I didn’t get it.
Who were these people pulling into the raggedy street next to Stillwater Flats at 8 AM on a football gameday? What could possess them to get excited for a cupcake matchup versus Louisiana Lafeyette? You know, there’s other things to do on a Saturday morning than lug a grill, TV, satellite dish, enough food to feed a sorority house for a week, and a healthy collection of alcohol to a small town at least an hour from everything.
But as the weeks went by, it became more and more apparent. A “Go Pokes” when I pulled up for an interview and they saw the Oklahoma State University sticker on my state car. Or maybe it was my co-workers at KOSU, a National Public Radio station (not exactly known for rabid sports fans) anxious to talk about the weekend’s football game. But then there was Bedlam 2011, and this became so much more than a bunch of 18-28 year olds (thanks B. Weeden) running around a field.
It’s an easy answer, but it’s unavoidable. Of course, there’s the usual pre-game festivities, just times ten in this case. Walking around, things just feel different. There’s a little edge to every step, masked by the friendliness of Oklahomans. But when the Oklahoma State offensive storm clouds opened up, leaving OU not just defeated, but embarrassed, it was the most pure emotion I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s like everything was stripped away, students didn’t care about that night’s plans, didn’t care where they would be celebrating. They just wanted to be celebrating.
Fans in New England like to boast they’re some of the most passionate in this country. And I have no doubt that’s the case among professional teams. The Red Sox World Series win in 2004 added years to my grandfather’s life, without a doubt. And I’m a Celtics diehard, suffering through an 18 game losing streak spanning 2006 and 2007. When they lost the Finals to the Lakers in 2010, I couldn’t speak about the collapse for weeks, waiting until my cousin and I could hash it out at a bar a month later.
But my love of the Celtics is a logical one. Hey they’re making a trip to Oklahoma City in March, I’m trying to get to that. Oh, I’m going home this week, let’s see if I can squeeze in a game at the Garden. It stops at a certain point. That’s how it is for a good chunk of the professional sports team fan.
I went to Fordham. We have history (hey Vince Lombardi!), but it’s mostly just that, history. Still, one of the best memories of my college life was when Fordham men’s basketball upset St John’s in Rose Hill Gymnasium, the oldest on campus basketball arena in Division I. None of this can hold a pistol to Oklahoma State. I didn’t have a love of Fordham sports before arriving on campus, and just keep tabs on the teams now.
So when Kyle posted “When I Fell in Love with Oklahoma State”, I knew I was in the same ballpark, but it was probably Section 310, maybe 208 if we’re getting charitable. It blows past logic on the way to unquestioned love. It’s something you grow up with, and it becomes a part of your life. Attacking Oklahoma State University in any way is a personal insult.
That can lead to some heated “conversations”, but it fosters incredible pride. The school has had some level of success across nearly every sport (thanks for Tony Allen, by the way), but it’s the dedication to Oklahoma State that defines fans.
Every fan base complains, everyone wants things to get better, everyone wants to right the injustices in the sports world. But few shut up and show up. And while basketball attendance has lagged (c’mon students, seriously), it will pick up. Baseball too will soon be here, and with it, it would be wrong to expect anything less than healthy crowds at Allie Reynolds with OSU alum Josh Holliday taking over.
You can’t fake loving a team. And why would you want to anyway? Sports are meant to be an escape, not another time to put on a show. That’s why I have no doubt countless fans like Kyle can tell the story of Bedlam 2001, or have their favorite Desmond moment, or have lost themselves in Gallagher Iba. That’s not what defines everyone though. It’s belief in Oklahoma State and what it means to each athlete to put on the orange and black.
Now, I get it.