When it became apparent that some Utah fans are utterly upset and some BYU fans are gloating over the fact that former Ute receiver Samson Nacua is transferring to BYU, along with his brother, Puka, who’s transferring to BYU from Washington, it reminded me of an experience I had sitting in the stands at the rivalry game of those schools many years ago.
At that time, I made previous arrangements to leave the comfortable confines of the press box to sit among the people, just to get a flavor for what was in the air.
It was … gaseous. And not any sort of good kind.
One guy immediately to my right, decked out in five varying shades of blue, was into the Cougars in a way that stood out, in a way that went far beyond rooting for his own school. It went to a border that edged up against zealotry. I mean, he was a maniac. And those around him were only a brick or two behind him.
He, they, screamed for their team in a manner with such exuberance that it made your ears, your mind, your heart, your limbs, your bones, your joints, your fibers, your being, for the love of God, your humanity hurt.
It was like having someone repeatedly swing a hammer straight into your forehead.
I would have wondered what his wife, the woman who married the man, who promised to love and cherish him, might have thought had she known she’d hitched herself to a lunatic of this sort had she not been sitting right there next to him, screaming her guts out, too.
They were Mr. and Mrs. Blowhard.
They cheered BYU on, but they did more than that. They hated the other team. Hate may seem like a strong, strong word, but, in the aftermath, when I looked it up, it fit their expressions, their emotions, their behaviors like a tight collar on a Pocket Beagle.
Hate: to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.
Yeah, that was it.
A touchdown scored by the Cougars elicited a yelp and a dance from him. A penalty flag thrown on BYU in a meaningful juncture stirred abject, frightening anger. At any moment, his head might have spun around, snot bubbles forming, attendant with projectile vomiting. I know, I know, that seems like an exaggeration, but only by a single notch.
Those around the Blowhards, as mentioned, didn’t quite reach that level of extreme insanity. They were only mildly unbalanced.
When I got up and moved around, I noticed similar demonstrations out of a pack of Utah fans, who yelled obscenities at the Cougars, suggesting that they do things to themselves that not only are anatomically impossible, but that most definitely cannot be printed here.
When the Utes scored, one dude was yelling for more, much more: “I want us to not just win, but win by 80. It’s never too much.”
I’d been to a thousand games of all kinds before, been to thousands since, but for whatever reason the antics and actions of those fans on that day have remained in the deep reaches of my brain, and even now, they make me wonder, wonder about how healthy it is to be a devoted fan. That word obviously is derived from fanaticism. So the nature of the condition is far from surprising, far from anything new.
Not long thereafter, I asked a psychologist friend about such behaviors. He said many people, at one level or another, attach their identity to the teams for which they root. It’s as though they see themselves as an integral part of the athletes on the field or on the court. They are them, them are they. What happens to those athletes happens to them, including their successes and their failures.
It is vicarious winning, vicarious losing.
If they are winners, fans are winners. If they are losers, fans are losers.
It matters not that those fans likely played no significant part at all in either result.
And it matters not that the fans decked out in blue aren’t much different than the fans draped in red. In the Utah-BYU rivalry, it veers away from that notion a bit, considering that fans on both sides might see the competitive battle as more than just a sporting event, but rather as a potential pat on the back for their religious or political beliefs. That’s not always the case, but sometimes it is.
Either way, like it is with most things, there are depths to which these kinds of associations and rooting interests are healthy, and then there are depths to which it goes bonkers.
It’s the bonkers-part that is disturbing, such as when a college kid decides it’s in his best interests, whatever they may be, to transfer to another school. If that’s what suits him best, so be it.
The ill will that arises among some for that kind of change of heart is bizarre. It’s not a betrayal. It’s not a stab in the back. It’s nothing more than a young person adjusting his circumstances to what fits him best.
And that’s what he should do.
A rival, or anybody who cheers or plays for a different team, is not an enemy, just an opponent.
That much is obvious. But sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Blowhard need to be reminded.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.