“By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property.” -Voltaire
Everybody in Oklahoma knows a college football fan they despise. How about the person who’s a die-hard fan of a school nowhere near Oklahoma geographically that makes sure everyone knows they’re the biggest Buckeyes or Gators fan around?
Or, what about the person who loves a team that isn’t even all that good anymore? “All [insert team perpetually ranked between 15-25 here] needs is a good front 7 on defense and a playmaker on offense!” I’m looking at you, Penn State. Does the Oklahoma State fan with a huge inferiority complex, and who just can’t accept they don’t get the national press that OU does, sound familiar? Probably. But that’s not the one I mean. There’s another. You know the one. There’s a good chance you are one. You know who you are. I’m talking about the one you hate the most, especially on Monday mornings. “Hey, you see the game Saturday night? Big Game Bob sure gets his boys ready to play on Saturdays!” I’m of course talking about the fan of OU football, the one who bleeds crimson and cream, the one that had “Boomer Sooner” played at their wedding; the one who doesn’t think it’s a good game if OU wins by less than 4 touchdowns.
I am that fan. I didn’t mean to be.
Upon arrival at the University of Oklahoma (in the spring of 2008 after transferring from Oklahoma City University), I didn’t think football was too big a deal. I didn’t really understand. Even at the beginning of the fall semester, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t quite comprehend what happened the first Tuesday of the semester, when my class got out at the same time as Sam Bradford’s across the hall, and a hushed, awed silence followed him out of Adams Hall. I didn’t get it.
Then the games started. Holy shit, did they ever start. The first game was easy enough, 57-2 against Chattanooga. Then 52-26. 55-14. 35-10. 49-17. (The last two were sort of disappointing, right? We didn’t even crack 50). Things were going great. Then the Texas game happened. 35-45. That’s when it got real, when I realized how much I had invested in the Sooners. You never really appreciate winning until it’s not there (which is an epidemic from which many Sooners fans suffer; they resent the losses, but don’t really appreciate the wins). I was hooked. A side note: if this article were about becoming a fan of Longhorns football, this is where I would insert a “hook-em-horns” pun, but it’s not. Boomer Sooner.
Like I said, I am officially a crazy OU fan. I’m a fast learner–it’s only been a couple of years, and I already resent Texas, dismiss Oklahoma State, and loathe Boise State and Oregon. I even hate Miami and Nebraska, and it’s been decades since those have been relevant rivalries. Last season, I seriously considered purchasing a shirt with a Barry Switzer quote on it: “We’re going to go out and hang half a hundred on ’em”. That’s needless. Just needless.
“The Pranksters were now out among them, and it was exhilarating.” -Tom Wolfe
We set out at 4 p.m. on Saturday. There were four of us, and we knew not what was in store. Helen, the photographer, Brian, the mystic, Derek, the voice of reason, and myself, the historian, the recorder of events that were to transpire. The Ball State game began at 6, and we each had our own personal agendas. Brian had two tickets to scalp, and I needed roughly 600 words worth of experience about tailgating in Norman. Helen came down to Norman as a favor to me, so it seemed a little bit more legitimate that I was wondering around, talking to tailgaters, pretending to be gleaning insights about the impetus of college football fandom. Derek came along because the cable was on the fritz.
So we set out from our headquarters, not far behind the 7-11 on Lindsey just east of 12th. More than likely, few endeavors as high-minded as ours had ever set out from behind a 7-11. As we got closer to the stadium, we began to see others walking towards it, the trickle of Sooners fans becoming a steady flow. Eventually the dam broke, and as we crossed Classen at the train tracks, we were engulfed in the tide, the crimson and cream current pulling us inexorably towards the mecca of Sooner magic. There was a group of four consisting of two couples in their mid to late 20’s walking in front of us by the duck pond, all wearing Ryan Broyles jerseys. Every 20 or 30 feet, one of the female Ryan Broyles stopped walking, hunched over, dry-heaved, and then continued walking, still in high spirits. Her companions asked if she was okay, and she replied, “yeah, I just shouldn’t have drunk the whole bottle. BOOMER SOONER!!!”, which resulted in resounding cheers and high-fives from many of the other fans around. During one such spell of dry-heaving, her male companion Ryan Broyles decided to stand on a large rock and expound on conference realignment to everyone around, shouting about Texas A&M and loyalty. As we passed, he asked my opinion on the Pac-12 from his ersatz soapbox.
“Is your girlfriend alright?” I offered, avoiding the question.
“Yeah, she does this all the time,” he answered as he stepped down, patting her back and offering her a drag of his cigarette as she shakily stood back up.
As we arrived at the corner of Lindsey and Jenkins, Brian got his tickets out, and began to hold them up in what is surely the international sign of “make me an offer”, and immediately had several suitors with “I need tickets” signs swarm him. He initially wanted face value ($60 or so each) for the tickets, aisle seats on the 45 yard line on the west side of the stadium; after being laughed at by no less than 6 professional scalpers, he settled for $30 for the pair. One scalper offered insight into his difficulty: “It’s the fucking economy, man. People aren’t coming to the games, and when they do, they’re not buying tickets. They just sit outside in their goddamn tents. When they do buy tickets, they won’t pay a fair price. You got it rough, brother, you got great seats, but I got it real bad. I got a family.”
Our engaging in the vast side economy of College Gamedays finished, we invested ourselves fully in the task at hand: tailgating. Tailgating is a many-splendored thing; in its modern conception, it does not necessarily require the pick-up truck of its namesake, but is more a state of mind. Directly south of the stadium on Lindsey, legions of fans set up hundreds of tents, with satellite televisions, grills, folding chairs, alcohol, and, perhaps most importantly, (theoretically) attractive women. The (theoretically) attractive women are not an essential for tailgating in and of itself, but rather advertising for the party each group is throwing in their respective small tent space. In fact, there seems to be a sort of economy, an unspoken market, wherein the best tailgates are the ones with the highest concentration of the (theoretically) hottest (hopefully) college girls. Because any time you have the opportunity to be a part of a system that inexplicably places a tenuous at best social standing on the objectification of women, you have to do it, right?
At this point, I once again meditated on why it’s sometimes difficult to be a college football fan, specifically a fan of Oklahoma football. Yes, I go to OU, and yes, I love Oklahoma football, but – are these my people? Many Sooner fans feel this cognitive dissonance, this simultaneous feeling of pride in one of the winningest college football programs in history [I’m not apologizing for bringing that up, look it up, it’s true] and shame that some of the most psychologically unstable people in Oklahoma also call themselves Sooner fans. For the record, I’m not excusing myself from falling into the “psychologically unstable” category.
Helen and I decided we needed some photographic evidence of the massive amount of drinking games being played, and so we approached multiple tailgates with beer pong happening, and we were welcomed without question as soon as we brandished our camera and told them we were with the media. One group even allowed Brian to play a game with them, offering us the opportunity when one competitor claimed he was too drunk to continue. They also offered Derek the opportunity to play, which he politely declined.
As the game was about the start, we walked to the north side of the stadium to see all the campus corner revelers filing into the game. Outside the west entrance, three women were finishing their beers and smoking one last cigarette before the game. One looked pregnant. I was told she probably just had a beer belly, but I remain unconvinced. On the north side of the stadium, we took pictures of several attendees at the game, including a lovely elderly couple who has been coming to games for 45 years, and the workers at the ROTC hot dogs stand.
As we stood in front of Price Hall and looked around, Helen stood on her tiptoes and and whispered in my ear.
“We HAVE to get pictures of the girls with the guys over there,” she said, gesturing to two girls in their early twenties, who looked like every bad stereotype of exotic dancers in existence.
“You mean the porn stars?” I asked, to which Helen nodded in the affirmative. The two girls looked to have had some serious cosmetic surgical work done, and were wearing so much make-up that there’s not an appropriate analogy that would properly construe their appearance. Their male companions looked to be in their mid to late fifties. Of course they did. I nudged Brian, who is far less uncomfortable approaching strangers than myself, and pointed to them as they passed. Brian flagged them down, and the girls enthusiastically agreed to photos. Their male suitors politely declined; Helen conjectured they didn’t want the pictures to get back to their wives, which seemed like the most realistic possibility.
It was around this time that the game started, and so we walked up to campus corner to watch the game at a bar until it was time to go to the other event we were covering that evening, an erotic/horror themed art show called “Horrorgasm”. [To get a complete account of our evening, check out the article on Horrorgasm, and how out of place we felt there after beer ponging with the fraternities.]
We arrived at campus corner, and Derek left, having agreed to meet another friend later. The three intrepid travelers that were left ended up at Blackbird’s, a “gastropub” on the west side of campus corner. Despite the branding of itself as a gastropub, which I find unnecessary and presumptuous, Blackbird’s is without a doubt the best restaurant on campus corner. The food is incredibly good, and the drink prices are reasonable. Based on the preceding sentence, there very well could be something to to the “gastropub” phenomenon. Regardless, I still find it distasteful when people combine perfectly good words to make new ones.
“Why should things be easy to understand?” -Thomas Pynchon
I had a dream last night. I was watching ESPN, and someone (it might have been Hulk Hogan or Kathy Lee Gifford–it’s hard to say) was reporting on Oklahoma State’s football program, and how they’d become national champions as a result of T. Boone Pickens’s financial contributions to developing the program over the last several years. I realized I was dreaming, and became incensed that Hulk/Kathy Lee had gotten it so wrong. OSU hadn’t ever won a national title (though it may be inevitable in the next few years, and I will definitely cheer for them in a title game).
I’m not sure what it says about me psychologically that the only lucid dream I’ve had in years is about college football. I like to think I can keep it all in perspective, that I don’t need to find personal validation through the performance of a sports team. I know this is true to a point. I can be rational and reasonable about sports. But I also know I’m a fan, an important distinction to make from an impartial consumer of college football.
Fandom isn’t about being rational. It’s about wearing crimson and cream every day the week of Oklahoma-Texas, it’s about painting your face, it’s about making ludicrous score predictions before the game and truly believing them. It’s about loving your team so much it hurts. It’s about the feeling you get when you find yourself outside the stadium, and see 100,000 people wearing the same two colors, and that shiver down your spine when you hear the tumult of the crowd, the announcer, the din of battle. This weekend, no matter what team you watch, don’t be impartial. Be a fan.
My score prediction for Oklahoma-Texas: 52-3.