Losing to Boise State has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of Georgia fans. Fans have called for the heads of Coach Bobo and Coach Richt. Georgia players have quite Twitter (at least for the next few weeks) because of fan abuse. The Bulldog nation is generally in a state of despair over the feeling that our ship is sinking, yet no one in charge know how to plug the holes.
The state of affairs of Bulldog nation has led me to much introspection. What does it mean to be a fan? A real fan?
Do I even have what it takes? Or am I no better than those folks who jump on the Dallas Cowboys or Southern California or Florida or Alabama or TCU or Boise State bandwagon—loving my team in times of good, disregarding them in times of bad? Will I, could I, be like those old men who come out to Vanderbilt games year after year, even though Vandy is playing a future national champion and is facing yet another losing season?
Can I be a fan of a mediocre team? My conclusions follow the jump.
My expectations for Georgia football must be recalibrated. Otherwise, I am doomed to a season fraught with frustration, anger, despair, and a debilitating level of despondency each new monday at work. I do not wish to live this way—I'd rather enjoy myself, and spend my energy on pursuits that bring me happiness. The very real question I am forced to face is whether these goals may be met by watching Georgia football, or whether my mental health will be better served by checking in once a month or so on UGA's win/loss record for the season.
Luckily for me, I am a Georgia fan who was primarily introduced to the University during the Jim Donnan era. There was a time during those year when an 8-4 season was greeted fondly, if not ecstatically. There was a time when it was the SEC east, not the national champion, that was the focus of my desire for the team's accomplishments. Then the good years of the Mark Richt era came, and I became spoiled.
I find less joy in the game—even in the wins. If we do not dominate then I feel disappointed. If we do not get mentioned by ESPN as a potential national champion contender, I get disappointed.
This was not always the case. Some (but not all) of the most enjoyable games I've attended were during the Donnan era. My expectations were less, and each victory was greeted with satisfaction no matter how well the team played. Each loss was met with disappointment, but not with depression.
Can I return to days of lesser expectations? Or even further, could I reduce my expectations to where I would be happy watching a mediocre Georgia team—a team on pay with the Vanderbilts and Ole Miss teams of today?
I hope so, but I cannot say for certain. My hope resides in a number of facts.
First, Georgia is my alma mater. I deeply feel that the players on the team are fighting for the honor of the school from which I graduated. They are my comrades, and we are joined together through the common bonds of sharing the same University. This pulls at me strongly, and this is main reason why I believe I will always be a fan, no matter what, and will do the old men trudging to each Vanderbilt game proud with my own dedication to my own team.
Second, I love football. I miss football when it is not played. I ponder football. I enjoy the stories that play out during a football season, both on the local and the national level. Football is a rich experience, and I do not think I could give it up entirely.
Third, going back to the first fact, I love our players. They play for the University, and therefore play for my honor (as well as that of all other fans). And they are real—they are not professional hired guns, they are students who must go to class and practice football, balancing both and trying to acquit themselves well enough on the field and in the classroom.
Herein lies the quandry, however. How does one weather the lean years when accustomed to the bountiful?
On one side, expectations need to be lowered or else one cannot truly enjoy the game. On the other, it seems unhelpful, perhaps even traitorous, to not expect, on some level, excellent performance from our teams.
So therein lies the paradox and the problem: How do I love my Bulldogs, through thick and thin, yet hold them accountable all the same for their shortcomings.
Some do this admirably (T.Kyle is such an example). Others do it poorly.
I'd love to see the thoughts of my fellow Georgia fans. My fear is that lean years might be upon us once again, and I am looking for ways to prepare myself mentally for a potentially lengthy football winter.