Where to begin?
Well, taking advice I first heard in childhood from Julie Andrews, the beginning is a very good place to start. After all, Julie Andrews was hammered when she performed the opening scene of 'The Sound of Music' dancing atop the hill, being filmed from a helicopter. There's more to Ms. Andrews than the role of Maria.
Do. A student. A high school student with ambitions to attend college. The only way I was going to attend college was to receive the full amount of grants and loans for which I qualified. I'd applied to many universities and been accepted, but all were coy about my funding. The allotment of funds for the programs on which I was dependent were controlled by the institutions' financial aid offices, and these were not obliged to award the full amounts. They had the power to make partial awards. They also had the freedom and propensity to delay their decisions on the amounts of awards until approximately two weeks before the start of Fall term. This put me behind the eight ball, as I had scarce other means and required the full amounts in order to attend.
So it was the lack of firm award offers from other universities and my father's announcement that he was seriously considering accepting a job in Nashville which drove me to apply to The University of Tennessee in February of the year I wished to start my matriculation. About two weeks later, UTK had accepted me, awarded me the full amounts of the grants and loans I needed, and tossed in $500 from their general scholarship fund. I was going to college! I was going to be a Volunteer, and saw the campus and the city of Knoxville for the first time when I arrived to enroll the following September.
I won't go into the tales of my time at Tennessee. This blog is about the path to sports fan enlightenment and not tales of my college days. Suffice to say that I concluded my terms by earning a Bachelor of Science degree. I am a Vol for life. Big Orange! And all that goes with it.
In our brash youth, our fandom is severe. It's our school's teams and damn all the rest! At some point, we realize aloud that without the rest, there wouldn't be any of our school's teams. Without that one fiercest rivalry, we wouldn't enjoy the victories and suffer the defeats of our teams so fervently. Our fandom becomes enveloped in a greater perspective.
As time goes on and our lives progress, we still chuckle at the memories of undergrads sneaking pickle juice into the punch of tailgating fans of our rivals or serving them hot chocolate laced with laxative, but we also feel a tinge of remorse. It wasn't a nice thing to do. It's not something we would do, now. Then, fate, luck, or serendipity introduces us to an alum or fan of our team's most hated rival in circumstances which are convivial or otherwise require of us our best consideration and behavior. We are to be neighbors, coworkers, colleagues in charitable endeavor, or other activity which is important to us. It happens, and we find ourselves appreciating the other person. They display their regard for us. Bonds begin to form outside of and around our rival fandom. So it was that I, a Vol became best friends with a Bammer.
It's not like the marriages of which we've heard or witnessed. The one's for which that they make special affinity vehicle plates - AU/UA, UGA/GT, UNC/Duke, UK/UL, UM/tOSU, USC/UCLA... Marriage involves a whole other dynamic. Mating is more powerful than fandom often enough. Friendships are chosen.
My path to sports fan enlightenment began with one true friendship. Though my friend and I visited merry mischief upon one another as fans are wont to do at the time of the great rivalry games, it was never mean spirited, nor was it ever so much as to cause a rift between us. For more than 30 years, the friendship I shared with a guy from Gadsden, AL grew deep and strong. Marriages were made. Children were born. Crises were endured. We were there for each other throughout, and we loved each other as the truest of friends do.
Sadly, death took my friend too early in his life. I survive him, a better man and a better Volunteer for having been his true friend. Looking back over the years past, I see the changes in me. I see that I've been on the path and attained sports fan enlightenment, and I coin this term with gentle humor and respect. I am forever a Volunteer, though now, I can appreciate sympathetically others' fandom, not just observe it, but embrace them within it. So it is that I came to be a Buckeye for a day, and that's a topic for another entry.