Game day.

Okay, here it is straight: I like sports. Traditionally, women are supposed to only tolerate sports, sighing deeply and rolling their eyes while boyfriends and husbands spend hour upon hour in front of the television, leaving us “sports widows” to our own devices.

I never did have much use for tradition.

This is one my favorite weekends. Not because of Labor Day, not because of the return to school, and not because of the sales.

I love this weekend because it’s the start of another season of college football.

This makes me a happy girl.

I went to the University of Florida determined to stay focused on my studies and not get all swept up in the hype of all that school spirit nonsense. All that went out the window when I attended my first Gator game at the Swamp (officially known as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field.)

Logos have come and gone, but this is the one I liked best during my college years.

The smells, the booming cheers, the sounds of the players yelling and hitting and grunting – it was all so exciting. I had no idea how irresistible it would be. The roar of the crowd on game day in Gainesville could be heard for miles. The energy in town each fall Saturday made a person’s hair stand on end. When our Gators won a game, all 75,000 of us in the stadium were on a high for hours and didn’t even care about being herded like cattle down the walkways of the stadium. 

I fell totally and irrevocably in love. And I fell hard.

If that weren’t enough, I was watching a team that featured legendary running back Emmitt Smith in his last college season. In fact, I nearly ran him over one day while driving on campus. It was his fault. He gave no warning that he was about to step onto the road – not on a crosswalk, mind you – to cross the street. If it hadn’t been for my quick reflexes and the 20 mph speed limit on campus, his career could have been over right there. I figure I own 10% of his knees but have never collected royalties.

You’re welcome, Emmitt.

And this is where I do get a little stereotypically female. I choose my favorite team based on emotion and sentimentality. Such an exciting and meaningful part of my life is forever associated with the Florida Gators, which means that no team will ever supplant them in my heart. I do, though, have other favorites – just perhaps with a few more qualifications.

First and foremost, I love my hometown teams. Rooting for New York teams is tricky, however, since there are more than one for each major sport. Because I became aware of baseball just when the Yankees were bullying dominating the league in the 1970s, I chose to support the Mets, even though, to be honest, I don’t pay attention to baseball that much. Any sport that requires a song and a stretch to keep their fans awake is immediately suspect in my mind.

Of course, there was a second reason to choose the Mets. Being a word nerd, I couldn’t ignore that the Mets rhymes with the Jets, and so I chose them over the Giants at a very young age. Of course, there’s even more reason to support them now that they have signed former-Gator Tim Tebow (whom I’ve watched since he was a freshman. He may be struggling in the NFL but he performed magic on the college field: two national championships, multiple broken records, and the first player ever to win a Heisman as a sophomore.) 

Finally, the third rhyming team, the Nets, got my support over the Knicks, at least until they became the New Jersey Nets in 1977. Now that they have returned to become a Brooklyn team, I will forgive their defection and happily cheer for them. Well, if I ever decide to watch basketball again. The last time I followed the NBA, Larry Bird was still playing, Dennis Rodman wasn’t all inked up yet, and Michael Jordan was making history-making switch-hand layups against the Lakers.

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is another good reason to cheer for the Rangers. Mmmm, scruffy.

As for hockey, it could only ever be the Rangers. Not only did I not grow up on Long Island, thus ruling out the Islanders, but my older sister used to tutor Anders Hedberg in computer science. That’s the kind of random detail that would often gain my approval for a team. The Rangers continue to get my undying loyalty and ice hockey is still my favorite sport after college football.

Beyond geographical loyalties, I still have reason to be emotionally tied to certain teams. I have fond memories of my time in Pittsburgh, so I support the Steelers as well as the Penguins (unless they are playing Rangers, natch!) Buzz comes from a U.Michigan family, so I cheer for the Wolverines and hiss at Ohio State. And it was always so fun to watch Michael Jordan play that I hope the Chicago Bulls have good seasons. This doesn’t carry over to other teams, however. An ex-boyfriend loved the White Sox, but as he fell out of favor, so did his team.

When it comes to soccer, the sentimental plays an even bigger part in my team choices. When it’s big tournament time, it’s easy to choose the Portuguese national team to root for, or the Turks and Americans if they ever make it far enough. However, it’s harder to develop team loyalties during the regular seasons of the various leagues around the world. 

In Portugal, I placed my loyalties again with the home teams: Braga and FC Porto. Lisbon’s Benfica was too far away, and they were also the dominant team in the country, which also triggered my dislike (I like the underdogs, remember?). Some people became turncoats when Braga or Porto weren’t doing well. They strutted around in Benfica colors and bragged about “their” team. I prefer to stay loyal to my teams in both good times and bad. I think Red Sox fans might relate to this.

But I’ve never been so swayed in my sports team preferences by one single person as I was when it came to Galatasaray S.K.

In my first year in Istanbul, there was a boy named Fatih in one of my 8th grade classes. I’d been told that he was a problem student – unfocused, rude, and lazy. What I saw instead was a bright, energetic kid, small for his age, who possibly had an undiagnosed disorder like ADD or OCD, but who had a quick temper. He just didn’t know how to handle his anger at being teased for spending 5 minutes arranging pencils, or rewriting notes because he didn’t like his handwriting on a few words.

I have no idea when they play, but every once in a while, I break out the beads and hope Galatasaray are doing well.

Once again, my lifelong defense of the underdog was activated and I developed a bit of a soft spot for Fatih. Because I allowed him his rituals and routines, and defended him against bullies, I quickly became his favorite teacher.

One day, the bully at the back of the room asked me what team I supported. He was an outspoken fan of Beşiktaş, which strengthened my resolve against that team. I caught sight of Fatih out of the corner of my eye. He had his eyes closed and his hands at his mouth as if he were praying, and he was silently repeating “Galatasaray, Galatasaray! Oh please say Galatasaray!”

Of course, I instantly knew where my support would go.

“Galatasaray!”

The look on Fatih’s face sealed it.

He jumped up and yelled at the kids in the back of the room, nearly getting himself into yet another fight they taunted back and got him angry. I told them all to settle down, and Fatih went back to his seat, smiling for the next 50 minutes. At the end of the class, he presented me with his yellow-and-red Galatasaray worry beads which I will always carry with me.

And that, folks, is how it is. 

What is your favorite sports team?

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5 comments on “Game day.

  1. Lenore Diane says:

    Did I know this about you? Did I? If I knew this about you, Leonore, I certainly behaved myself when we had breakfast. I mean, I am a graduate of University of Georgia. While you nearly cut short Emmit Smith’s career (thereby also nixing his win on Dancing with the Stars), I hob-nobbed with Herschel Walker, and sugar fell out of the sky.

    Fine, I did not really hob-nob with Herschel, and I borrowed the ‘sugar [falling] out of the sky’ from the late Larry Munson. Alas, I am from that school that meets your school in the swamp.

    In other news, Bill Riley, the third black man to play for the NHL, spent time at the Shore. I am friends with his daughter, Carla. He played for the Winnipeg Jets, I believe. Based on the name of the team, I’m certain you were their biggest fan. He also played for the Washington Capitols. Mr. Riley autographed a picture for me oh-so many years ago, and I still have it. (He played hockey in the 70s.)

    Truth be told, I’m not a huge football fan. Further truth, I lived in the dorm right next to Sanford Stadium. I hated game days, because our Quad was always trashed by the ‘tailgaters’. I prefer baseball, and while I am a Braves fan, the Chicago Cubs may be my favorite. Actually, I have memories of watching the Cubs and the White Sox playing on WGN and WOR. I can still hear the Empire and Lincoln carpet commercial jingles in my head. Those commercials aired frequently during the games.

    Ah memories. Gooooo Dawgs! Sick ’em. Woof! Woof! Woof!!

    • limr says:

      Ah, you forgot that I’m a Gator! I thought it best to put off the trash-talking until at least our second face-to-face meeting. You know, stuff like how Tebow broke Herschel Walker’s SEC record for rushing touchdowns, even though Tebow was a quarterback and Walker was a running back who had 302 more carries than Tebow… y’know, little stuff like that 😉

      And remember – our schools don’t meet at the Swamp. We need neutral ground. Are we the only rivals that require this? Even Michigan and Ohio State play at each other’s stadiums.

      Actually, the rhyming thing apparently only works for NY teams, because I don’t really have any feelings for the Winnipeg Jets. That’s an expansion team, anyway, and I’m kind of an Original Six sort of hockey fan. And I just checked – the Jets started life as the Atlanta Thrashers. I’m sorry, but ice hockey? South of the Mason Dixon line? Weird 🙂 I’ll never forget ice skating in the mall – the mall!! – in Clearwater, FL in college. I’ve only ever skated outside and it’s supposed to be cold. Not air conditioner cold, either!

      Holy shnikes, as soon as I read Cubs, I remembered that it was them that my ex liked, not the White Sox. But now you give me a positive association to balance the negative one. And Wrigley Field is pretty cool. I do like the old ballparks. Not many of them around. That’s one reason why Buzz and I like going to minor league games once in a while. And we managed to get in to see the Yankees play one of their last games in the “real” stadium before they moved to the new one. Okay, give me a few more years to erase the bad connection (he really was a tool) and I might be with you on the Cubs.

      Go Gators! Go make them Dawgs…uh…heel, or…uh…Okay, I’ll admit that there’s no good retort to the Woof Woof. At least we have the, ahem, “modified” (featuring a certain middle finger) tomahawk chop and added “lyrics” (featuring a certain F-word) to counter FSU’s war chant.

  2. You gotta love a girl that loves her sports. Or at least that’s what the lads tell me.

    Me, I’m not so much of a sports fan… I get completely sucked into big events like the Olympics and the Paralympics (are those a big deal at all back home, or is it only here because they are being held in London this time?) and now that I’m over in Britain, it’s practically law that I follow World Cup and Euro Football and cheer on the English team until they go out in the quarterfinals (and if it’s against Germany, usually in a heartbreaking loss on tie-breaker penalty kicks).

    After growing up in Pittsburgh, I always like to see the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins do well. We had none of those major league sports in Portland – only the NBA team which Pittsburgh was missing, so the Blazers rule my heart there.

    I do have one game I really enjoy actually following… my husband has only one passion – rugby – but boy is it a doozy. He’s managed to transfer a tiny bit of that passion to me. Although he, of course, cheers on the England rugby squad no matter how often they disappoint him, his second favorite team is the legendary New Zealand All-Blacks. They’re close to my heart as well, since we married in New Zealand, but (shhhh, don’t tell the husband) my favorite Northern Hemisphere team is Wales. Rugby is practically a religion for the Welsh people, much more so than in England, and I do love to see that tiny nation sticking it to the English!

    • limr says:

      I’m finally replying!

      The Paralympics aren’t really a big deal around here, at least not this year. I’ve seen a few stories here and there, but not many.

      The Steelers just beat the Jets last night, which was a tough game for me to watch. I did want the Jets to win – hometown team, childhood favorite, PLUS Tebow, which introduces untrumpable Gator element – but it kind of annoyed me that I had to root against the Steelers. In games like that, it’s essentially a win-win situation for me, I suppose. 🙂

      I’ve never followed rugby but Buzz loves it. Hard to find games, though. I love that you support Wales! They have the coolest accents 😉

      • Re: Finding rugby games to watch from the States. We spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars accessing games for the husband to watch while we were in the States (pay per view, online broadcast subscriptions and the like). But every dollar spent postponed a move back to the UK that cost thousands and thousands, so I considered it money well spent. 😉

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