This is the first of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
An old literary critic and Yale professor Richard Gilman once told of group of his students that "Being a sports fan is a complex matter, in part irrational but not unworthy a relief from the seriousness of the real world."
The more I grow older, by older I mean almost 20 (I'm now shaving), the more Gilman's remarks make sense. When we finally stop complaining about another loss to one of the Oregon schools or celebrating New Year's on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, we can sit back, take emotion out of the equation, and come to the realization that sports is really inconsequential in the big picture. But that's why it's also so important.
When it comes down to it, sports is simply a form of entertainment. It's a diversion. It's something we do for "fun." We watch sports with family, friends, old college buddies, the colleagues at work who you've never even spoken to before, or random fellows who just happen to sit right next to you at the 90. If Matt Barkley just throws a touchdown pass, that random stranger decked out in cardinal and gold is your best friend. And isn't it fun, really?
At the end of the day, sports have little bearing on how we go about living our lives. The fact that Pete Carroll has left for the Seahawks will not change your job status, your family life, or the personal satisfaction you get out of waking up each morning.
All of this fandom stuff is really supposed to be an enjoyable process when it's all said and done. It's not like filling out a tax return. It's a pause, a break from the things we have to do before heading off to bead.
Growing up in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, I realized this. As a kid with demanding parents who pushed me to perform well in the classroom, dedicate a significant part of after-school time on the field or on the court playing sports (unfortunately, I think I peeked at t-ball), and striving to achieve a lofty set of goals, following the USC Trojans was my escape.
In the midst of a long week of school or a tough week at practice, I could always rely upon reading the team's practice report in the LA Times, a feature on Kenechi Udeze, or a preview of Saturday's top-25 games, as the one constant in life. No matter how tired I was from practice or how fed up I was trying to figure out some stoichiometry assignment for chemistry, I always knew that on Saturdays, USC football would be waiting for me.
And when that time came, my dad, a 1979 alumnus and season ticket holder since the late 80s, would grab me, my mom, or some old classmate of his, and throw us into the back of the family car as we headed down the 110 to the Coliseum. Being able to sit with 93,000 screaming Trojan fans waving cardinal and gold pom-poms is one of a heck of a religious experience for an 11 year-old kid. Seriously. You're going to encourage a puberty-stricken, pimply faced dork that he can yell, scream, and swear, for over three hours, while high-fiving drunk guys in oversized Carson Palmer jerseys? On top of that, you're going to give him a pair of binoculars to get close ups of the song girls? Who wouldn't love that? No wonder I told my dad I was enamored with getting close ups of USC's "zone-blocking" schemes.
These college football Saturdays were some of the most enjoyable times of my experience growing up in Southern California. No matter whether I was in the 3rd grade just starting to learn how to write in cursive, becoming a teenager and entering high school, or filling out college applications, I always knew that come Saturdays in the fall, I'd be with family and friends rooting for the Trojans.
So as I began wondering what the heck am I supposed to major in when I get to college, I thought about what made me the happiest throughout my childhood. Granted, Star Wars action figures and Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazines were atop the list, but I had difficulty determining how exactly they would translate into career paths. Taking pictures of Marisa Miller in the Caribbean would have been exhilarating, but in the end, I'd probably just overuse the zoom features and be let go in about a week's time. That probably wouldn't be the best route to take. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that sports represented an intriguing option. I always loved watching sports, and I was good at it too. Nobody could double-dip salsa and guacamole better than me, and I could use more swear words in one sentence than an Eagles fan. Seriously, I was the best.
And since I happened to be breaking my latest academic trend by actually getting passing marks in English class, journalism seemed to be the best option left. Hey, I could even write about sports! Combining the fact that USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism had a ton of football players in it (I could pretend to be an athlete) and had the highest female-to-male ratio on campus (I could pretend to be interested in the subject), it was the perfect fit.
So presently, I'm set to be a sophomore at USC in the fall, and yes, on track to graduate with a degree in Print Journalism in three more years to the surprise of many. Granted, I have no idea what I'm going to be doing in 3 years, but I do want to write. Will I be on the east coast following politics? Will I be overseas corresponding on U.S. international policy (note: this a long-shot by the way for I hear they look for people well-versed in subjects other than C.J. Gable's 40-yard dash time)? Heck, if I'm lucky, maybe I'll still be here on the west coast writing about USC and the Pac-10?
I really don't know. But I do understand one thing. I love sports, particularly USC athletics. Watching the Trojans on Fall Saturdays has always been able to get my blood pumping not seen since I was using an overload of Vaseline tubes at age 14. I want to convey those feelings to all those growing up like me. That's why I am here. That's why I blog. That's why I spend time writing 500-word posts on Lane Kiffin as opposed to "hanging out" every night. USC football has always been special to me. It provided nearly every emotion I have experienced in my young life. Maybe, that sounds pathetic. Maybe, at the end of the day, that's not necessarily a good thing. Maybe it classifies me as a sports geek. Who knows? But it's true, and it really makes no sense not denying it, especially at this point. Moving forward, with a new regime led by the boyish looking Lane Kiffin and his trusty father Monte, I hope to convey these emotions we experience as fans, either exhilaration or frustration, for all those like me, just looking for a "relief from the seriousness of the real world."
Feel free to share your stories on how you also came to bleed Cardinal and Gold.