Right now, at this very instant, every single person in the entire Midwest is experiencing an enormous, simultaneous orgasm over the University of Illinois Fightin’ Illini basketball team. One out of every one people has worn an orange shirt at LEAST once a week for the last four months, and people as far away as Chicago (a city with nothing in common with Champaign-Urbana but a non-alliterative “Ch” at the beginning of their names) are sporting supportive gear bearing the giant capital “I” of everyone’s newest favorite collegiate team. This is amazing, this pride we have for a team that’s never made it to a championship game before this year. I am truly in awe of all the “life-long” (so to speak) die-hard Illini fans that exist in this state. It’s truly encouraging. Truly.
See, we learn about this sort of thing in fourth grade social studies class. It’s called “riding the bandwagon,” and it’s what sports fans have done since the inception of peer pressure sometime in the 1940s. We see all this orange not because these people are life-long Illini fans, but because they think, “Hey, I’m from Illinois and I need a life purpose, so I suppose I’ll root for this team that is winning, since it gives me confidence that MY team is the best team, even though I never previously rooted for them before this particular successful season.” My problem does not lie in the fact that these people have decided to root for the U of I; au contraire, I think it’s great that a stellar ball team can fill its gym to the brim for every game, no matter where they are. What I take issue with is the people who never cared until there was a buzz about how well things were going.
Interestingly enough, the Illini craze is what got me thinking about this whole problem, but it’s the half-assed Chicago Bulls fans that have really busted my bubble. The city of Chicago has always been a huge fan of basketball, and we were undoubtedly spoiled for a number of years because we had the single most amazing basketball player ever on our home floor every single night. I mean, with Steve Kerr out there, how could you NOT be fan? The Bulls became Huns, mercilessly overpowering other teams like they were the Romans. They’d eat competition like Tic Tacs, chewing them up, swallowing them, and ending up with delightfully fresh breath to boot. There was even one season where we set the record for most wins in a season by posting a 72-10 record! Nobody’s ever going to come close to touching that! Ever!!! For me, growing up with successful Bulls teams was just the way things were, and by the time I was 16, Jordan and his Disciples had taken down six championships. At that point in my life, I would have promised my first-born son to the devil in exchange for Bulls playoffs tickets, only because I grew up in the area, and I LOVED THAT TEAM.
But those of you that follow basketball know that the Bulls became immediately asinine the year after Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, and Phil Jackson left the team (Writing that down on paper makes my heart hurt. I may have just had a mild stroke. Yup, there goes my motor skills… ssomenoe c all ann amubulsaacne). Suddenly, Bulls games weren’t selling out any more. People stopped watching the games. Our team’s chances of making the playoffs ANY time soon were about as probable as Ashlee Simpson tripping and falling face first into talent (which, by the way, she’d still probably find a way to screw up). In fact, most Bulls fans couldn’t name five guys that played for the team between then and now.
I can name thirty, maybe more.
This year, the Bulls are bound for the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, and suddenly, tickets are amazingly hard to come by (of course). At the start of the season, Dale and I figured that we’d have our veritable pick of litter when it came to getting tickets, but alas, we were incorrect. Fair-weather fans snatched up all the good seats, and now the best we can find are standing room only at the most unentertaining of games. The only reason this has happened is because most people only want to root for their “favorite” teams when they are doing well. The rest of the time, they forget.
We saw the same thing last April around World Series time when everybody in the whole WORLD got on the wagon for the Boston Red Sox. Don’t tell me that those players were just so damn likeable that they instantly gained a magnanimous number of fans. Johnny Damon looks like what would happen if Jesus mated with a Cro-Magnon woman, Curt Schilling is the kind of narcissistic dillwad who would fall and drown in a pond after staring too intently at his own reflection in the water, and Pedro Martinez brought a midget into the clubhouse, making all of his teammates rub its head for good luck (that’s actually true). What the hell, Pedro? You’re telling me that THIS is a team that earned itself a world full of peers?
I suppose I can complain about this until I’m blue in the fingers, and truth be told, I’m mostly just bitter that I wasn’t preemptive enough to get better Bulls tickets. But, the fact still remains: fair-weather bandwagon riders (speaking of this—doesn’t a ride in a wagon sound lovely in this fair weather we’ve been having lately?) taint the value of the game by pretending that they care, when we all know for a fact they won’t be sticking around through the team’s hard times. Next year, without Deron Williams, Luther Head, Jack Ingram and others, the Illini are going to be pretty not good. It’s probably fairly safe on my behalf to suggest that all these orange t-shirts will be on a rack in a Salvation Army somewhere, because no one’s going to care about them anymore. There are fans that will still love U of I basketball (big ups to Dave, John, and Bub) the same way that I stuck with Bulls through the rough times, but most of the hype we see now will have died like John Paul Two (that's my second irreverant Roman Catholic joke this article. I'm going to end this now to avoid getting dealt Christianity's feared "Go to Hell Free" card).
The people of the Midwest may love this big, collective orgasm right now, but one thing simply can’t be ignored: orgasms may feel amazing and wonderful, but what we fail to remember is that they are also very, very short-lived (except for the pig, which has orgasms that last up to a half an hour. Note to self: I want to die and come back as a ham).