Who is your real favorite team? No, don’t list them by sport. Who’s the real favorite – the one that takes precedence over all others? We all have our one true favorite, though we may not want to admit it. We secretly dread when they play on television because we know we’ll be miserable until the score is final – and even longer if they lose. However, when they’re not on TV, we are constantly checking the score on the Internet or trying to tune in the radio broadcast on the AM dial. When we talk to friends that don’t share our passion for them, we fear we will go over the edge and enforce our opinion with Bruce Lee-like fists of fury, or at least a muttered curse word followed by a wicked stare-down. We are secretly superstitious that we are somehow able to jinx our team, be it how we sit, what we wear, the thoughts we think or even when we go to the bathroom while they play.
Hopefully, we don’t feel this way about every team we root for, because that may not be entirely healthy. But there is probably one team that stands out in our heads and our hearts. It’s easy to figure out which team makes you feel this way – just ask yourself this simple question: If you had to trade 100 years of losing seasons for all your favorite teams in all the different sports except for one, but that one team would win the next championship in their sport, which team would you choose?
The answers may be different for everyone. I have a brother-in-law who would trade everything short of the health and safety of his wife and child for a BCS Championship for the BYU Cougars. One of my best friends from college lives and dies with the Utah Jazz, enduring the mind-numbing, heart breaking pain of seeing them come so close before losing to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the late 90s. We’ve spent the last year reading about the personal fulfillment of the likes of Stephen King, Bill Simmons and countless others after the Boston Red Sox’ 2004 World Series triumph, because no matter how many banners lined the rafters of the Boston Garden or the outer rim of Gillette Stadium, the one they truly wanted could only be raised at Fenway Park. So, these kinds of allegiances to one “special” team are not new, nor are they anything to be ashamed of. We’ve all got them.
And for me? The answer is simple: All my other “favorites” could finish last for years to come if only I could see the Kansas Jayhawks cutting down the nets at the end of the Final Four. You see, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the Kansas City Royals. (By the way, I think the Royals took the above challenge seriously, not having sniffed the post season since the early 90s. The only problem is none of my other teams have won, either!) I commit major league baseball bigamy because of my lifelong affair with the Chicago Cubs. A Chiefs loss on Sunday can put me in a sour mood for the rest of the day. I want my alma mater, the Cougars of BYU, to return to national prominence and make a run for the BCS bowls. But, in truth, each of those teams could become perennial cellar dwellers if I could be guaranteed the opportunity to see Bill Self and his team parading down Massachusetts Street in early April.
I was 14-years old the last time it happened, in 1988. I remember watching Kevin Pritchard, Archie Marshall, Scooter Berry and the immortal Danny Manning leading the way to victory with Larry Brown and his huge glasses watching from the bench. I still get chills when I see highlights from that season. My wife rolls her eyes every time I point out Danny sitting behind the bench in his current role with the Jayhawks. I remember the euphoria, the party that spread from the campus to downtown Lawrence to 23rd Street that night – people honking horns, splashing in the fountain, running through the streets. It was amazing. I’ve always regretted the fact that my older brother was out of the country when Danny and the Miracles won it all. He didn’t get to see it. There’s a small part of me that wants the Jayhawks to win so he can experience that joy firsthand. But, to be honest, that’s only a small part of me. The selfish part just wants it for me.
So, with the 2005-06 NCAA basketball campaign underway and a young and promising Jayhawks squad ready to tip off, I’m prepared again for a season filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. This edition of the Jayhawks is ready to erase the memory of last year’s shocking first round loss to Bucknell and an off-season to forget. They aren’t expected to win the Big 12 and will most likely need an at-large bid to the tournament in March. But that doesn’t matter to me when I’m watching them play. For me, each game is a mini-drama. I get nervous about any lead that is smaller than the number of minutes remaining in the game. When my kids were babies, I would rock them while I watched, hoping they wouldn’t wake up so that I wouldn’t have to change positions. I seek out any advantage I can find, convinced that my little actions will affect the shot selection and three-point percentage of my team.
You see, I probably take KU basketball a little too seriously. One of my wife’s biggest pet peeves is people who refer to their favorite team with the pronouns “we” or “our”. You’re not on scholarship, the team doesn’t send you a paycheck, Nike doesn’t spring for your shoes. You’re not a player, a coach or even an athletics department employee. Now, I’ll admit that, especially in college sports, if you are a high level “contributor”, it’s easy to consider yourself part of the team. You paid for the jumbotron, you’re allowed a vote. However, the vast majority of us don’t fall into that category.
Here’s the thing. For many of us, when we’re dealing with that “special” team, we really feel we have a say in their success or failure. When my team holds on for a close win while I make sure my right foot is tapping to the beat of “Lola” by The Kinks, I know I contributed to the victory. When the Jayhawks blow a ten point lead right after I have to help a three-year old use the potty, I’m certain it is somehow my fault. But, it’s that kind of impaired mentality that makes fans everywhere lament when “we” didn’t go for it on fourth down or start the runners on a 2-2 count or switch to a zone defense, and now we are saddled with a loss to an obviously inferior team.
Now, I have to admit, I’ve gone farther than just the simple mental games that help bleed off the stress from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Some of these things are fairly harmless. In 1997, I wore the same pair of shorts every time I watched them play, even wearing my fabled “Jayhawk shorts” under a pair of jeans while watching at a friend’s house. The next year, I committed an even more egregious crime. My heavily favored Jayhawks had just lost to Lamar Odum’s Rhode Island team in the second round of the NCAA tournament. At the time, my wife was my girlfriend and she had another friend, who we’ll call Jeff, who decided to have a laugh at my expense. A few choice words later and Jeff didn’t come around anymore. Now, I believe that Jeff was really just hanging around because he wanted to date my wife, but I certainly let my own emotions get the better of me – and all because my team couldn’t win a simple game, even though they had the most talent in the country that year. Heck, even right now, I get more frustrated thinking about that game than I do thinking about the confrontation that followed. Is there something wrong with me?
The answer is no, though there may be some room for a little anger management. The point is we all have these weak spots for a certain team. Now, I’m not saying that our blind devotion to a sports team should make it okay for us to lash out at the friends of our loved ones. I am saying that, as the seasons change and “that team” starts playing, it’s entirely possible that we will exhibit some of these obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Please bear with us. Please don’t make fun of us. And, whatever you do, don’t ask us to stop tapping our foot. If I can just get to the chorus before the next television timeout, the Jayhawks are sure to win! Lola. . . La La La La Lola. . . .
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