Expectations – The True Measure of a Fan’s Character…
Posted By: AncientUte
Date: Thursday, July 22, 2004 at 10:12 am
What kind of fan do you most admire? Seriously.
I’m quite certain none of us would answer this question the same way. Some would look first at fans of their own team and think of qualities they would like to emulate – the guy who stands and cheers through the entire game, or the one who paints a bright red U on his swamp cooler. Others might look at fans of other schools, pointing at a few things they admire and many other things they strongly dislike.
Personally, I have a harder time with the first approach. Identifying a “favorite quality” is like trying to choose a favorite candy – there are just too many good things to choose from. I’ve seen lots of different Ute fans, each with different qualities that I like. I’ve seen some that might seem a bit mellow to an outside observer – not cheering much and rarely standing at games – but they’ve never missed a game in fifty-plus years. Others I know have rarely attended in person (if ever), but they are very vocal supporters around the office water cooler and they have a library of game tapes dating back to the mid ‘80s.
I look at these two types of fans – so diametrically opposed in significant ways - and I have a hard time pointing to one kind of Ute fan and saying, “THAT is the Ultimate Ute.”
On the other hand, I find it much easier to look at certain fans of other teams and find qualities I dislike. For example, between 1994 and 2000 I worked with a gentleman named Tom. He was a pretty nice guy and very pleasant to work with, but he was also one of the most diehard Y fans I have ever met. In fact, as much as I decorate my workspace with Ute stuff, he could always outdo me with his BYU hats, and mugs, and posters, and calendars, and screensavers, and… well, you get the idea.
Anyway, it wasn't this obsession with royal blue that bothered me about Tom. In fact, I kind of admired the dedication he showed - even through the 1-25 basketball year they had.
No, the trait that I found most annoying about Tom was his sincere disrespect for the Utes. In the entire six years that I worked with him, I cannot remember a single instance where Tom picked the Utes to succeed against a worthy opponent. (Mind you, we are not talking about the Utes playing BYU, but rather other opponents.) Against the obvious cream puff opponents he would say, "I think Utah can win this one - it will be a good game for them." But against every other opponent (even those that were heavy underdogs to the Utes) he would say, "I'm afraid the Utes are going to lose this one - that team is going to be tougher than they expect."
And it wasn't just a rivalry thing either, where he said it just to bug me. This was his HONEST assessment, based on a deeply ingrained bias that the Utes were always a notch or two lower than the competition. He tried to be nice about it, but the arrogance could not be disguised.
Now I think it is obvious to most of you why I would dislike this kind of attitude - he had absolutely no respect for the team I love. But you would have to talk to him in person to really understand - - - this disrespect was based upon pure arrogance. “BYU’s offense is explosive,” he would say. “They have the kind of high-powered attack that would be dangerous against any team in the country. But the Utes?… Well, they really don’t have a lot of talent on that team. I mean, they play very well, considering what they have to work with, but they just don’t have the same kind of explosive potential as BYU does.”
Thus, poor Tom operated under a bias that made BYU a measuring stick – or rather THE measuring stick. And since he couldn’t adjust the results on the measuring stick, he was forced to adjust the landscape against which the stick was set. Thus, if the Y struggled against an opponent, he naturally assumed the U would struggle against them even more. And if the evidence contradicted him (i.e., if Utah won those games he thought they would lose), it didn’t change a thing. He held firm to his previous paradigm and expected the Utes to lose - - every game, year in and year out.
Now no fan likes to see a personality that has no respect for his team, but we also realize this is just a part of the game. There will always be individuals who believe our team will fail, and we all look forward to the day when we can prove the naysayers wrong. What I found most dislikable about Tom was that it never became possible to prove his naysaying wrong. He could never humble himself enough to admit, “Yeah, they have a pretty good team too.” He always had the Utes pigeonholed as belonging to a lower echelon of competition, and nothing that happened on the field could ever change this conceit.
IMHO, such strong conceits stem from “fan arrogance,” a quality I would place as number one on my list of dislikeable “fan qualities.” And every school has their subset of fans that exhibit these qualities – not just our rivals to the south.
Now I don’t find anything wrong with fans who have passion for their team and excitement over their prospects, only with those who push it toward the limits of arrogance. So where should this line be drawn? What makes the difference between someone who is merely excited over extremely positive prospects and someone who is behaving arrogantly?
I have read statements on this board (mainly from fans of other schools) that seem to imply there IS no difference. That arrogance is a natural result of success, and the more successful your team becomes, the more enthusiasm will grow, which will be perceived by others as arrogance. And I think there is a grain of truth to this perspective. After all, sometimes fans of a less successful team can experience jealous feelings toward a more successful team. And this jealousy can cause them to perceive arrogance in the fans that are reveling in success, even though no arrogance is intended on their part. However, once things start to change, and the less successful team becomes competitive with the other team, jealousy is no longer a real factor unless the fans of the previously successful team hold on to their feelings of superiority. And this (IMHO) is where the truly arrogant fans become separated from those who were merely enjoying the success.
And, once again, my friend Tom’s is an excellent example of this. When I became acquainted with him, Tom’s team was no longer the kind of dominant force they had been in the ‘80s. In fact, it was Tom’s opinion that they were “struggling,” achieving results that were much less than what he expected. And indeed, many of us “outsiders” also perceived a diminishment of success by his team. However, there was no diminishment of arrogance in Tom. There was not even a grudging acceptance of the fact that teams like Utah were becoming highly competitive with his Cougars. He continued to believe his team belonged on a level superior to the other teams in his league (even though losses to those teams were increasing), and therefore his expectations of dominant status became incredibly rigid.
For this reason, I think that true fan arrogance has more to do with “expectations” than it does with mere successes or failures. I believe that, the more rigid a persons expectations become, the more likely it is that his excitement over “potential” will turn into downright arrogance. It’s a matter of inflexibility of opinion. When your expectations are rigid, it’s like you are saying, “My team will accomplish [X], regardless of what our opponents may do.” And it is this complete disregard of how an opponent may affect the outcome that comes across most strongly as arrogance. (At least that’s how I see it.)
And this is the case regardless of whether the expectations are set high or low. Fans with inflexibly low expectations are saying to an opponent, “It is no great accomplishment if you beat us, because anyone could do it.” While those with inflexibly high expectations are saying, “It doesn’t matter whether you win this game or not, because we will remain superior to you, and everyone knows it.”
And so, it is my opinion that “inflexible expectations” are the real sign of arrogance among a fan base. (And, of course, I’m talking about HONEST opinions - - not mere smack talk, which is often intentionally outrageous.) If Ute fans talk about dreams of grandeur and national prominence, this is not arrogance UNLESS their opinions become so rigid that they refuse to acknowledge the validity of arguments to the contrary. And even if the Utes succeed as the season progresses, the excitement may increase but the arrogance will not unless we refuse to give due credibility to reasonable counter arguments. A fan that says, “It’s obvious you don’t know what you are talking about,” simply because someone makes a statement that does not agree with his bias is guilty of arrogant behavior. However, one that says, “I don’t agree with you because of [Reason A] and [Reason B], but you are entitled to your opinion”… well, that kind of fan may be just as enthusiastic as the other fan, but he is not arrogant about it.
Now, in a previous message a few days ago, Goatnapper made the following comment…
“I see every indicator that if you (Utes) make it to the middle of November without a loss and are snubbed (by the BCS), petitions will follow. It is funny that a big reason so many of your fellow Utes are so unwilling to join you (in unbridled enthusiasm) is the fear of somebody thinking they are behaving like a ‘zoob.’ Keep working on the compelling argument of the differences, I am certainly convinced.”
I guess my real hope in posting this lengthy appeal is that it will convince you, my fellow Utes, that things do not have to end up this way. I think Goat is fundamentally wrong – success does not HAVE TO breed the kind of arrogance we have often criticized in our rivals. However, I fear that, for all practical purposes, he may prove to be correct. Regardless of how respectful some Ute fans may be, if the Utes are highly successful there will likely be others who get so caught up in the hype and enthusiasm that they indulge in arrogant behavior. To these individuals, I would remind them to consider their heritage.
As I have mentioned before, I became enamored with U of U sports in the early ‘80s. Prior to this, I had been a BYU fan, but I decided to attend the U along with some friends that were joining the band. I had a great freshman year, and enjoyed myself immensely, even though our football and basketball teams were only moderately successful. And I think this is important to remember – it’s not the wins and losses that make us fans, it’s something else, something that transcends wins and losses - - a sense of being a part of our school and the celebration of that wonderful community.
After my freshman year, I went on a two-year mission. In July of 1986, I returned to Salt Lake City, started summer classes at the U, and moved into a nice little studio apartment on 1200 East and between 5th and 6th South. It was three blocks away from Rice Stadium, and that fall I went to every home game. Again, as I have mentioned before, we only went 2-9 that season but those two wins were highly treasured events. And I kept coming to all of the other games. Why? Because it was exciting (especially as game day approached). We may have lost the last game, but here came another chance just one week later. And that was exciting – even for a fan of a 2-9 team.
In contrast, back then I would also tune in the radio to listen to BYU games. In 1986 the Y finished a respectable 8-5, and earned an appearance in the Freedom Bowl. They won most of their conference games, and mostly lost to only highly respected teams like Washington and UCLA. Despite this, after every game I would hear fans call into the radio to complain about coaching decisions or failure to set some NCAA passing record - - even though they won the game. And I thought, THIS is why I’m glad to be a Ute fan now.
Now here we are in the dog days of summer in 2004. The Utes are coming off an incredibly exciting OCC year, and they are picked in the national Top-25 in almost every preseason publication. And the question before us now is, will we get so caught up in the hype over recent success and upcoming potential that we forget about the thing that REALLY makes us fans? And what if the potential this season becomes realized beyond our wildest dreams - - will we start to develop attitudes we have so long found laughable in our rivals to the south? For those of you that have kept reading this post for this long, I have hope. Apparently the topic interests you enough that you have made it all the way to the end of my plea. And as long as there are some of you in our community who feel this way, I am confident you will exert a nice balancing influence on the others.
Enjoy the moment, with respect for the past, and above all…
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Expectations – The True Measure of a Fan’s Character…
Thursday 22 July 2004, at 10:12 am [ID# 134371] [reply]
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