I love it, but I can’t stand it!

Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

This applies to relationships and the pain of a breakup, but it can also apply to being a sports fan.

Most of us can relate to this, because being a fan for the vast majority of us is largely about heartache, given that there can only be one champion in a particular sport or league in a given year. The fans of the champions are happy, while the rest wail, gnash their teeth and say, “Wait ‘til next year.”

David Peck
David Peck

This occurred to me while watching the Wyoming Cowboys blow an early lead and lose to the San Jose State Spartans Saturday in San Jose, Calif. I attended the game with several family members, most of whom were only casual sports fans.

To the casual fan, or the non-fan, getting worked up about a team’s performance is puzzling, even weird. They simply don’t understand or appreciate the emotions that go into following a favorite team as a fanatic – a fan.

Of course, there are varying levels of fandom, ranging from crazies who dress in wild costumes and wrap their entire lives around a team to those who watch with dispassionate, mild interest. Most of us are in between the two extremes.

During Saturday’s game, brother James and I would leap up and high-five each other on good plays and cry out in despair on bad plays, or make comments. James had several fans chuckling when he exclaimed more than once in the direction of the Wyoming team, “Hey defense, when the guy in blue runs toward you, follow him” as Spartan quarterback David Fales had a career day against Wyoming’s beleaguered defenders, throwing for 482 yards and five touchdowns.

The San Jose State fan in back of us was out of control, however, using foul language and screaming at high volumes to show his “support,” causing my cousin to remark, “I wonder what happens when they lose?”

Those who know me understand that I am a team fan, not a general sports fan. I didn’t watch a World Series game last year after my Cardinals were eliminated in the league championship series, and I don’t believe I watched an entire college football bowl game. Yeah, I watched the Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl.

But when my team is playing, I’m into it, especially when it’s a pressure situation like the World Series. I cheer, I moan, I talk to the TV, I cuss, I whine and I scream “woo hoo!” I express my displeasure in texts to fellow fans and complain to my poor wife sitting nearby.

Baseball is full of superstitions, and on Monday I was no different. I wore my “lucky” hat, rubbed my fat rat terrier’s Buddha belly and even drank a Budweiser for the Cards.

They lost. Couldn’t hit the ball if their lives depended on it. And I said, “Can’t do that again.”

Which is why, paradoxically, I wasn’t even planning to watch game six of the World Series Wednesday night. I just didn’t think I could stand another lackluster hitting performance by my weak-hitting Cardinals against Boston. As you read this, maybe the Cards exploded for nine runs last night, and maybe the series is headed for game seven tonight.

But as I write this Tuesday night, I’m planning to go to dinner and a movie Wednesday while taping the game to watch later in case the Cardinals prevail. And if they lose, it’s easy. “Delete.” But I cannot suffer pitch by pitch through another World Series game. It’s just too hard on me.

And that’s why casual or non-fans ask, “I wonder what happens when they lose?” And look at fans like we’re crazy. What they must understand is that, in the world of sports, like in any relationship, it is better to love a team, even when the team loses (and loses and loses and loses in the case of the Wyoming Cowboys) than to never care at all. And though sometimes it is just too hard to bear, at least there is passion.

Yes, I have expended (wasted?) a great deal of energy and emotion on my teams over the years, much of it leading to disappointment. But with sports and the crazy world of fandom, there is ALWAYS next year, or the next game. And that anticipation is what makes it all worthwhile. And the occasional burst of pure joy that comes from a really big win.

Game on!

by David Peck