fa·nat·ic: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion <they're fanatic about sports>
The excessive and intense I think nail it, but what is this about uncritical you say? Being a fan of something is surely something all of you reading this can relate to. Why else would you be reading this? You're a fan of Baylor sports or a fan of sports in general. Or maybe a fan of Ursus arctos and will follow any school that claims that as their animal of choice. Whatever it is though, you are a fan of something.
I became a fan of sports at about as early an age as one can make that big of a conscious decision. It was in January of 1990, and I was 7 years old. I remember vividly the smell of the brisket my father had woken up at an ungodly hour to cook for us. I remember a grayish day that was a pretty typical winter day in Dallas, TX (50 degrees and for some reason kind of rainy). I also remember the bright scarlet red and the brilliant gold of the San Francisco 49ers. They were playing the Denver Broncos in the 24th Super Bowl, but the first one I can remember actually caring about.
The 49ers went on to destroy the hapless Broncos 55-10 that day, as I stuffed myself with brisket and declared myself a forty-niners fan, as I was without a team due to the firing of the man in the hat that coached my local team, the Dallas Cowboys. See, in February of 1989, the 26th to be exact, Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and fired their only head coach. On that day, as an impressionable 7 year old, I said that I hated the Cowboys and would never root for them again. So, I was off to find another team. Who would I choose???
Well, of course being a young child, I was drawn to the best teams. Children are notorious front-runners and band-wagons jumpers. I cannot deny that winning and seeing "my" team almost every weekend was pretty cool, especially as someone not rooting for the local team that would be shoved down my throat. So, the two-time defending Super Bowl champion 49ers made a pretty good impression on me.
I became a Baylor fan by a pretty similar process. I didn't choose Baylor because of them winning though, as my four years coincided with probably the darkest four year stretch in Baylor athletics history, both on the field and off. I became a Baylor fan because that is where I went to school. My parents both went to school in the mid-west, and neither were from Texas originally, so I had no ties to any of the local schools. I grew up a Big 10 fan, watching Sunday afternoon basketball on CBS as Clark Kellogg yelled about something important in the background of my life.
So, choosing a school to attend and graduate from was not really driven by history or athletics. It was driven by where would be the best place to get my education. I wasn't a longhorn or an aggie or even a red raider. I was just someone looking for a college that would fit me. A lot of kids in my high school knew where they were going, because that is where their parents went and there grandparents went. I didn't have that luxury or that burden.
I was a big sports fan. I followed the 49ers still, even when they became terrible in the early 2000s. I was a big fan of the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers as well, two teams that had not won a single playoff game in my memory. The Dallas Stars were the big-ticket in DFW as were actually good at this time, which was a plus. But these were professional sports. College sports didn't register as much with me. Why do I want to watch a lesser version of the professional sports that I have watched the past decade?
The high point of my freshman year of football season was traveling up to Denton as the Bears won the opener on the road. We were 1-0 and this major college football thing was pretty cool. And then, after 2 more passes, the immortal Greg Cicero era was over and the Bears would go on to a 2-9 campaign. Those two victories were among the 11 that I saw in my 4 years as a student in Waco, including just two Big 12 conference wins in those four years.
But each year in Waco, I grew to love the Bears more and more, even though sometimes it felt like they didn't really love me back. I had always been a bigger football fan than basketball fan growing up, but going to games in Waco started to change that. In 2000, the Bears under second year head coach Dave Bliss had a bit of a breakout season. In by far their best season in the Big 12 era, the Bears finished 19-12 and qualified for a postseason tournament for the first time since 1987-88 under Gene Iba. The high point of that year occurred on February 12th, 2001. That day also happened to be my birthday. That day, the Bears beat a good team, but it wasn't like they beat Duke or North Carolina. The beat the 6th ranked Kansas Jayhawks behind the sublime performance of Terry Black (who uttered that amazingly awesome Duke/UNC quote after KU guard Kenny Gregory said after a loss to Big 12 leader Iowa State and rival Missouri that it wasn't as bad as losing to Baylor or Texas A&M).
Alas, the high point was short lived for the Bears. Both the 01-02 and 02-03 campaigns saw mediocre squads turn in at or below .500 records. Other than destroying the Aggies by 52 on a lovely Saturday afternoon and somehow beating a really good Oklahoma State team on the road, those two years are pretty much a blur of Wendell Greenleaf long 3-pointers and getting to watch two years of a pretty promising trio of players in Lawrence Roberts, John Lucas III and Kenny Taylor. But Baylor fans, and probably everyone else knows what happens in the summer of 2003. I don't want to get into that though. This isn't a story of a rising or rebuilding program. That is a story for another day.
Throughout all of those highs and lows (mostly lows in the early 2000s for the Bears) a love and passion grew. The fanatic started to emerge from his cocoon. Luckily for me, so did the Bears athletics program. Scott Drew and Art Briles came to save the men's basketball and football programs. Kim Mulkey was winning national championships and making Baylor a powerhouse in a nationally recognized sport. But the fanatic grew in the bad times, not the good.
The fanatic in me grew with trying to see the positives and the glimmers of hope, ever so dim at times but always there. The cost of which is a lot of time and money as well. Looking at it as a purely financial decision, the cost will never balance out with the tangible benefit of simply being at the game rather than watching on one of the 200+ channels you have in the comfort of your home. The reason we spend the money we do, and spend the time traveling to the games is to simply say we were there in case something amazing happens. To witness something that you have never seen, a performance, a play, a moment that will define a game, season or even a program. To say that you were there when Griffin cemented his Heisman trophy when he hit Terrance Williams in the back corner of the end zone against Oklahoma, or when Terry Black absolutely destroyed future NBA player Kirk Hinrich. Black of course would not make it to the NBA. It didn't matter on that day that the Bears were not nearly as good of a team or that Black wasn't the best player. He was that day, and the Bears were better that day.
Most successful coaches and athletes will say that they remember the losses more than the wins or that the losses hurt a lot more than the wins feel good. With fans, the wins almost always feel significantly better than the losses (other than those punches to the gut that leaves scars for years and years like tortured Boston Red Sox fans before 2007). Fans remember the highs much more vividly than the lows. We ache with every play, down, throw or basket. We ride the emotional rollercoaster around the loops and twists and back to the station only to do it again without ever getting out of the seat. We not only watch the game, but spend the next few days or even weeks discussing and diagnosing it with friends in person and online. It is emotionally draining and exhausting but all the while it keeps us plugged into something that we love.
With all of that in mind, I put my 10 month old son in Baylor gear, knowing that more than likely he will grow up to love the Bears, and maybe even attend the school of his father like many of my friends did around me when I was looking at the next step. He will have that tie-in, that check box marked as a Bear when he graduates high school. It will be up to him if he ends up as one, but he will go to more Baylor evens by the time he is 18 than I will have gone to by 35. Will he be a fanatic though, or is the better question do I want him to be?