ravens have had much more success over the past decade, Maryland and Northern Virginia are still die-hard Skins country.
Redskins fans seem to live in another world. Their team is relevant, they play in probably the most high profile division in pro football, and they have won it all more than a couple times. Basically, nothing else even matters to them, like they are in a bubble and it wouldn't even cross their minds to give two cares about any other team.
This brings me to my current city, Portland. Portlanders are unlike any other fans in the country. First off, they love their Blazers. Every different demographic of people loves the Blazers. Most likely this stems from the fact that they are the only show in town. But they are loved by hipsters, snowboarders, hippies, and wannabes alike.
For instance, I was getting my haircut at a local place called Bishops and the topic of entertainment for the evening came up. I was shocked to hear that this blue-haired, full arm-sleeve tattooed, pierced and too cool for school woman was completely thrilled out of her mind to be going to the Blazers game that night. It was your basic middle of the road team they were playing in mid-January, but she was, in her words, "stoked" about it. Nowhere else in the country will you come across this strange cross-section of fans.
However, even more bizarre than the Blazers fans are the Oregon Ducks fans. Never before have I been around fans with such a fear of being good. To a person, every Ducks fan I have met says the same types of things when I compliment their football team.
I will say something about how it is a great time to be a Ducks fan, or that they may have the most talented team in the nation. To this, they undoubtedly will say something about wishing they weren't ranked so high in the polls, or how they are nervous about the USC game or how Andrew Luck from Stanford looks really good or that they haven't played any tough teams yet.
While all of these things may be true, it is bizarre for me to hear these kind of things from sports fans. Typically, when someone has a good team, they tout it. They brag, they celebrate, and they gloat. While they may be trying to make themselves believe the hype, they nonetheless will paint a picture of never-ending optimism.
Don't believe me? Ask a Texas fan about their Longhorns. They will tell you until they are blue in the face why their team is the best in the nation, and why their school has the best tradition of excellence.
Ask the next person you meet from Chicago if Notre Dame will return to prominence in their lifetime.
Mention to the next Buckeyes fan you meet that you were wondering why they prefer Ohio State to Michigan. I guarantee you that their answer will take up on average five minutes of your life that you will never get back. However, they will be excited to tell you.
The point is, Oregon Ducks fans have, for the first time in years, a truly great team.
They are stacked on offense. Their skill positions are flawless, and their offensive line is as talented as any in the country. Their quarterback may be young and inexperienced, but he has all the tools to be the next Dennis Dixon.
Defensively, they are arguably just as loaded. They have a lot of speed in the defensive backfield, with linebackers that can cover even the speediest running backs. Their defensive line can get to the quarterback and their secondary, while not the strength of the team, features a couple of safeties that can come up and stick the ball carrier like few others in the nation.
Now, of course the road won't be an easy one. The Pac 10 is not necessarily as talented as it has been over the last few years, but there is still a lot of skilled programs. USC will always be tough, Stanford does have a great quarterback and the Civil War is always a challenge, regardless of records.
Nothing worth winning is ever done so without challenges, true. But for the love of everything good, enjoy the ride! Ducks fans, you have a very talented team that is one of only a handful of teams that could compete for the National Title. Allow yourself to be optimistic! Show some pride when you strap on your big green Oregon cap.
There are well over 100 teams in major college football and a half dozen really talented conferences. Just about any other team's fans would kill to have a team half as talented as yours. Opportunities to be a natural fan of one of the front runners is so rare and should be treated with the respect it deserves.
Oregon fans, it is OK to revel in the fact that you have a great team. Take it from a Michigan fan, you will miss being the best when it is gone.