So many sports fanatics can relate to the roller coaster of emotions which come with cheering for players, sports and your team. The first time I declared myself to a team was with the Minnesota Vikings, most of it had to do with being oppositional about moving to Kansas City. Prior to this I had only seen football as a slow-paced game where huge men hog piled over a ball. Luckily as my knowledge of the positions, plays and players grew I came to respect the game and love watching the sport.
My real true passion for cheering a team came as a freshman at K-State in the fall of 2000. It would have been near impossible not to get drawn into the sport with the majority of the campus and community clad in purple every Saturday. I remember eagerly turning to the sports page of the university newspaper to measure the rise and fall of our ranking each week dependent upon the game before. And the very first and only game I attended during the season happened to be one of the most memorable games I have ever gotten to witness. K-State played a rival team Nebraska for their last home game, by the end in heavy snow conditions. I stood with my brother, sister-in-law and their friends with heated pouches in my mittens and boots to watch Nebraska get defeated. In my very first game not only did I finally get to participate in the Wabash, I got to storm the field with several thousand other deliriously chilled K-Staters.
I was hooked, college football was cemented into my college experience.
It wasn’t until my senior year when I finally bought my first set of season tickets. My roommate, Sheila, and I attended every game and dedicated ourselves to standing, yelling, high-fiving and absorbing every second of every play. We enjoyed the football as much as our own pre-football festivities with a Game-Day CD blasting our Saturday tailgating anthems. Sheila and I were so invested in the games I remember standing near tears devastated at the loss to Marshall, holding onto hope until the very last second ran off the clock. I picture it raining that afternoon as we stood shocked looking at the scoreboard, maybe that is just how my memory puts me during that crummy emotional state.
Despite the loss to Marshall, K-State went on to have a great season and was invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Being an irresponsible new graduate I hopped in with Sheila and a group of friends to road trip to Tempe, Arizona for the game. The whole trip was an adventure from the walkie-talkie game of “Would You Rather” I am happy there is no record of, to the hotel suite way too many of us shared, to the dangerously ingenious ride back after celebrating New Years in the downtown area. The spontaneous trip would have all been worth it, had it not been for the bowl game. K-State entered the stadium with odds against them, a fresh accusation against our prized quarterback overshadowed their ability on the field. K-State lost to Ohio, and I haven’t been able to smile at a Buckeye since.
Fast forward to this year, even a few hours away from Manhappiness, I continue to be a dedicated football fan eagerly anticipating every Saturday with more and more purple added to my wardrobe every year. My friend Crystal and I had decided to abandon mommy duty and drive to visit our friend, JoJo, in Texas. Simultaneously as K-State won games week after week and worked their way higher in the rankings we heard from JoJo, our mini-vaca happened to be the same weekend K-State would be coming to town and she could get us tickets. BEST NEWS EVER!
K-State continued their season undefeated and was finally placed at number 1 in the rankings as we made our way to Waco. JoJo showed us around Waco, introduced us to her favorite places to eat, drink and karaoke, she took us hiking, to the farmers market and to the Baylor campus where she is employed. We merrily enjoyed our freedom from changing diapers and wiping up slobber to have adult conversations for hours on end. And then Saturday evening rolled around, we walked the entire loop around the Baylor stadium and I was amazed at the personally labeled parking spaces and the high-end tailgating equipment sported by the alums. I was used to seeing cornhole, washers and ladder golf at tailgates, not high-definition flat screen TVs.
Fortunately we ran into a familiar sound and crowd finding ourselves at the K-State band playing in the parking lot just before going in. JoJo had gotten us tickets in the visitors section and I was pleased to see so many football fans in purple ready to cheer on the undefeated season. In front of us stood a group of K-State frat boys in button up shirts, khaki shorts and top-sider deck shoes – kind of laughable – yet they were for the good team so it was okay.
Baylor began playing better than K-State from the very beginning and I wasn’t worried. I had faith all of the excitement I had leading up to this game, driving all the way from Kansas City to Waco wouldn’t be for nothing. And then the game just kept getting worse. The refs made some horrible calls where the entire purple crowd cursed and screamed to the field. One of the frat boys in front of me appeared so infuriated, his face matched his shirt when he barely took a breath in his yelling commentary. I almost felt the need to stop my attacks on the ref to comfort the kid and prevent an early heart attack.
At halftime K-State went to the locker room behind in scoring 17:28, my confidence in the win never wavered. “They are a better second half team,” “Snyder is setting them straight now,” “They can do this.” I audibly reassured myself and anyone else near who was listening. And when the second half started, it didn’t get better. I sensed the desperation of thousands of K-State fans witnessing this on television watching the dreams of a perfect season vanish to a team we were/are better than, except I was watching it in person. In the second half Baylor continued to score while K-State floundered. With each Baylor touchdown the green people celebrated with greater enthusiasm jumping and dancing as the stadium played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
Over and over it played until the score reached 24:52. “Pack it up pack it in, let me begin…” I tried my best to sooth the lump in my throat and avoid looking at the Baylor crowd. I could imagine the excitement of being a student in attendance at the game to witness their team crushing the number one team in the country, at the same time already beginning to grieve the loss of the number one spot for my team.
I was so sour and depressed after the game we retired back to JoJo’s and went to bed early. Crystal and I got up before the sun on Sunday morning to flee Waco and return to Wildcat country. “Pack it up, pack it in…” popped onto our XM Radio channel within hours of our drive resulting in both of us lunging to turn it off.
K-State went on to play an outstanding season, never regaining a number one ranking, non-the-less they were invited to once again play in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite the temptation of making the trip to Phoenix, I was beginning to wonder if I carried a curse for away games. Logically I know I don’t have any sort of power to control the outcome by simply attending the game, and still the superstition concerned me.
I was glued to the TV to watch the opening kick-off return to see Oregon score against K-State. Unfortunately for K-State the Ducks took over, and I was reassured to know I’m not cursed.