SPORTS: Go Forth and Learn

Written by Adam Stevens on . Posted in Sports

If I’ve learned one thing about football this season, it’s that Peyton Manning is even better than anyone thought. If I’ve learned two things, the second is that life and football are significantly more enjoyable when you pledge allegiance to no team.

I grew up in a home where, because my dad went to BYU, everyone in the home was a BYU fan. For years I was raised on Cougar football and schooled in the ways of passing attacks and the overratedness of having a good defense and special teams. (Full disclosure: turns out having a good defense and special teams is not overrated.) I’ve lost my voice many times over the years of attending BYU games in Cougar/LaVell Edwards Stadium. I’ve seen every Mountain West Conference team at least once, and I’ve seen out-of-conference opponents as well. On the flip side, I’ve been to two Utah Ute football games in my life — a win against Wyoming and a win against Utah State.

While I am a fan of the big three professional sports (and trying to be a fan of hockey and soccer as well), I’ve lost almost all interest in college basketball because nobody around here is really any good and college basketball is, for the most part, sloppy.  I can’t stand watching NBA games because of the referees. Star treatment in the NBA is real and more out-of-control than our national debt and the BCS combined. Soccer and hockey are rarely on TV and not worth paying for an Internet viewing subscription. Sadly, I don’t have much time to watch a full baseball game anymore. Hence, football has become the sport I watch most, and I have no problem with that. I try to catch a few NFL games each Sunday and I never miss a Colts game if it’s available, but I love college football and I’ll watch just about any game I possibly can.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into learning more about football and becoming familiar with a greater variety of football programs around the country. I even took a class on coaching football. Understanding the game on an in-depth level makes it easier to appreciate what you see a team do on the field and, for me, it’s made it impossible to dislike teams. I’ve found that I have a greater appreciation for the amount of work it takes to execute a game plan, especially when we’re dealing with students who also carry a full-time school schedule.

In the social sciences, we are taught to look at everything from an objective point-of-view and remove all bias from our analysis and conclusion.  As a student of the social sciences, I try to apply this pattern of thought to everything I’m involved in, and that includes football.  I’ve been able to drift out of my mental block and realize that BYU would only be the best team in the Mid-American Conference (maybe), and that there are so many other fantastic teams out there that I can appreciate and wish great success for.

This category now includes the University of Utah. Aside from being a truly great academic institution, the football program has done phenomenal things in recent seasons. Anyone who is unable to recognize, appreciate and support the Utes’ success  might need to 1) take a break from football to consider what’s really important in life, and 2) devote some time to learn more about football, and see if your perspective changes a little bit.

There came a point when I realized that I had no reason to “hate” the Utes and that the only reason I was a Cougar fan was because that’s just what I was told when I was a kid. I took the time to learn and decide for myself and, based on a variety of factors, many of which I won’t take the time and space to get into, I concluded at a certain point last year that I had no need to choose between the two teams.

This paradigm shift takes root in a BYU-Utah matchup a few years back, when Utah rolled into Provo, embarrassed BYU in the first half, and fought off a Cougar rally in the second half to win in overtime — with a backup quarterback, nonetheless. Let’s just say I expressed my frustrations with an unnecessary display of anger which was both embarrassing and thought-provoking. How can I dislike a team whose coach is a fierce competitor, deemed by Urban Meyer as the best assistant coach he’s ever had? How can I dislike a team who year after year, despite their record, plays absolutely out of their minds to try to beat their rivals at BYU? How can I dislike a team who has fought through past seasons of mediocrity to build the program into what can arguably be called the premier program in the Mountain West Conference? True, they don’t bring in elite quarterback recruits and pile up gaudy offensive statistics, but they manage to be efficient and remain capable of lighting up the scoreboard when necessary. This is a program who focuses on defensive and special teams dominance, and they have achieved it.

I feel like the Cougars have reached their peak. It is realistic to believe that they’ll go many more years with two or three losses, sometimes perhaps just one — but because of recruiting philosophies, they’ll never have the elite athletes it takes to inflict true dominance on other great opponents. Although BYU deserves all the credit in the world for an inspired performance against Oklahoma this season, recent significant games show that the Cougars do not match up well against very athletic teams.

I will admit, though, that I got caught up in the hype just like everyone else after the Oklahoma win. Turns out we were all mistaken. BYU will always be a fun team to watch. They have a system in place which allows great success for the offense, and most people probably agree that watching a good offense is the best part of watching football. Occasionally, there are great defensive players who come through Provo, and they make big plays and earn chants from the home fans.  There is a pretty good coaching staff in place (although Bronco was BYU’s fourth choice, he was probably the right choice) and there is ample reason to believe that BYU will continue to compete for the MWC title each year. There’s just not much reason to believe they’ll ever play in a bowl game not in Las Vegas. (Anyone else getting really tired of that?)

My purpose here is not to talk people out of being BYU fans and converting to Ute-ism. I’ve found a way to have optimal enjoyment of college football, and it works really well for me. Of course, rivalries would not be rivalries without fans saying really stupid things to each other via the media! Although, I do wonder if fans of other teams around the country are capable of saying things that are quite as idiotic as what is exchanged between Ute and Cougar fans. I’ve often heard peopel say, “I hate Utah/BYU because of their fans.” Every team in the world has a number of fans who suffer from an age-inappropriate level of maturity and intelligence, people. If you need to hate a team because of their fans, don’t tell anyone else about it.

Anyway, back to my main discussion.  I can’t help but wonder how many closet Ute fans there are out there who perhaps relate to my sentiments here. I might be called a bandwagon fan, and that’s fine if you feel that way. I don’t consider it to be an issue of bandwagons. I knew Utah would be experiencing a learning curve this season and wouldn’t bust the BCS, and I also knew BYU would get trounced by TCU. I still wish the best success possible for all three of those teams. I would love nothing more than for TCU to play in (and win) a BCS game, especially over Boise State! I would love for BYU to start consistently winning bowl games, but mostly I would love to see them play somewhere besides the Las Vegas Bowl and against someone not from the Pac-10. I fully expect Utah to continue their streak of bowl victories. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s now at eight.) From the successes of these teams and the hopeful rise of programs such as Air Force and San Diego State, the Mountain West Conference will keep climbing the ladder of recognition in college football.

Keep your allegiances if you must — but, based on the reactions to a BYU loss I read all over Facebook this last weekend, I must make one recommendation. As football fans, we all owe it to ourselves to make an effort to expand our field of knowledge and learn as much as we can about the game. Not only will football be more fun to watch, but you may even gain an appreciation for some of the great programs around the country (including your rival).

Football has so much more to offer than just a team to love or hate. It is a coach’s responsibility to make football a life-lesson learning experience for his players. Well, I say, as fans, it is our responsibility to make football the same thing for ourselves. It is then and only then, no matter who our teams are, that we can be the greatest fans in the world. Now, go forth and learn.

Adam Stevens is an occasional sports correspondent for Rhombus. He will be hiding out in a cave for the foreseeable future to avoid the death threats he will surely receive in response to this column.


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