What makes a kid in Boston geaux for a team so far from home?
This Monday evening, along with my confreres in New Orleans, Shreveport, Houma and Metairie, I will be glued to my TV as I cap my 54th consecutive season of rooting for LSU football. I'll be cheering for a win in the BCS title game by our Tigers, coached by Les (the Hat) Miles, over Alabama and that carpetbagger Nick Saban. Unlike most good citizens of the Pelican State, however, I can't check off any of the following: attended LSU, have a relative who attended LSU, attended an LSU game or ever set foot in Baton Rouge. I'll be whoopin' and hollerin' just a bit north of the Superdome: New Jersey. But my devotion, if distant, is genuine, and now it's not even unusual. In the Internet and satellite age, far-flung fandom—cheering for a team with which you have no geographic, blood or school tie—is easier than ever.
Those who root, root, root for non--home teams have always been with us. Some merely want to be different or contrary. (Back in ancient Rome, there probably was some kid who started a Visigoths fan club.) Others are swept up by greatness. Knute Rockne's mighty Notre Dame teams created a national fan base known to this day as the Subway Alumni. Dynasties such as the Canadiens, Celtics, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, Yankees and UCLA basketball have been worshipped (and loathed) by legions everywhere. Some folks fall in love with a color scheme (such as Boise State's blue field, or in my case, LSU's purple and gold) or a cool logo or a hot player.
Even celebrities and other athletes are not immune. As a young boy, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (a native of Kannapolis, N.C.) fastened on the Redskins. Emmy-winning actor Ty Burrell (the dorky dad on Modern Family), who grew up in Oregon, first was a Red Sox fan, then switched to the Mets. In LeBron James's first controversial Decision, made when he was a kid in Akron, the future King chose to take his allegiance to South ... Bronx. (James was vilified in Cleveland for wearing a Yankees cap to a playoff game between the Indians and the Bombers.)
Like high school romances, youthful attraction to an unlikely team can linger for a lifetime. My friend Marco was 10 when John Brodie and a few teammates walked into the Manhattan restaurant at which Marco's father was ma√Ætre d'. "They gave me a 49ers button that I have to this day," he says. Growing up in Massachusetts, I was seven when I was bitten by Mike the Tiger. In 1958 LSU was on its way to its first national title, one masterminded by coach Paul Dietzel and powered by glamour-boy running back Billy Cannon. The shrewd Dietzel created three units, the third composed of scrappy shock troops and labeled the Chinese Bandits. (In the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, Terry was always battling Chinese bandits.) When I saw the Bandits on TV, I thought they looked mighty cool. The next year my devotion was rewarded when I read of Cannon's epic Halloween-night, game-winning punt return to beat Ole Miss. The week after that, I was devastated to hear that the Tigers had lost 14--13 at Tennessee when the Vols stacked up Cannon on a two-point conversion attempt.
In latching on to LSU, I lucked out. The program has been a consistent winner, and the current era is positively purple and golden. Even better, the school has drawn on its Cajun surroundings to serve up a gumbo of the best names in college football: Alley Broussard, Tommy Casanova, Early Doucet, Rickey Jean-Francois, Hokie Gajan, Tyler Lafauci, LaBrandon Toefield and, on this year's squad, defensive end Barkevious Mingo.
Lately it has been easier to keep track of these names, thanks to video and audio streaming on the Geaux Zone, plus message boards, online media guides and televised spring practice. (I can also replay the video of Cannon's midnight run, which I do more often than is probably healthy.)
Someday before I walk in the valley of death I'd love to make a pilgrimage to Death Valley. I fantasize about what it'll be like to be under the lights as the Tigers take the field to the roar of 93,000 and the first strains of Fight for LSU are sounded by the Golden Band from Tigerland. Then again, I worry that reality won't match my sweet imagination.
If—I mean when—LSU beats Alabama, that will be three BCS championships for the Tigers in nine years. Though I celebrated the 2003 and '07 titles from afar, my lifelong attachment made me feel as if I had a stake in the success. So it will be this time. When the Hat and his boys take the field at the Superdome, I'll roar, "Geaux, Tigers!" so loud that everyone in the Big Easy will hear me from 1,300 miles away. As always, fellas, I'm with you. Even if, as always, I'm not with you.
LIKE HIGH SCHOOL ROMANCES, YOUTHFUL ATTRACTION TO AN UNLIKELY TEAM CAN LINGER FOR A LIFETIME.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
For her Dec. 21 nuptials a 38-year-old Englishwoman made her own wedding gown by stitching together parts of vintage jerseys from the groom's favorite soccer team, Manchester City.
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG
WWW.MCFC.CO/UK (DRESS, 2)