Bowling in a Neutral Site Euphoria

Losing yourself in the existential world of fandom can be one of life’s great joys. I love this feeling. I love sitting in the upper deck of the United Center and trembling as 22,000 people cheer through every minute of the national anthem. I love screaming out the beat to “Chealsea Dagger” as Patrick Kane drops to a knee and swings a fist in the air. I love all that it means to be a fan, but I realized this weekend that I’ve never viewed this experience from the outside, as an independent, and I could not wait to see what it felt like to look upon fandom objectively.

I attended the Cotton Bowl this past weekend as a guest of a corporate sponsor of the event. The pageantry was unparalleled: from the pregame parties to the corporate tailgate and all the Rangerettes in between, but the stars of the show were the rival fan bases. This was my first experience of a major college bowl game and the electricity of a neutral site matchup between two top ten teams with rabid fan bases is something I will never forget. You could actually feel the passion in the air.

Watching your favorite team compete in the confines and comfort of a home stadium is amazing… right up until it’s not. Every time I’m debating how I can justify spending hundreds of dollars to attend a game the long nagging thought is how miserable I will be if my emotional and monetary investment is all for naught. Watching the air deflate from the stadium right before my eyes and preparing myself for the spiritual clarity that all I really accomplished today was to burn a few hundred dollars is not what I call pleasant. The elation of winning is never quite as pronounced as the misery of losing.

The neutral fan does not share this fear. The energy is not theirs to control, nor theirs to amplify or depress; it is simply there to be absorbed. I have fallen in love with the neutral site sporting event. I was shaken as Joe Adams brought forty thousand fans to their feet. I was blown away as a blocked field goal caused forty thousand fans to erupt in responsive jubilation. They say that competition brings out the best in us; it turns out this is true of fans and players alike. Cheering with seventy nine thousand of your closest friends is an incredible experience. Listening to forty thousand fans fight back and forth for control of the momentum and emotion of an arena as incredible as Cowboy’s Stadium is almost indescribable.

I will always have “my” teams and “my” stadiums. I will never forget watching Jim Thome hit an 8th inning homerun to win the White Sox a one game playoff over the Twins at US Cellular Field. I will never forget attending my first Blackhawks playoff game at the United Center and not being able to hear a single world of the national anthem the cheers were so loud. What I learned this weekend is that getting lost in the emotions of others is in many ways a better sports experience that getting lost in your own. Here’s to both the Arkansas and Kansas State fan bases, because of you I have fallen in love with the neutral site sporting event.

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