Call it “Opening Day Fever.”
Call it whatever you want, really, but the spirit of “anything can happen” when Major League Baseball starts certainly carries over into the minds and attitudes of college football fans.
National Signing Day has surpassed the last game as the most recent memory, giving fans something about which to be excited. It doesn’t matter if your team went 12-0 or 0-12, if you’re in the SEC, your team signed a four-star prospect and/or someone you have heard about from a friend or on a message board – someone who will forever alter the direction your program for the next four years.
In case National Signing Day wasn’t enough, die-hards get to read about their team over three-plus weeks of spring practices.
Those stories, through no fault of anyone, really, go as follow: Player A wants to build on his strong season; Player B is disappointed with how last year went and vows that this season will be much better; Player C really likes the team chemistry; Player D has overcome adversity and is ready to be a major contributor this year; Player E realizes there are position battles, but everyone on the team is so great that it really doesn’t matter who wins; Player F really likes the changes the new coach(es) made and thinks it will make the team amazing this year.
Then there are the stories from coaches. And what are they going to say? “We’re not any good and we will be lucky to go 3-5 in conference this year,” no coach says in the era of two-year turnarounds.
Sometimes coaches will say things along the lines of “We’re not very good right now.” Then again, those quotes are always followed by something to the effect of “but there is plenty of time to get things figured out,” or “but I’m confident we have the pieces in place to improve quickly.”
That optimism gets pumped in to fans like crowd noise at practice for a road game against a top-5 team.
By the time spring games roll around, there former four- and five-star recruits who haven’t yet hit it big have become cult favorites fans can’t wait to see. There are also myriad newcomers who inspire hope.
Guess what. The spring game, which is designed for everyone to win, leaves fans feeling even better about their teams.
Once the spring game comes and goes, fans fall into one of four camps. Here is a look at the five camps and which SEC teams fall into which:
At the top and not going anywhere – Alabama
Fictional fan thought process: We could lose one game this year, but that’s about it. Anything worse than 7-1 and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game is unacceptable.
We were just a few plays away from winning the league and this is our year – Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M
Fictional fan thought process: A 6-2 conference record is the floor of expectations and we need to win one critical game to make the SEC Championship Game.
We took a major step forward this year and it will only get better from here – Ole Miss, Vanderbilt (admittedly, easily the least annoying fan base in the SEC)
Fictional fan thought process: At the rate we’re going, we have to go at least 5-3 this year and move toward the next grouping.
Last year was slightly disappointing but this season we will make our move – Mississippi State
Fictional fan thought process: We have the right coach in place – although he needs to get back to proving it this year. We simply need a few better performances from key positions. Going 5-3 in conference should be a minimal expectation.
This year will definitely be much better – Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee
Fictional fan thought process: It’s not going to be easy, but with (insert change here), there’s no reason we can’t go .500 in league play and go to a bowl game. If we get a few breaks, going 5-3 or even 6-2 isn’t out of the question.
No reaction is an overreaction – because in college football, and especially in the SEC, there is no such thing.
Want your coach fired at halftime despite winning back-to-back conference titles? I’m sure you have your reasons.
Think your Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback needs to sit for the rest of the season after two drives? Of course he does.
Your defensive coordinator should apply to be a mailman even with the Post Office shifting to five days of delivery? Well, that’s only logical. Hell, why don’t we just mercy kill him at midfield during halftime?
Reactions such as these inspired the FireEverybodyDotCom brand – a brand that has joined on as a part of Saturday Blitz, but that isn’t going away.
To quote President Bill Clinton, the arithmetic doesn’t add up. Every fan base can’t see their teams meet expectations. If every program hit the lowest fan expectation, the SEC would somehow achieve a record of 32 games over .500 (72-40). And God forbid an SEC team commits the unforgivable sin of losing a non-conference game.
The problem is simple: When teams miss expectations, fans want change. Yesterday. All those happy feelings and good will created in the days since National Signing Day are gone. To miss the expectations is to fall behind schedule and to suffer the embarrassments and indignities of fans of other programs looking down on them.
I was once the bloodthirsty, constantly-embarrassed-by-losses fan about which I write. What helped me gain perspective was putting myself in a position where objectivity was key. I will never be the same fan I was – and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean I’m no longer passionate about the teams for which I cheer. It simply means there is a necessity to look at things in a different, less urgent, way.
This isn’t to say you, as fans, shouldn’t be optimistic. The spirit, passion and atmosphere of the fans makes college football the great sport it is. It’s what separates college football from the pros.
However, there will be disappointment both in life and in football. Be passionate. Love your program. But accept that every year isn’t going to be automatic progression toward a national championship. Find a way to laugh at yourself and your team when things are going badly and don’t lord it over fans of opposition when they aren’t.
On second thought: Don’t. It’s your reactions, after all, that fuel the FEDC brand. Demand that your coaches be fired and your quarterbacks benched. Write your Board of Trustees, insisting that the athletics directors and presidents must go as well. Tell us why winning no fewer than football games RIGHT NOW is more important than any other happening on campus.
Fans are no longer the voiceless. They have voices louder than ever. They can be heard on message boards and call-in sports talk shows. They are heard in comments of stories and on YouTube.
At some point the quiet, non-outraged segment that came to represent the voiceless. We speak for them, albeit by spotlighting the insanity provoked by passionate fandom.
As for today, enjoy your trek to the national championship. Even if you’re in the bottom class, you’re only a few years away.