A true fan is one who cheers the team no matter what the team's record is and no matter what the scoreboard says. I'm talking about the person who isn't at all ashamed of wearing their team's apparel in a rival's hometown the day after a tough road loss. The fan who has lifetime season tickets and won't leave the stadium even in the biggest blowout. The fan who orders a year-long subscription channel just to watch one game of his team, or goes to high school games to watch recruits. The fan who can recite the entire roster and tailgates for the team's practices. Okay, some of that is a bit obsessive and overstated, but you get the point.
A true fan will not pull a 180 in their feelings towards the team based on one game or even one season, because they never give up on the team. A true fan does not spend more time and energy hating an opponent than cheering their team. A true fan refuses to change song lyrics to something vulgar and juvenile, because they know that those aren't the words. A true fan attended the school that they cheer for, and the institution became a defining characteristic of their life. A true fan won't openly criticize players or coaches, because a true fan realizes that they are a part of the team.
Can you be a fan and a devil's advocate at the same time? Certainly, but the opinions must be addressed in a respectful manner, otherwise they are unconstructive and not in the team or fans' best interests. You don't necessarily have to be an optimist who deludes themselves into thinking that the team can do no wrong, but you do have to believe in the team no matter what. It's easy to be a critic after a tough loss. It's not easy to be a full-fledged supporter after a loss. The true fan will not make excuses after losses or gloat after wins. The true fan won't blame the refs or do an excessive amount of trash-talking. The true fan has the ability to strongly dislike a rival and simultaneously respect them. The true fan wins and loses like a champion.
One does not have to possess all of these qualities to be a true fan. However, if you can honestly say that this article was a general description of the way you cheer for your team, then in my eyes, you are a true fan. So go put on the face and body paint, rig up the elaborate trailer hitch flagpole, and keep representing your university with pride and honor.
(Questions, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be directed to Trent within the forums or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org