Thursday, December 18, 2014

Growing Up As A Sooners Fan

I am sick of Sooners fans.  I truly believe we have one of the whiniest and most entitled fan bases in the country.  Nothing is ever good enough.  Negativity permeates every viewing experience.  The live experience has soured thanks to rude and pessimistic fan behavior.  Our stadium is rarely imposing because we sit back and expect to be entertained.  We even boo (how spoiled is it to boo at kids who work their asses off, or to boo coaches who are more successful in their field than you ever will be in yours?).

I am Sooner born and Sooner bred.  My grandparents were students at OU and spent the rest of their lives in Norman.  My earliest baby photos reveal most of my wardrobe had Oklahoma written on it.  My uncle played for the '75 national championship team.  My Dad would have played for Switzer before a knee injury pointed him on a much more noble path to the Naval Academy.  I did not grow up in Oklahoma, but spent several summers with my grandparents who lived on Chatauqua in the shadow of Owen Field.  I lived and died on every game until I attended the school myself.  I never missed a game, never left early (despite suffering through the John Blake years) and was always one of the loudest fans while attending most of the games by myself (for reasons that would embarrass my friends).  Now I make a 12 hour round trip several times a season for the privilege to watch my Sooners.

My increased disgust of my fellow Sooners fans produced some strange results.  I was forced to care less about football which allowed me to enjoy the season more.  I have always been the guy whose weekend was ruined when the Sooners lost.  I couldn't get over it, and I never really thought it would change.

My despair dam burst after the Kansas State loss this season.  The negativity was eating me up and it was not only coming from myself, but from everything and nearly everyone around me.  As Sooners fans we are so sensitive when someone says anything negative about the program, yet we spend most of the season bad mouthing it to each other.  The more negativity I heard from friends and family, the more I felt the need to defend the program.  I began taking the criticism personally and decided I had to cut it out before it completely ruined the season.  I wasn't enjoying the games and team and I loved the way I wanted to.

It took that overwhelming negativity to realize the 12 Saturdays the Sooners play are the best days of the year, win or lose.  Failure to enjoy game day is mental inadequacy.  It's football.  It's not always going to go your way.  That is one of the fundamental lessons playing sports teaches us.  You're not going to win all the time so measuring your self esteem based on the results of a football game is a bad idea (especially one you're not playing in).

I no longer have time for it.  I rooted for the team in a positive way the rest of the season, and supported the program because it is one to be proud of.  The chat board geeks would say I'm drinking the Kool Aid, but what I'm really doing is letting go of the wild emotional swings from play to play, season to season.  I do not feel entitled, nor will I let lofty expectations spoil me in the future.  I appreciate the joy game days bring me and will miss them until next season.  It's as simple as that.  It probably shouldn't have taken me this long to come to that realization.

If you think Bob Stoops should be fired, I have no interest in your opinion on football.  If you don't support the team when they're down, don't try to talk Sooners with me when they're up. If you are so negative that you can't enjoy a win because of past losses, please don't contact me on a game day.  Was this year a great coaching season for Stoops? Nope.  He possibly made the most critical coaching error of his career which lead directly to the Sooners losing to Oklahoma State at home.  Has the program failed to reach its potential several times in the last seven seasons?  Yep.  Is there anyone I'd rather have running the program? No way.  He runs a successful, competitive, clean program.  One that revitalized Norman and the university after a decade of stagnation.

My Grandpa never liked Joe Castiglione and soured on Stoops rather quickly.  One of the last conversations I had with him was a quasi argument over their merits.  I still participate in talking my Grandma off the ledge after losses.  She likes to joke that she's "going to commit suicide" after an OU loss (not particularly funny considering how closely touched our family is to that subject).  At least my grandparents unrealistic expectations are understandable considering they never witnessed a single loss their entire time attending OU.  They were fortunate to attend during a winning streak that is still an NCAA record.  For all the non 80 somethings out there, I'm not sure why you would expect perfection.

My fan foundation was built through years of success viewed on tape. Game days my Dad would pull his chair in front of the TV with a corded Beta Max remote in hand (he edited defense whistle to whistle and cut out commercials while leaving offense in tact which made for quick rewatching).  My attention span as a child was too short to watch live games, but we had dozens of classic games on tape that I would pore through on rainy and sick days (that's the reason I know Mike Gaddis was every bit as good as Barry Sanders before he got hurt).  That's how I came to understand the history of the Sooners.  I toiled as a teen with Gary Gibbs and Howard Schnellenberger, and attended the university during the Blake years.  During this period, it took me four tries before I got to see a Sooners victory in person.  That's how I came to understand tribulation.

The Blake years were brutal.  The student body president of OU lived down the hall from me in my fraternity house and was goaded by myself and many others into writing a strongly worded letter to President Boren calling for Blake's job.  It was a move that made national headlines including Sportscenter, USA Today and CNN.

While Sooner nation waited for the announcement of Jim Donnan to replace Blake, Castiglione said the name Bob Stoops.  I was on the North Oval when Stoops addressed the student body for the first time.  You could feel the excitement of change.  Anything would have been better than the last ten years.  One and a half years after going 5-6 (Blake's best season), the Sooners were number one in the country and went on to win a national championship.  Stoops has since put a consistent winner on the field, dominated his time in the Big 12 and raised expectations from a winning season to a national championship run on an annual basis.  That is how I came to understand triumph.

Despite a rocky season, it was still Oklahoma football.  I will no longer spend mediocre seasons in agony.  I am determined to enjoy each game individually and keep a better perspective.  I'll still get heated from time to time, or question play calling, or indulge in outrageous superstitions, but as long as Stoops is running the program, I will hope for the best and live with the results (assuming he continues to beat Texas regularly).  I am a much happier fan as a result.

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