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Fandom: An Essay

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Here’s to football season.

Air Force v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

My family moved to Boise in 1994, arriving just as the football season was getting ready to kick off in late August. Other than being a fan of my hometown Minnesota Twins and Vikings, I’d never really followed a sports team, and my football knowledge (outside the Vikings) was picking which team I wanted to win on Monday Night Football each week.

As part of being new in town, we decided to adopt the Boise State fandom. Some of you may remember that 1994 season and the magical run to the 1-AA championship game. I can’t recall for certain if I got to go to a game that fall or not, but my dad and I would often listen to the games on a little portable AM radio while working on things in our new house.

Starting in 1995, I got to occasionally attend games with my dad and his boss, sitting on the east side, lower deck, on the 40 yard line. Back then you just wore whatever clothes worked for the weather, and I usually got a ticket when it was so cold nobody else wanted to go. No sea of color-coordinated blue and orange, just winter jackets and hunting gear, and everybody with a thermos of hot chocolate.

To this day, I can’t recall exactly if I was at the infamous Idaho game in ‘96, but I remember being righteously pissed about it. Running up the score and running down our coach was too much for a young me, and my hatred of the Vandals was sealed that day.

I remember snippets and pieces of games and coaches from the 90’s. Back then I would religiously read the paper for accounts of the wild Houston Nutt year, the Koetter era, and then the Paul Reyna tragedy. The complete disgust that we qualified for a bowl and didn’t get selected, then eventually the overwhelming pride at getting to play in the hometown H-bowl! My fandom began to crystalize in that Bart Hendricks era.

The turning point for me, personally, was the 2001 Fresno State game. I was watching with my dad, but it was a late kick in California, and I was still pretty young. Thus, I got sent to bed when it seemed apparent that the Bulldogs were gonna run over us. Not long after getting comfortable, my dad opened the door to my room and told me to come watch. “I think they’re gonna pull it off! You gotta see this!”

Bowl games became a family tradition in 2004. We’d debated going down to the Forth Worth bowl, but in the end decided it wasn’t worth the drive from Phoenix, where I was visiting colleges. In 2004, my dad packed up the family and we hit Memphis after an undefeated regular season. We spent a week checking out the town, bumping into player’s families at restaurants and local attractions, and then meeting Bronco fans who had never stepped foot in Idaho. We’d go on to attend many more away games and bowl games.

In 2005 I became a freshman at Boise State, and took advantage of my free tickets to the games, ceding my dad’s spare season ticket to my younger sister most of the time. Experiencing the crazy student section was a trip, seeing the truly insane amount of liquor that would always be spirited in somehow. The blue and orange gear was becoming abundant as well, for fans and students.

The campaign to keep Hawk home brought about some realization of impermanence for coaches, no matter how beloved they may be. Watching a town go from a bad bowl loss to losing a coach and generally being in a funk was hard, and seeing the new hire be promoting a quiet guy from within wasn’t very reassuring. Despite all that, Coach Pete proved that sometimes change really is the best option.

I could write volumes on my Fiesta Bowl experience, but that’s been done. Suffice to say, everyone knew walking into the stadium that night that it was going to be a legendary game. There was a tangible, electric energy in the air that made all your hair stand on end as you walked inside, and it didn’t let up. Bronco fandom was a family that night, and I think I hugged every person in my section after Ian ran into the endzone with Statue Left.

As part of my time in the Army, I got to be in charge of the touchdown cannon on the old maintenance building roof. During the 2009 Oregon game, we couldn’t even hear the cannon as we fired it. Bronco Stadium was that damn loud in the end zone. We screamed so much at the safety that transpired less than a hundred feet from us that we all lost our voices for the weekend.

Some life events that Fall of 2009 ended up with me hospitalized for severe depression and a suicide attempt. The night I was to be discharged from the psychiatric hospital was the night of the Louisiana Tech game. That morning, I asked the head nurse if we could watch the game. She said yes, if we all could do well that day. Our entire section was on our best behavior, participating in group therapy and taking our meds, just for the simple promise of watching Kellen Moore on a tiny TV. Bronco Football brought a little bit of respite and hope to people in a rough place that night.

As life started looking up, I watched the Virginia Tech game with some friends and their sister. They were ready to turn the game off in disappointment late in the 4th, but I managed to convince them that Kellen with the ball and two minutes was still worth watching. Their sister agreed with me, and a few years later she ended up marrying me, despite being dragged to Fall scrimmages or finding the table with the best view of the TV when date night coincided with kickoff.

My son was born almost two months premature in 2014, early in the morning of the UConn game. It was a bit rough, but we’d watch the games when we could, usually with the volume way down. By the time Harsin got the boys to the Fiesta Bowl that winter, our little dude was wearing a Bronco onesie and watching the parts of the game he was awake for, usually because we’d celebrated too loudly and woke him up.

During the 2017 season, my dad had some major medical problems, and nearly died. A lot of things had gone wrong in family and business relationships, so I found myself sitting alone with him in his hospital room on the night of the 28-3 Colorado State game. He was feeling defeated by life, and watching his beloved Broncos choke to the Rams wasn’t helping. Trying to keep his spirits up, I kept lying to myself and telling him they still had a shot. Our celebration was small and quiet that night, but I firmly believe that that BSU win helped keep my dad going.

This montage of vignettes doesn’t really have a larger point to it. We’re here on the eve of yet another season of football, a magical time of year that always seems to be too short. Football fandom may just be enjoying the accomplishments of other people, but there’s all these little memories of moments and pieces of joy that get attached.

This fall, enjoy the games, root hard for your team, but don’t forget to save the memories. Championship runs, Fiesta Bowls, epic comebacks, all of these can be great moments, but they’re not the only point. Fandom is a family, connect with your people.

Here’s to football.