February 4, 2011
In prehistoric times groups of hunters would go out in search of food, usually in the form of a large and dangerous wild animal. They’d pursue it, and, if they were skillful and lucky enough, they’d bring it down and each hunter would carve out a large hunk of meat the size of his head. Fortunately we don’t have to do that anymore. If we did there’d probably be a lot more vegetarians, but that’s another story. The hunting tradition, though, is preserved in the form of sporting events, although those, fortunately, don’t typically involve large wild animals anymore. That’s probably just as well because for the most part animals aren’t that interested in sports, but there are exceptions. For instance one of our dogs has been known to sit on the couch with me and watch a soccer or even baseball game with great interest, and that’s without the benefit of alcohol, which makes me think he appreciates baseball more than most of its fans.
That also reminds me of a joke: a guy takes his dog to a talent agent and says, "I’ve got a talking dog here." He then asks the dog, "What’s on top of a house?" The dog says, "Roof!" He asks, "What’s on the side of a tree?" The dog says, "Bark!" He asks, "Who was the greatest baseball player of all time?" The dog says, "Ruth!" The talent agent throws them out, and the dog says, "Must be a Cubs fan." Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered why most sports teams are named after dangerous animals-the Lions, the Tigers, da Bears, the Pangolins, or anything native to Australia-it’s because sports reflect the hunting experience. And even though most of us aren’t fit enough or are just too lazy to go running up and down a field, especially in the middle of winter, we can still vicariously take part in the hunting experience as spectators. It may be cheating, but even in the comfort of our homes we can sit around with bowls of chips the size of our heads and lots of guacamole, salsa, cheese dip, onion dip, clam dip, spinach dip, ranch dip, and the traditional bean dip molded into the shape of a football. Sure, there are those who prefer to see sporting events live, but then you just end up surrounded by a bunch of dips you can’t stick chips in. Anyway, this is why, even though it may seem counterintuitive or even heretical, I don’t think most sports fans are really fans of a particular sport. I think they’re fans of getting together in large groups to relish, or even mustard, the hunting experience. I think most sports fans are more interested in hanging out with others than they are in what’s happening on the screen. Of course there are exceptions. There are people who are genuinely interested in a sport, or lots of different sports. One year in college there was a true sports fan in the dorm room next to mine. I went to college in Indiana, where the most common religion is basketball, but everyone is required, by law, to take a serious interest in some sport, and also to learn to play euchre. The people of Indiana are traditionally called "Hoosiers". I quickly learned this is because everywhere I went I was asked, "Hoosier favorite team?" I also quickly learned that saying, "The Wolverhampton Wanderers" made people regard me suspiciously and suspect that I was from another planet or, worse, from Illinois.
I never actually met the guy in the dorm room next to mine. In fact I don’t think anyone met him, including his roommate. He was a music major and all he seemed to ever do was play the bassoon and watch sports. When I wasn’t hearing the opening bars of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring coming from his room I was hearing the sound of cheering crowds and announcers. And occasionally when the crowds would really roar I’d hear the guy speak. "Yes! Yes!" That was all he ever said, and I assume it meant his team was winning. If I’d been a Hoosier I’d probably know what the sport was and which team was his. Heck, I’d probably be watching with him, although I think he preferred to be left alone. Later I’d see him in the dining hall, sitting by himself, eating a slab of meatloaf the size of his head.