My friend Dan is a Boise State football fan though it's far more than that. His daughter attends BSU, probably because he needed an excuse to drive 500 miles to see home games; in January he wangled his way into the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe. For the 2010 season opener on television, he wore a blue on orange BSU T-shirt in the morning and an orange on blue BSU T-shirt in the evening. I noticed the change about mid-day; Dan believes the second shirt, purchased at the Fiesta Bowl, is luckier. Since BSU won the televised game in the closing minutes - just as they did the Fiesta Bowl in January - I guess he knew what he was doing. Earlier that day when we needed something to wipe dirt off our car he said he thought he "might have an old Idaho Vandals' shirt around somewhere." My father-in-law Chester even in his 80s would have headed for Dan's jugular; no Idaho jury would have convicted him, at least not one north of Lewiston.
Sports allegiances give us excuses for loving and hating. Political correctness might suggest we should not hate, but sports give us a socially acceptable outlet. My dad, the most tolerant of men, detested Notre Dame; the Irish beat his beloved Northwestern University Wildcats in a 1940s football game with an injury that dad thought had been faked to stop the clock. Fake or real, the injury allowed one more play and Notre Dame scored to win. Dad carried that grudge for 30 years even though he would not have carried one against a fellow human being for even a week. Heck, he would probably disown me in 2010 were I to admit I had forgiven Notre Dame 62 years later, and more than 30 years after his death. When Ara Parsegian left the head coaching position at Northwestern for the same job at Notre Dame, dad nearly had apoplexy. Northwestern fans live difficult lives.
It must be genetic; my older brother Paul smashed a plastic desktop radio with his fist in the '50s when the Chicago Bears missed a field goal in the closing seconds to lose to the Los Angeles Rams. We kept the radio as a memento. "Dumb Bears," Paul growled, as he silenced announcer Jack Brickhouse.
My wife's mother was devastated when a freshman placekicker for Army or Navy, I cannot remember which, missed a last second field goal against Army or Navy, I cannot remember which, not because she cared about the game's outcome but because she cared about the young man. How could he live, she agonized, with that memory. Mothers-in-law have sports allegiances; this one left the room in the final seconds of close Vandals games because last minute reversals obviated sleep.
My son Fred, then about 10, played soccer in France for a team collectively called the Mickey Mouse. Entire towns turned out for tournaments featuring teams of all ages. I once saw hundreds of people lined up to watch penalty kicks by tiny tykes who could barely kick the ball the 20 feet or so to the goal; I found out later these kids were playing for 15th of the 16 places in their division. One would never know it from the enthusiasm everyone showed. I did not expect such support for kids from the French who are otherwise fairly restrained; but sports bring out the very best (and, alas, sometimes the very worst) in us.
Tim Hunt, the son of a linotype operator, is a retired college professor and nonprofit administrator who lives in Hayden with his wife and three cats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.