On September 22, 2012, I was introduced to a whole new world. After a lifetime of unrivaled support for LSU Tiger football, I watched the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the University of Michigan Wolverines on an electric night at Notre Dame Stadium. I loved it, and I wasn’t sure why.
Between the ages of 2 and 5 my family lived less than 1000 feet from LSU’s Tiger Stadium and Alex Box Stadium. That meant more trips with mom and dad to baseball and football games than the average kid was afforded. The part of this story that matters is the fact that, aside from a few players who went on to have a substantial professional career, I’d have a hard time naming any of the players I watched during those years.
It’s fairly obvious that I wasn’t there for the specific players (most kids aren’t), or even necessarily the teams. I was there for the experience! Being at the stadium with my parents, eating the food, learning the cheers, wearing the t-shirt and hat, getting excited for “big games”; it all plays a part in the allure of sports.
If we shared a moment of honesty, I imagine we’d find large portions of the sports-loving population that don’t have a direct connection to “their” team. Die hard fans that have never attended the school, lived in the city, or supported the program financially, and yet, we cheer our lungs out game after game. Even in the case of our own alma mater, there is very little that we personally stand to gain aside from the pride we feel as a collective group of fans with a shared identity.
You see, we’re all in this for the experience. We know the drill. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. We feel it together with our fellow fans. The electricity of a night game in your home stadium, the tense moments watching from your living room as your team plays on the road; it’s all part of the experience. We don’t first love the experience because we are fans. We become fans because we can’t help but love the experience.
Each experience is unique. The feel of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge is drastically different from what you’ll encounter inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Travel to the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium and you’ll find yet another unique environment. The best of these environments aren’t great only in relation to another venue, they simply stand on their own.
I’m guilty of throwing around the term “bandwagoner” in an attempt to write off a “fresh fan”, but I’m not so sure that’s accurate. What I’m learning is that my experience in South Bend, Indiana wasn’t a matter of hopping on the bandwagon, but rather seeing first hand what all of the hype was about.
Enjoying one stadium experience doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy another, any more than enjoying a great steak means you can’t appreciate a good burger. The experiences aren’t competing against one another, they’re competing with the other things you could do with your time. I enjoyed my time in South Bend because it was enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed many a Saturday night in Death Valley because it is also enjoyable. When LSU and the Irish meet on field my allegiance is purple and gold, but until that happens, that isn’t a choice I have to make.
The lesson to be learned here isn’t really about football, but rather the interesting notion that perhaps we self-limit the number of good experiences we allow ourselves simply because it feels like a choice between a new experience and our previous favorite experiences. We don’t try a new restaurant in town because we already have our favorite. We pass on meeting new people at work or school because we’ve already settled into our group of friends. The reality is that these experiences are seldom competing with one another. They’re just waiting for you to branch out and try something new.