The psychology of sports fandom has long fascinated me.
I know most sports fans remember the tough defeats more than the great wins and take that to mean their teams are the most tortured in all of sports, but for myself one could make a pretty strong case. I grew up in Atlanta a fan of the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Thrashers (RIP). I’ve seen an “infield fly” 75 feet in the outfield, a 60-win NBA team swept in the playoffs, and yes, Super Bowl LI.
Each time, I asked myself why I cared so much. Sure, when we won it felt good, but it added no tangible benefit to my life. And when we lost, it sure did tangible damage.
But each time I wished I didn’t care about sports, there was always just one more thing to pull me back in. And usually at the heart of it was the sense of community.
Being in a stadium — whether with 5,000 other people or 100,000 — is a shared experience unlike anything else. Sports is the only thing that brings together doctors and janitors. When you’re wearing the same colors on Saturday, you’re family.
And the connection to college sports is much more visceral than it is with pro sports. That’s your school. Those players chose to go there just like you did.
When I watched Jordan Bone speak through tears in the locker room after Tennessee’s loss to Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, I teared up too. You see these kids representing a school you care about so deeply leaving everything they have out there just to come up a point short and it hurts you just as badly as it hurts them.
I watched on Saturday with another current UT student and her father, a UT alumnus. After a while of sitting in the living room praying the final possessions would somehow come back on and Loyola’s shot would go another half inch off the rim or Bone’s shot would find the bottom of the net, we all ate cookies — OK, I ate most of the cookies — and watched a movie.
It was then I realized why we can’t quit this. It’s a family.
Even in defeat, I felt such a comfort being with people who wanted the same thing I did. And even when it didn’t happen, we were OK.
The moments like what we all experienced Saturday are tough. And as Tennessee fans, we’ve experienced more of them than most. But for every Loyola, there’s a 2016 Georgia. And that’s why we stick around.
“Next year” isn’t much of a consolation right now. I’m still not over what happened Saturday. I don’t know that I ever will be. But I know I’m still incredibly proud to be a Tennessee Volunteer.
When the Loyola game ended, I realized my phone background needed to be changed, as it was a collage of this year’s basketball team and I didn’t need that constant reminder every time I got a text.
So I changed it to the 2018 football schedule. I’ll see y’all on September 8th for the home opener.