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Don’t go changing to try and please me


Scott has already covered the very sad and stupid thing that happened in Seattle last night. I wish I were paid millions of dollars a year to make idiotic decisions that are OBJECTIVELY WRONG, statistically speaking, based on nothing but my “feelings” about how things are going.

Troy Aikman had a curious comment last night when the Broncos were going for it on fourth and goal from the one: He said something to the effect that this was clearly the right decision according to the analytics, if you’re into that kind of thing. This hints at the extent to which statistically-based decision-making is still considered vaguely communistic by Old Time Football Guys Who Played the Game the Right Way. (OK here’s a game I’ve been playing a lot lately: guessing someone famous’s age without looking it up. With Troy Aikman I’m going with 54. You should try this at home, it’s fun for the whole family, assuming most of the family is on the spectrum).

Still, my feelings about Nathaniel Hackett are more in the vein of considerable irritation at the relentless march of ignorance and stupidity in these supposedly enlightened times, rather than the visceral rage and despair I would feel if I were a real Denver fan as opposed to a casual one, who consumes Broncos’ games as if they were pizzas of variable quality, rather than living and dying with them. Here’s a little excerpt from my new book A Fan’s Life, that illustrates this dichotomy:

What being a Broncos fan — I feel a strong urge to put scare quotes around the word “fan” in this context — has taught me is what it is to be what is referred to as a “normie.” Compared to the existential terror of watching a Michigan football game, a Broncos game is vastly more enjoyable. I want the Broncos to win, but I don’t need them to win. Ten minutes after Denver lost the Super Bowl to Seattle in 2014, I was no longer thinking about the game. The next day I probably couldn’t have told you the final score; meanwhile, forty-seven years later, I’m still thinking about the 1974 Ohio State game, and can describe not just the final score, but how each of those twenty-two points came about.

The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, and Denver’s game the next day with Kansas City, provide an almost satanically perfect illustration of the contrast between catharsis and consumption: both were critical games to the teams’ respective seasons, both games went into overtime, and both were lost by “my” team by the identical score. The former loss was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life; the latter produced a brief mildly unpleasant sensation, like being forced to listen to one of Billy Joel’s more aggravating songs. My wife, who sincerely considers herself a real Broncos fan, and who unlike me was once a highly successful competitive athlete, was literally asleep on the couch at the end of the Denver game. She finds my antics during Michigan games to be the height of childishness, which they no doubt are. “You’re such a sore loser because you never learned to lose in real games,” she tells me, which sounds annoyingly plausible.

My “positionality,” as the anthropologists say, relative to the Broncos allows me to experience my fandom from a classic inside/outside perspective: in the end, like Margaret Mead in Samoa or Clifford Geertz on Bali, I’m more of a participant-observer than a real fan. In this context, I’m performing fandom more than actually living it. A casual ethnographer of the genuine passion others have for the Broncos, I’m grateful to the team and its fans for entertaining me. Still, when I listen to the agonized voices of real fans on talk radio the day after a bad loss — and of course for real fans they’re all bad losses – I recognize that my fandom for the Broncos is more voyeuristic than genuine.

To be fair, about once a year I enjoy listening to “Just the Way You Are,” for the same reason that I would enjoy the first two bites, on an annual or perhaps semi-annual basis, of a cherry-flavored Hostess Fruit Pie (Can you even get those anymore? I haven’t seen one in years). Once in awhile you just need a hit of pure synthetic sugar is what I’m saying, although it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast or anything.

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