If you’re like me, a fan of a middling team, with a middling coach, and some unsubstantiated but not totally unbelievable point shaving allegations, then your college football season is over. You’ve suffered through countless amounts of heartbreak and disappointment, and you’ve found yourself periodically questioning whether or not your fan-hood was strong enough to handle this type of emotional instability year after year (which, of course, it always is.) See, the thing with sports fans, or at least those masochistic enough to support a perennial loser, is that their best hope is always, always, next year’s hope.
The question then becomes, what is the most effective way to build on it? How do you (the fan), after yet another losing season, effectuate excitement when the future of your team seems utterly bleak? When, even after a 6-7 season, you can tell that most of your talent for the following year will be mediocre, or inexperienced, or, both? (yes, Greg McMackin, I am still bitter at you.)
Well, never fear, for I have a solution for you. Having been a University of Hawaii fan my entire life, I’ve had 26 years of experience nurturing (and maniacally rationalizing) the concept of “there’s always next year”. Case in point, in the last decade they have gone (mostly under June Jones): 10-3 | 9-4 | 8-4 | 5-7 | 11-2 | 12-0 | 7-6 | 6-7 | 10-3 and 6-7. Okay, I admit it, that’s not too bad. But let’s go back one more decade (closer to the beginning of my life.) In the eight years prior to hiring June Jones the team was: 4-7 | 11-2 | 6-6 | 3-5-1 | 4-8 | 2-10 | 3-9 and 0-12. So while I don’t intend for this to be a history lesson of the ups and downs of University of Hawaii football, I think it’s a great illustration of the wide swings generally experienced by fans of college football teams. One decade of dominant (okay maybe above-average) play here was preceded by a decade of getting dominated. One decade that produced some of the best talent the school has ever known (Colt Brennan and Davone Bess) was preceded by a decade that was best known for producing … a kicker (Jason Elam). What does all this mean? That I’ve spent a lot of time finding out the hard way that no matter how hopeless your team looks, if you stick around long enough, things always get better.
So, I’m happy to share with you today, my carefully developed and fool-proof method to enjoying an otherwise depressing offseason. A method that centers around one thing. Regular off-season tailgating! It cannot be stated frequently enough, that one of the single most important parts of college football is not just the game itself, but how it manages to bring people from all walks of life together. It follows then, that there is no better way of fostering hope for the future then by tailgating even after the season has long since ended. How do I know this? Well, quite simply, because I asked.
Chuck H., 25, Government Employee : “What gets me excited about college football during the offseason? Tailgating, because it’s a chance to hang out with friends and share (the team and the sport) that we love the most.”
Scott O., 25, Engineer: “”Tailgating is definitely something I look forward to because I go to these games not just as a fan, but also as someone who wants to hang out and eat good food with friends.”
Travis T., 26, Accountant: “There’s nothing better than gathering with your friends, eating, drinking and then watching the game.”
So, while this sample is quite small, their sentiments were echoed by just about everyone I asked (several of whom declined to be quoted here today.) After a few more discussions with people, some commonalities began to emerge.
Scott O.: “I’m also really excited to see who will step up and become a potential draft pick.”
Travis T.: “One of the things I always look forward to is seeing the potential of the team. Are they gonna be good this year or not?
Wade T., 25, Research Engineer: “What excites me the most about college football in the offseason? I like looking at the list of commitments/recruits. Having good recruits gives me a ton of optimism about the potential of the upcoming season.”
Mike T., 26, Med Student: “I really like reading about the recruits. Not only the ones that we are targeting, but also the local guys and seeing where they end up. Excited to see their potential growth.”
Don’t see it yet? In their own way, Scott, Travis, Wade and Mike were each excited about the same thing. The “potential” encased in the future. Potential and Hope are, after all, two of the most malleable emotions contained within a sports-fan. Why else would Oregon buy a billboard of Joey Harrington in Times Square? Or the University of Hawaii to make an hour long DVD about Colt Brennan? Heck, for that matter, why would Kim Kardashian marry Kris Humphries? Or Lane Kiffin seriously offers a scholarship to a 14 year old? The answer is simpler than you’d think. Each was a carefully calculated move to build people’s hope and potential for the future. For Oregon and Hawaii it was to get exposure for their respective candidate’s Heisman campaigns. For Kim it was to make more money, and continue her “fairytale” life in front of the camera. And for Lane Kiffin, it was to show exactly how serious he was about bringing talent to USC.
So how does all of this relate to offseason tailgating? Well, truly effective tailgating can be thought of as a Billboard, a DVD, a marriage and a scholarship offer all wrapped into one. That is, effectively extending a tailgate past the end of the regular season requires hype, highlights, stability, and hope for the future, all at the same time. See, an offseason tailgate full of desperate fans is like a gathering of a new set of hungry employees. They’ll believe whatever you tell them and they are starving for positive references. Thus, all it takes is one amazing run in practice (Dillon Baxter, circa USC 2010), or one amazing YouTube video (Leon Jackson, circa Hawaii 2006) to break open the dam of negativity and skepticism that was built up over the previous season. And, with the advent of large TV’s, watching these highlights has become easier than ever. So, whether you’re warm in Hawaii or freezing in Boise, Idaho, take some time after the college season is over to get together with your friends. Make it an “official” event (just like a fantasy football draft is) and mandate that everyone wear your team’s colors. Tell your girlfriend or wife its “therapy” or (best case scenario), if she’s a fan, bring her along. The beauty of extended tailgates is that they really don’t require a complicated mix of things. Good friends, good food, good highlights, good conversation and, most importantly, a good attitude. Can you see? Extended Tailgating; there’s nothing bad about it.
Harrison Goo is a contributor to CBS Local and the founder of the blog Sportsgooru.com. To contact him, email him at email@example.com follow him on twitter at @sportsgooru.