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Why I cheer

John Sandburg | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I’ve never written about football before. Never really wanted to, in fact.

I don’t lack opinions. I’ve just always figured the nationwide symphony of analysis, breakdown, love songs and hate music surrounding the Fighting Irish could carry on just as well without me latching onto a microphone or newspaper column, too.

And though this column might seem like it’s breaking that mold, it’s not. Because, as anybody who was watching Saturday night can tell you, this season is about more than football. The goosebumps on our arms and lumps in our throats assured us of that.

Why do we care so much? This is the simple question I’ve asked myself from time to time this season.

I wasn’t the one playing in the Coliseum on Saturday, so why did my stomach feel like Jell-O Jigglers in an earthquake before kickoff? When the clock read all zeroes and it became official – Notre Dame was headed to Miami, with one final rendezvous to determine if this really is a team of destiny – why did I feel as though I had won as well?

What’s the reason for such a high, some might say unhealthy, level of emotional investment?

There’s certainly something to be said for pride and tradition and the Notre Dame family, but in reality it extends deeper than that.

Life is a constant struggle for control. And we do our darnedest to manage things that we have only varying degrees of control over. Whether it’s grades, job searches, investment decisions or any one of a million other things, we convince ourselves the result is totally in our hands, that actions we take can shift the balance so the outcome works in our favor.

It’s true there’s no substitute for hard work and preparation, but in life we’re often in need of a little help and even some luck. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the result is something other than what we expected. And that’s when the boiling point is met.

Doors are slammed. Speeding tickets are issued. You retitle your research paper “52 Pick-Up.” And that diet? “To heck with it, I’m eating the whole quart of mint chip tonight.”

Frustration abounds.

But asking in vain what we could have or should have done differently is what causes the frustration, at least in my own mind. It’s not the outcome itself, but our own failure to affect the outcome positively when we feel like we could have.

Being a fan takes the fate-in-my-own-hands theorem and shatters it into more pieces than Oregon has tacky uniform combos. We might scream at the TV. We might spend 10 minutes deciding whether to wear the lucky blue flannel or the white Darius Walker jersey for the big game. (I went with the Walker jersey. Never fails – except last year’s USC game, when it failed.)

We might avert our eyes from the cover of Sports Illustrated for a week and maintain couch seating positions after an Irish scoring drive. You might take deep breaths into a brown paper bag on fourth down, or hold your breath altogether if that’s your thing.

But in the end, it won’t make a bit of difference.

Why continue to care even with the knowledge that the outcome is beyond our influence?

Because it’s good for us to care. There’s something refreshing about investing ourselves in that thing which will never be in our control. It’s healthy for the soul. It keeps us young. It cautions us not to take life too seriously, even if that means we have to take football too seriously to realize it.

It’s not studying for a test or prepping for a big interview or picking the right stocks. It’s football, where the only people that truly determine the outcome are the 22 guys with chins straps on.

Being a fan is letting go of control. It’s handing the reins of your agony and ecstasy over to the 22 guys in chin straps.
It feels good to do that. And it’s why I continue to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.

John Sandberg is a junior political science major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.