November 13, 2008

We're approaching the meat of the college football schedule, a time when the most time-honored and fisticuff-causing rivalries are renewed. So naturally, it's the perfect time to address a myth we've all likely bought into at some point:

"Rivalry Week" used to be a quaint college football tradition. During one late November Saturday, the land's most heated rivalry games played out from Seattle to Tallahassee. But thanks to television and corporate interests, "Rivalry Week" spread itself too thin and became a shell of its former, glorious self.

But that doesn't mean the hatred between fans is any less intense. Families are still divided and battle lines are still drawn, pitting public against private (Cal vs. Stanford, North Carolina vs. Duke), East against West (Missouri vs. Kansas), North against South (Michigan vs. Ohio State), power-brokering elitist against power-brokering elitist (Harvard-Yale), etc.

All of which means instead of getting into the holiday spirit of camaraderie and friendship, college football fans are whipping themselves into a bitter frenzy, foaming at the mouth with disdain and ill will (and that's just the 'Bama and Auburn folks). 'Tis the season to hate your rival's fans.

You know who we're talking about. Maybe one of them is your obnoxious neighbor. Maybe one of them is your co-worker who has his school's fight song as his ringtone. Maybe one of them stuck your head in a toilet in junior high or stole your prom date in high school. Maybe one of them is your boss.

Maybe they fly flags or slap license plate frames on their cars, advertising which institution was foolish enough to award them diplomas. Maybe they chuck batteries and beer bottles. Maybe they root for private schools and dismissively holler "safety school" at their public-school rivals, as though spending $120K on an education they could have gotten for $30K makes them superior. Maybe they tailgate so hard in their stadium parking lots, they're actually the real cause of global warming.

It doesn't matter. There isn't a single school's fan base you can legitimately, objectively point to and anoint "The Worst."

Because, generally, they're all bad.

The concept of bad fans is in the eye of the beholder (not to mention most people's level of hatred is probably directly proportional to how much the school or team in question threatens their school or team of choice). Buckeye scarlet might make someone choke with three yards and a cloud of fury, but to another fan, Sooner crimson illicits that reaction. Burnt orange Texas venom offends some, but Rocky Top orange outrages others. Duke fans might seem like spoiled, arrogant jerks to East coasters, but West coasters think USC fans take the "spoiled, arrogant jerk" thing to a whole new level.

Politics is local, and so is fan-base hating. Here's a handy formula for determining which fan base you likely hate the most: Calculate the distance of that school from where you live, add in the number of times your team has lost to that team, add in a healthy dose of bitterness if that school rejected or wait listed you, mix in a dash of regional insecurity, shake well and voila! You have a nice heaping bowl of petty hatred. And if you happen to be someone whose least favorite fan base is in a different time zone, then congratulations, because you're pretty cosmopolitan as far as college football hatred goes.

As bad as you think one particular fan base might be, the farther you find yourself from those fans, the less you'll likely hate them -- even if some of them bite their husbands in the thigh during a rivalry game dispute-gone-bad, or rip the scrotum off a rival fan in a bar fight (both of which have happened during rivalry spats over the last year).

Don't get us wrong, it's OK to hate. But don't delude yourself; every fan base is bad. "Fan" is short for "fanatic," after all. And people seem to take things more personally in college sports because they're often dealing with their alma maters. When you're bashing someone's university, you're not just impugning their sports team, you're taking a shot at their education, their intelligence, the way they spent half a decade of their lives, their social class and in many cases, decades of their family tradition.

All of which is awesome.

But don't just assume that the school which produced the one guy who really annoys you or cut you off in traffic is the "worst." And the next time you find yourself quivering with anger and cursing somebody's overrated football team or ridiculous mascot, take a deep breath and remind yourself they're all pretty much equally loathsome.

Besides, we all know which school REALLY has the worst group of fans, don't we?

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans believe it's true, doesn't mean it is.

Got a myth you want Phil to bust? Email us at

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