This afternoon, I drove across town to Gibbs Stadium to watch my Paladins take on the Wofford Terriers in their season finale. I sat through rain for which I was not adequately dressed and left me shivering once the sun went down. I sat through some pretty terrible officiating (Seriously, SoCon officials are the worst. I am sure they do the best they can, but I get the sense that my five year old and two year old who are completely in the tank for Furman could do about as an adequate job of officiating. Sorry, rant over). And ultimately, I saw a Furman 4th quarter rally fall short as the Paladins ended their season 4-7.
I have been going to Furman games for as long as I can remember, but this was the first season in which I did not see the Paladins win a single game in person. Trudging back to the car with my parents and friend T.J., I wondered why I keep coming back even when we don't win games.
It's not that I don't care whether we win games or not. I absolutely do. Jim and Liam weren't at this game, so I did a lot more yelling than I have in previous games in which they attended. Not as much yelling as I did back in college, but still quite a bit. I want to see Furman win. It's kind of personal.
Furman is a small FCS school, but they are not my side team. They are my team. You know how you had that friend who absolutely insisted that some local band was the greatest band in the world? Like you would say that Radiohead or whoever was definitively considered the best band is awesome, and they would say, "Man, that's because you haven't seen Not Penny's Boat"? We all knew someone like that in high school or college. That's me but with college football. It's not that I think Furman is the best team in the world (we certainly aren't), but I love them with that kind of passion. I take immense pride in the fact that in a region of the country that revolves around massive programs, I pull for this little known indie rock team. That probably makes me sound insufferable, but it is what it is.
But why is that the case? If your favorite band puts out a crappy album, you give it a pass because of how much you loved their previous albums. When those bad albums start to pile up, then your ear starts to wander. By that metric, my fandom should start to be growing restless. Four of our last five seasons have been losing ones. Granted that one exception was a fun and surprising conference championship run. Yet our trajectory right now doesn't look great. That could obviously change next season. Hope is one of the few pure things to be found in sports fandom.
There is that popular notion that people pack football stadiums or sports arenas because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Interestingly, that is a reason that many people went to church. Some hypothesize that churches are diminishing while 80,000 people pack a stadium because churches have lost that ability. It's also why megachurches seem to be popular. You feel like you are a part of something massive.
But that's not the case with me. Not at Furman and not at church either for that matter. Something bigger than myself can always be manufactured. That is not to say I don't like feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself. I just need it to feel real. This isn't to say that what packs people into a massive SEC stadium or crowded into a megachurch experience is not necessarily real. It's just that massiveness of an event doesn't do it for me. I need to have a personal connection.
I guess that personal connection is what keeps me coming back in spite of losing seasons. It is what makes me excited even for a late November game when we have no shot at the playoffs. The cool thing is that connection stretches backwards and forwards in time. As I mentioned, I have been going to Furman games for longer than I remember. There are numerous memories of jumping up and down in the stands during amazing plays, celebrating victories, and, on one particular occasion, crying as a six year old after a devastating loss. There are memories of tailgates and of playing on the field with my siblings after games. There are memories filled with my wife, my parents, my brother, my sister, and friends. Those memories are how that personal connection stretches backwards.
And this is how it stretches forwards:
Last Saturday after a stomach punch loss to Mercer, EA and I took our boys onto the field after the game. They ran around the field. They laughed that incredible laugh that only comes from kids. They tackled me and we rolled around the grass and chased the little footballs they brought. It was utter joy. Even when Jim made me be Clemson to his Furman, it was still utter joy.
Years ago, I would have sulked about that loss for a good day and a half. But the sting of that loss melted away in minutes as I watched Jim and Liam play. As much as I love it when Furman goes deep into the playoffs or puts another year for a conference championship up on the field house, moments like that are more real than real. It's those type of memories that keep me tethered to this team through losing seasons. Looking forward to making more memories with family and friends is what will keep me coming back.
Go Paladins! Thanks for the memories even in this losing season. Here's to many more memories (and hopefully some more winning seasons too).