Why do we do this? Why do we pull for our teams? Is there anything more insane in the entire world than being a sports fan? What do we possibly get out of it? As I fully transitioned into adulthood a few years ago, I often questioned why the heck I cared so much. It was absolutely foolish to invest so much financially, emotionally, and psychologically just for the off chance that the team I rooted for would raise a trophy above their heads one day and I could vicariously celebrate through the physical accomplishments of people I had never met in my life. I honestly told myself to stop caring, set aside fanhood, and try not to watch the games.
That lasted all of about ten minutes...
If you're reading this, you're probably a huge fan of the Gophers, which makes even less sense than the average sports fan because the Gophers have been routinely mediocre/bad/terribad in two of the three major sports at the University of Minnesota for a vast majority of recent history and after-thought in the Big Ten landscape. You've invested countless hours, dollars, and emotional capacity to cheer a team on that has, in exchange for your loyalty, given you heartbreak after heartbreak and mediocre season after mediocre season. Surely, this amount of mediocrity and heartbreak would have driven any sane person to find a different hobby or passion and not take this sports thing so seriously, right?
Well there's a reason we're called fans. Fan is a word derived from 'fanatic.' The definition of that word is as follows: "a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause." Now it's more likely that the informal definition, "a person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for something, especially an activity," is the one that applies to us. And I guess the activity we are obsessed with as fans of the Golden Gophers is having our hearts ripped out of our chest cavity, thrown on the ground, and thoroughly stomped on.
But, dear reader, if you've made it this far, you aren't going away anytime soon. The loss to Michigan was awful. There's no sugar coating it. Sure, we came into the game as double-digit underdogs and you could look at final score at the end of the game and say we outperformed expectations and should be proud of the fight our team showed in the midst of great adversity.
But, there were so many emotions on that field. It was a Halloween night game following the extremely shocking resignation of a widely beloved coach. It was a long standing, heavily favored rival taking the field opposite the Gophers with the oldest trophy in college football on the line. Our redshirt junior quarterback and de-facto leader of the offense was showing why the coaching staff, past and present, has always raved about his leadership and that immeasurable, fickle, quantifiable devil of a word, moxie.
And they came up short... by just half a yard. Just a few more inches, just a few more moments of a Drew Wolitarsky knee off the ground, just a few more seconds on the clock... and the Gophers are hoisting the Jug over their heads and dancing in honor of Jerry...
I don't know all that much about football's complicated X's and O's. I know the rules, the penalties, basic strategy, the kind of stuff you learn over watching hundreds of games. But I generally leave the second guessing to smarter men and women. When a coach makes a mistake, I generally just shrug, thinking that everybody makes mistakes. Like the mistakes I make in my cube at work or the dozens of missed game-winning shots Michael Jordan took or the dozens of missed 6-foot putts by Tiger Woods. You can second-guess a coach or a player or a play, but at the end of the day, sometimes it is what it is.
A lot of people are saying Coach Claeys is at fault for his management of the last 19 seconds of the game. And he is. But it is a bit near-sighted to simplify his entire coaching career to those 19 seconds. If we looked at Aaron Rodgers and judged him solely on his performance against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, we'd be missing the point a little bit, wouldn't we? If we looked at Jim Harbaugh and deemed him a bad coach for not having his Australian born punter knowledgeable of all the rules of American football and how to handle a botched snap, that'd be a tad off-base, wouldn't it?
If I'm remembering correctly, Tracy Claeys is now 4-4 as a head coach, not 0-8. Am I excusing him for his unfortunate lapse in judgement? I promise you I'm not. I absolutely hold him accountable for our inability to convert on 1st and goal from the half-yard line with 19 seconds left and a Jug on the line. But since I'm already insane enough to be a sports fan, and even more insane to be a Gopher fan, I think I'll just be insane enough to hope that he doesn't make the same mistake again and move on.
If you've come this far, dear reader, you know that the sun has already risen the day after the game. And you're still coming back to The Daily Gopher, looking for comfort or a place to vent or answers or maybe to share in the absolute insanity that is being a Gopher fan. And if you've made it this far, maybe you're willing to come a little farther. Because what we have left to cling to after all of the heart ache and second guessing and frustration and last second losses and just falling short is hope.
As Andy says, "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things," especially when you're a Gopher fan. We can hold out hope that the Gophers can pick themselves off the floor, dust themselves off, and continue to play competitive football. We can hope that Coach Claeys learns from his mistakes and continues to improve as a head coach in the last four games. We can hope that the team begins to heal and continues to play competitively against an extremely high level of competition in the upcoming weeks.
There will be cynics and ne'er do-wells, probably more logical minds than I who will continue to stay negative, point to a 4-4 record, claim the program is heading for stagnation or some sort of downfall in the midst of the retirement of Coach Jerry Kill. Some will panic at possible decommitments from the Empire Class. People will balk at the possibility of winning a game or two or three on our remaining schedule.
But, as previously established above, I'm insane and I'm illogical. And luckily, the product of this insanity is hope. I still hold out hope for a competitive Gopher squad: A team that has taken the 5th and 16th ranked teams in the country to the brink of defeat. I still hold out hope that we can keep Floyd home where he belongs, that we can finally reclaim the Axe, that we can somehow, against stacked odds and the opinions of nay-sayers, become bowl eligible.
I hope because the alternative isn't appealing. The alternative is to throw up my hands, turn off the TV, and write the team off as a lost cause. I hope because I still believe in the staff and our defense. I hope because Floyd can't handle a winter in the wasteland to the south. I hope because I still have dreams of the Axe. I hope because I am insane and I am insane because