We’re number, We’re number 1! It’s perhaps the most basic of all fan chants and it’s typically attached to a sports team and accompanied by gleeful whoops, jumping, hugs and even chest bums. We love out sports. When asked who are your teams, the answers are quick and easy, right? Just for the record mine are, University of Kentucky Basketball, followed by Villanova Basketball and Chicago Cubs Baseball.
It is human nature to want to feel a part of something greater than ourselves and sports may very well be the best stage. It isn’t much fun to watch a game if you don’t care who wins. I have been to the first and second round of NCAA men’s basketball tournament several times where my companions and I watched multiple games in a day. I always picked a team to cheer for even if I had previously never given them a second thought.
At one such tournament game we found ourselves sitting in a section surrounded by students from Georgia Tech. They were a most enthusiastic group and they shouted their fight song with reckless abandon. They must have assumed that we were fans too and so it was that I cheered right along with them and even made an effort to join in their fight song. It was hilarious at the time because in their excitement and with the roar of the crowd the only words we thought we were sure of sounded like, “and we’re all engineers.” Now I know they were actually chanting, “a helluva an engineer!” It really is a great fight song, check it out.
Another cool thing about sports is that it allows us to exhibit behavior that would be deemed crazy in almost any other venue. Some men will attend a football game bare chested in the middle of winter other die hard fans paint their faces with the teams colors. We don’t worry about friends or family that shout at that referees even if it is on their television. That is considered normal fan behavior the same as cheering and shouting when we like the way the game is going or the exasperated cries when our team makes mistakes dares to lose. Ok, I admit I find it amusing when people shout at televisions, but it doesn’t make me question the person’s sanity if they’re watching a sport, the way it would if they shouted at the television during episodes of The Voice or This Is Us.
Sports give us an excuse to dress up in clothes that identify us as part of the team. While I am not big into clothes with graphics or officially licensed gear I still have a Chicago Cubs windbreaker jacket that I wear in the spring. It isn’t unusual to hear a shout,”Go Cubs” while wearing the jacket and when I turn I find a stranger that smiles and gives me a thumbs up I smile back. They are letting me know that they too are a fan and therefore we have a kind of bond even though we don’t know each other and probably never will. That is kind of crazy when you think about it.
When a group of fans talk about their team’s victory they say things like, “We’re Number 1!” or “We Won!” When the same team is defeated the same people say things like, “They threw it away” or “They lost”. Without thinking about it we tend to distance ourselves when the final score declares someone else the winner. I mean, who wants to be a loser? No one jumps up and down screaming, “We’re number two.” We are more inclined to mumble wait until next year.
What makes us pick particular teams to be our favorites? It can’t be because of the players, they come and go quickly especially when college players get drafted after a single season. Few admit it, but it can be as something as simple as the team colors or that we like mascot. Sometimes it has to do with location. In professional sports players get traded all the time yet we remain loyal to the team because there home field or court is close to where we live our still where we grew up.
Sometimes teams even get purchased and relocated. For the majority of fans that is the deal breaker. I can’t see the Cubs ever leaving Chicago but if they were moved to another city I think fans would react as if the team had given them divorce papers. I know I would. I would whine about how I had stuck with them through season after awful season and waited over half of my life for them to win a World Series. I would want to pout like a jilted soon to be ex-spouse with cries of, “How could you do this to me?”
In case you are wondering, I grew up in Northwest Indiana, not far from Chicago. I learned about baseball sitting on the arm of my dad’s recliner as we watched WGN and he explained things like RBI’s and sacrifices. It was not uncommon for me to get my dolls and seat them on the couch to watch the game with me. My dad (probably knowing they would be pitiful for decades) promised me that when they went to series he would be sure I was there to watch. Alas, my father died before that happened. I did finally make it to The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in my forties along with my son, a White Sox fan (somethings are beyond explanation!) It was an experience I will never forget. It even landed me on ESPN for about three seconds. Derek Lee clobbered a pitch that I knew was going to send the ball out to Waveland Avenue. I sprang to my feet and let out a whoop full of southern drawl and as I turned my head there was the ESPN camera guy guy inches away.
I cheer for the University of Kentucky and my reasons are easy enough, that is where I attended college and earned my first degree. In some ways I might even feel like I am a sort of special fan because my bachelor’s degree and my favorite team share the same name. There is no shortage of UK basketball fans among people that not only did not attend the school but have never set foot on campus. My theory is it goes back to wanting to belong. Kentucky doesn’t have any major professional sports team making it all the easier to cheer for the Wildcats. It also doesn’t hurt that they are the winningest team in college basketball, that is the cherry on top of our sports ice cream sundae. When they win, we win. At least it feels that way to fans.
I am not exempt from enjoying being part of something fun and successful. Even though I sometimes go several years in a row without attending a game it never fails that when I am in the stands of Rupp Arena or Commonwealth Stadium (I can’t bring myself to call it Kroger Field) and the band starts playing the fight song I stop talking, I stand up and a smile spreads over my face as I clap to the beat.
My reasons to cheer for Villanova in every game they play other than when their competitor is my beloved Kentucky Wildcats takes a little more explanation. I have never set foot on their campus. I honestly don’t think I know anyone that earned a degree from the small Pennsylvania University.
Hard-core college basketball fans may remember the 1985 tournament. Little, 8 seed, Villanova started winning and was dubbed the Cinderella team. I decided to cheer for them because anytime I don’t have a favorite team in the mix I opt to cheer for the underdog (as if my cheering makes a difference). My Kentucky Wildcats had been eliminated in the third round so I figured I would just continue to cheer for the team with the same mascot and colors that needed all the help and Hail Mary’s they could get.
The final game was played at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY. Unfortunately I was a first year teacher and was barely making my rent and car payment. Buying a ticket was out of the question.
They didn’t let me down and they beat Georgetown, who for reasons I don’t recall was high on UK fan’s hate list, and became the season champions. The game is still often referred to as the perfect game. Villanova still holds the record for being the lowest seeded team to win the tournament.
In 2016 I decided to fill out a bracket for the pool at work. I hadn’t been watching lots of games but I felt certain it was not in the cards for the Big Blue Nation (UK) to go far. I also knew that many die-hard fans and co-workers would select UK to be the champion in their bracket just because some fans think that is the way a real fan behaves.
My bracket was close to immaculate and I had selected the Wildcats from Pennsylvania, not Kentucky to win it all. Some made fun and said I wasn’t a real wildcat. That was a bit funny to me since out of almost 100 staff members I was one of either three or four that had actually attended UK. A few were all but rude over it but I didn’t mind because after the final game was over I took home the money. See why I like Villanova?
Who do you cheer for and why? Do you scream at the referees even if it is just on TV? I would love to hear your favorite and/or funny sports memory. Use the comment sections and share about the teams you love and the the ones you hate.
Photo credits to Blake Guidary, Heather Mcguire and Markus Spiske on unsplash.