As you might remember, a couple of weeks ago we asked our readers to explain what made them such hardcore USF fans to win a chance to participate in a contest sponsored by Hyundai, where the ultimate winner gets a trip for two to the college bowl game of their choice. I decided that the great gunsby's story, about becoming the unlikeliest of diehards while living in Pennsylvania, was the best one, and so I've chosen him to move on to the second phase of the contest, where we talk in more detail about fandom in general. Hope you enjoy it.
JD: So I guess we'll start with the obvious question. How did someone living in Pennsylvania, with absolutely no connection to USF, manage to become such a big fan?
TGG: Philadelphia is a fantastic sports city and probably my favorite place on earth. Thing is, there's absolutely no college sports scene there-- and I mean none; I have never met a Temple fan in my life-- and as I entered middle school I was rapidly becoming a huge college football fan on the heels of Penn State's near-undefeated 2005 season and the classic Texas-USC showdown for the national title.
As a sixth grader you're pretty malleable when it comes to team loyalties, and it's amazing the kind of things that can trigger goodwill toward one team or another. I caught my first Bulls game on TV when they played against Syracuse in 2006, and it was damn near love at first sight. Matt Grothe was in his prime "nearly get sacked, run around twelve defenders in the backfield, flip over a guy, loop around twice and then find an open receiver for a 30 yard completion" stage, and, well, after 12 years of watching nothing but straight NFL three-step drops, how can you you not fall in love?
It was puppy love at the time, though, triggered by nothing more than an affinity for underdogs, dual-threat quarterbacks, and yes, animals of the bovine species (cut me some slack. I was 12). I would become a huge USF fan because they quite literally grew up with me. I mean, they started playing football three years after I was born-- how cool is that? All those adolescent ups and downs and aches and pains the football team went through was real, genuine, stuff from real, genuine kids my age that I could relate to, except I was worrying about a girl asking me to prom, not the ACC.
It probably boils down to that magical first half of the 2007 season. I had spent all offseason being a typical middle school fan and talking up the Bulls to anyone who would listen based solely on an optimistic preview from Phil Steele (ha!). Then all the pieces kind of magically fell together, and all the games I claimed USF would win but they really had no business winning...they actually won. My friends would see USF on SportsCenter and offer me congratulations. I could wear my number-eight Bulls jersey to school with my hair shoddily pushed into a fauxhawk and people could actually realize who I was supposed to be. I spent my study hall periods running up and down their three-deep in my head and writing "64-12!!!!" and "#2!!!" on the back of my homework assignments. And yes, when we lost to Rutgers I didn't think I could show my face in public the next day. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows I still haven't gotten over that one. But it was such a fantastic experience that it locked me in as a Bulls fan for good.
A lot of college sports purists, particularly those from schools who aren't first-tier in their state, like to frown upon fans who didn't graduate from their school of choice. I'm going to politely call b.s. on that, because there is absolutely nothing more genuine than a small kid falling in love with a football team, and I mean absolutely nothing. No degree is a higher mark of fanhood than that.
A lot of people up North liked to tell me that my loyalties would shift in college. Well hey, I'm currently attending a college with no football team, so looks like I'm stuck as a Bull for life.
JD: You mentioned Penn State, which is closer to you, and they won the Orange Bowl in 2005, the year before you jumped on the USF bandwagon. Penn State even beat USF that year. But it sounds like that 2006 USF team's charisma had something to do with it. Was the excitement and unpredictability of those Bulls teams what sold you, like it sold a lot of people in Tampa?
TGG: Oh yeah, no question. I followed Penn State out of proximity that season, and up until this season I still made the drive down to Happy Valley every year to see a game. It was always a great time.
But the excitement that you mention was key. In 2006, Penn State was beginning a two-year spell under lame-duck quarterback Anthony Morelli, while USF had just started the Grothe era and was starting to make national headlines. The Big East seemed like it would be a powerhouse with guys like Pat White, Brian Brohm, and Ray Rice all in their prime. Then the Bulls made their magical run up the rankings in 2007, and really, has there ever been a better time to be a USF fan than that season?
The Bulls were exciting and, yes, incredibly unpredictable. But the charm of it was that it was a team that I could call mine. I wasn't jumping on the bandwagon of an established contender, I just accidentally fell in love with Grothe's heart and Ben Moffitt's hustle and whatever the hell Jim Leavitt was and happened to strike the lottery and stumble upon a team that was, at the time, undoubtedly on the rise.
Aside from the one USF game I've attended -- I finally took the train to MSG last season to catch the basketball team in the Big East tournament -- I don't think I've ever interacted in person with another Bulls fan. I don't care. They're my team, and anyone who's ever met me can tell you that.
JD: Well, your fanhood has been pretty seriously tested in the last couple of years by this utterly terrible and uninspiring team. The 2012 USF Bulls just have no charisma at all, and they're hitting my #1 pet peeve of being badly managed on game day. I graduated from USF and started this blog, and even I'm having a hard time rallying myself to watch the football games. (I've only watched a couple of the games post-FSU live -- the rest have all been recorded on my DVR while I do things that are more fun than watching them play.) How does someone like you still manage?
TGG: That's a really tough question, and it's something I'm sure all Bulls fans are struggling with right now. Just like how 2007 was probably the best time to be a fan, now is probably is the worst.
I think it boils down to how devoted you become to the team. It's almost like a relationship -- you break up with someone and suddenly there's a huge gaping hole in your life that they used to take up and you don't know how to fill. After a while it just becomes part of your daily routine. If I were to suddenly stop watching USF games, it just wouldn't compute. Plus, it'll take more than a few bad seasons to knock us off. USF fans bathe in missed expectations and rinse with disappointment.
More logically, I told you how I used to run up and down the Bulls' three-deep in my study halls. I don't do that anymore, but especially now with the internet there's a wealth of information available that I, and other fans, can just kind of casually gobble up, and as a result I could probably still run through their three-deep with relative ease. That's kind of cool, because it gives every game a new storyline even when your team is 3-8 and appears to have given up on the season. I was excited to watch the Cincinnati game because I wanted to see how Matt Floyd did in his first start (and yes, the masochist inside of me kind of wanted to see Floyd get hurt so Evan Landi could take some snaps). Or how some of the young guys like Eric Lee, Tashon Whitehurst, and Kenneth Durden perform on defense. When you're in too deep, you're in too deep.
I never truly saw the appeal in jumping on the bandwagon of a USC or Alabama or Texas, because fans of those teams don't know what it's like to stick with your team through good and bad. If Alabama wins a second straight national title this year, that will mean nothing-- absolutely nothing-- compared to when the Bulls finally right the ship and take home a Big East title, because those fans haven't gone through all the pain that we've gone through. That's the beauty of college football, really. It's the Gatsby-esque dream of "Yes, logically this will probably happen at some point" that keeps you keeping on through the 3-9 seasons because you realize how amazing it's going to feel when it actually does happen. And it will.
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