Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Sports Parable: Appreciate and Learn from History, Don't Make it the Centerpiece of Your Existance

As we sit mid-week, awaiting more college football games this weekend, I thought I'd explore something that crosses the boundaries of both sports fandom and life generally. And that is how many - too many - fans invest a lot of their self worth in the past glories of their favorite school or team. Looking backward to validate and solidify confidence ones self in the here and now is not a healthy way to live in my opinion.

As a University of Oregon alum living in Seattle, this is a subject brought full to life during football and basketball season and provides a good example of what I'm trying to point out.

The story goes something like this...

After more than 10 years of mediocre to very poor teams, many UW football fans love to peer back into history to find something to grab onto and lord over rival fans whose school's team has long surpassed their own on the field. After all, if things are band now, go to your history to feel good.
So, for quite a few years, a lot of UW fans would yell something like, "Win a Rose Bowl!" at Oregon fans. The implication here was that no matter how good UO was, they hadn't won a Rose Bowl like UW had a few times. While this is not technically true - the Ducks did win the third-ever Rose Bowl way, way back - the point was made and Husky fans could somehow stomach yet another butt whooping from Oregon with the smug knowledge that their school had won a Rose Bowl more recently.
But then, the Ducks won the 2011 Rose Bowl. So, the lame flame went away.
About this time, Oregon fans began using a hand signal to demonstrate excitement and support for their school's athletic teams. By making a "C" out of each hands and bringing the fingertips together, fans form an "O" with their hands. Get it? Oregon..."O." Makes sense.
Many Washington fans decided to get cute and start a new taunt...that the "O" represents the number of football national titles UO has won. This references the shared national title UW won 22 years ago - the University of Miami was also voted #1 that season - and the fact that UO has not won such a title. A lot of Duck fans can attest this taunt has been thrown their way.
And, in my experience, if you encounter a particularly drunk UW fan touting this line of taunting, sometimes you'll hear him (it's always a dude) throw in a second national title that UW claims for the 1960 season. This is in reference to the fact that an obscure organization called The Helms Athletic Foundation voted the 10-1 UW squad it's #1 team for the 1960 season. They were the only one to do so.
In fact, that same season the prestigious AP and UPI polls both anointed the 10-2 University of Minnesota team as the #1 team in the land. Meanwhile Iowa, Missouri and Mississippi each were voted #1 by multiple other polling organizations too. Not even UW claimed a "title" back then. No, only in the midst of a horrible stretch for the squad in the 2000s did the UW athletic department have the idea to lay claim to it and add a second national title for the football team.
Anyway, UW fans like to "point out" how the "O" hand symbol represents the number of UO national titles in football. And so it was that last weekend at a pub with buddies watching the Ducks play Utah, a somewhat tipsy UW fan came up to me and asked, "What's that thing you Duck fans do with your hands?"
I replied with, "You mean making the 'O' symbol?" And he quickly snapped, "Yeah, the number of national titles you have." Ohhh, he got me there!
I reminded him that "O" is the first letter in the name of "Oregon" and that he couldn't be that ignorant could he? I also reminded him that the UW only shares one title. It took him about 0.5 seconds to mention the mythical 1960 "title" calming it was the coaches poll - not the Helms Athletic Foundation - that voted UW #1.
At this point, I realized this guy was not a drunken a-hole and pretty harmless. So, I decided to banter a bit more. I mentioned that the UO has an NCAA basketball national title, but that we don't go around taunting UW b-ball fans that they don't have one because that is weak "stuff." He kinda lost interest at that point. I'm not saying I somehow bested him. He just moved on.

So what is the bigger picture here? What does this anecdote tell us?

Well, to me this is an interesting little parable about how while history is good, that you need to know it, learn from it and be proud of the real world, it's what you're doing now and how you move forward that matters the most. And, current events can change the perception of history such that your default assumptions are challenged or changed. That's why what happened 22, 53 or 96 years ago is not something you should form your current day persona, motivation and self esteem from. Imagine a life predicated on past glories. That would get old and depressing very quickly - not to mention you'd be perceived as a nasty, bitter person.

So people...know and appreciate your history and use it to inform decisions...but by no means make it the centerpiece of your life. There's more out there in this world than what already happened!

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