BY TIM REUSCHE | Ball State Sports Link
Growing up, I had a fair amount of freedom. Freedom to do what I wanted, within reason of course.
From time to time, I would be set straight when it came to certain parts of life. For example, I learned it was not right to swear, especially at the dinner table.
When it came to sports, I could play the ones I wanted and root for the teams of my choosing, mainly Chicago. But, becoming a fan is so much more than just choosing a team.
As mentioned before, I could choose the teams I wanted to root for growing up. I was not forced into becoming a Chicago fan.
For the entirety of the 2000s I had endured, what I thought at the time, was much heartbreak. From the Bulls never getting passed the Pistons (ironically they were beating them just a decade ago in the postseason) to the Bears never having their offense catch up to their phenomenal defense.
And of course, last but not least, the Cubs first with Bartman, and then the NL West (the Diamondbacks and Dodgers). During that time I always had a secondary team (except for probably the NBA).
Whenever my secondary team for each sport did well, my dad would harass me and my mom would be supportive.
I could not stand the fact that my teams from Chicago kept losing. I had to have another team to support.
During my sophomore year of high school, my secondary team for baseball, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series.
That moment of finally having one of my teams win it all was something that couldn’t be matched.
College rolls around and I begin to be exposed to people outside the Chicagoland area.
My freshman year I have a roommate from South Bend, Indiana. My sophomore year I had a roommate from Crown Point, Indiana. Most notably, I had four roommates my junior year, three from Indianapolis and one from Crown Point (the same one from a year ago).
This year, my senior year, I have a roommate from Saint Charles, Illinois.
The reason I thought my junior year was most notable is simple — all the different people I was exposed to. My fanhood of multiple teams was brought up numerous times. I learned it’s okay to be a fan of multiple players, but not their teams. You can only be a fan of one team.
I kept thinking how can I be a fan of one team? I can’t stand the losing. Yet, that is apart of the process. That is what reaching salvation is all about (with the exception of a few sports franchises i.e. the New York Yankees).
The way I understood what being a fan is all about best, is with my college, Ball State University.
When I arrived at Ball State back in the fall of 2013, the football team was in the midst of having one of the best stretches in its program’s history. The previous year they were 9-4, but brought back key contributors in Willie Snead IV, Jonathan Newsome and of course, Keith Wenning.
On the other hand, the men’s basketball team was going through one of the worst stretches in program history. Head Coach Billy Taylor was recently fired after back-to-back .500 seasons.
The football team won 10 games only to fall to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl. The basketball team only won five games.
Rather than pick another team to root for, I followed Ball State. I did not transfer schools, I stayed at Ball State.
The reason I chose to attend Ball State was simply because of its phenomenal TCOM program.
There are a fair amount of colleges across the U.S. with a TCOM department, but I felt the location and the opportunities I would have were something I could not pass up.
Similar to being a Chicago fan growing up; the games were close, affordable to go to once a year, and all the organizations I felt were renowned.
The next two years of Ball State football and men’s basketball were quite a ride. I was given the opportunity to be up close to film.
During my junior year I was even able to go inside the locker rooms of both teams from time to time. I became attached to Ball State as I was at nearly every football and men’s basketball game.
I interviewed the athletes. I created feature stories and highlights featuring the teams. I really grew into becoming a Ball State fan. I became invested in Ball State — and endured heartbreak.
My sophomore year, the football team won five games and the men’s basketball team won seven. A full year of heartbreak for me and the Cardinal faithful.
However, that is a part of the process.
My junior year the football team won three games. To contrast, the men’s basketball team won 21 games and had one of the biggest turnarounds in all of college basketball that year.
The big moment, where everything came full circle, and where I truly learned what becoming a fan was all about happened for me during my senior year.
Myself along with the other seniors at Ball State wanted nothing more than for our football team to play in a bowl game.
Not only would a postseason game be a good thing for the fan in us, but we would be able to travel to a (hopefully) warm place down south in December.
The season started well, with a win over Georgia State en route to a 3-1 start. From there, it was nothing but heartbreak.
The Cardinals had a 21-point lead on senior night only to lose, 48-41. They were up 20-14 in the final minutes against Miami, only to lose 21-20.
Finally, basketball season came around. After losing countless game after countless game by a single possession the year before, this men’s squad had a different feel.
Instead of losing the close games, they won more times than not (the only two losses by three points or less came twice, notably once to MAC Regular Season Champion Akron).
This team was poised to make some noise in the conference. Thanks to some help from Kent State, after three years of heartbreak and shortcomings, I was finally able to travel to Cleveland for the conference tournament.
That moment of elation was something to remember, until the next game.
Ball State faced the hottest team in the MAC in Western Michigan. In a back-and-forth contest, the game kept viewers on edge. Thanks to clutch free-throw shooting and defense, the Cardinals were able to win the game.
The win made everything over my four years of college worth it. To be able to experience a postseason tournament win can’t be matched.
Then 24 hours later, the Cardinals experienced a heartbreaking loss to the top-seeded Akron Zips. Another heartbreak. That’s the journey of being a fan.
During my time in college, I have seen a lot of losing. Through it all, I’ve stayed supportive. I did not jump ship to another college. I stayed with the team.
Whenever they collect a win, it becomes so much sweeter because of the all the losses I’ve had to witness.
That’s really what being a fan is all about.