This is the first of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
In 2004, I knew exactly two things about UConn: it had some fantastic basketball teams and it was located in Connecticut. I grew up a fan of New York's college sports teams: St. John's basketball and Notre Dame football. But the NCAA for me was not nearly the religious institution it is in the Midwest. I spent my youthful Saturdays watching college football and basketball, but only as long as they didn't conflict with Yankees World Series parades.
Nevertheless, I knew that once I was actually in college, whatever school I attended would have my undying loyalty, and college sports would become a bigger deal to me. After performing the high school senior version of due diligence (idly flipping through US News & World Report), I crossed off the Johnnies and the Irish on my list. Sorry, Lous Carnasecca and Holtz, but I knew what I wanted, both as a student and a sports fan. They were, in order of importance:
-A school with Division I sports, which eliminated Rutgers, my home state's school
-A bigger school somewhere in the Northeast, because everything west of the Delaware Water Gap frightens and confuses me
-A school offering a journalism degree
In short, I wanted to go to UConn, even if I didn't explicitly know it. (Though by this criteria, I also wanted to go to Syracuse.)
I had never visited Storrs, never met anyone who had attended UConn. I knew of Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, and I absolutely loved watching my Duke-fan friend be tormented by The Comeback in 2004. But my experience with the university was limited to its fancy-shmancy brochure, the paper equivalent of a cold-call.
So I was kind of flying blind on that late December day in 2004 when I, after weeks of procrastination and nagging from family and significant others, finally sent in my application to UConn. It was the second and final school I applied to, and the one I was actually interested in attending.
Things became a little more clearer four months later. UConn had accepted me warmly while asking only for $26,000 a year, like the sleazy uncle I never had. And in April 2005 it was finally time to see what I was getting myself into. It was my first visit to any college for a non-sporting event. It was a revelation.
I loved everything about Storrs: the charming, pastoral aesthetic; the intimacy ; the cows, by God, the cows!; and, of course, that wonderful marshmallow dome in the center of campus. I just had a sense that, whatever Platonic ideal of "college" I had held was coming to life before my eyes. It was love at first sight, like the lucky bastard who gets an arranged marriage with a supermodel. Five days later, I wasted no time in buying football tickets, because I thought that was a thing that you did (I was wrong...at least for the first two years). I was in, and there was no getting me out.
I loved UConn, and its sports teams, like nothing else. I graduated the school last year a much better person than I was when I went to my first football game, a blase 38-0 pasting of Buffalo on September 1, 2005, most of which I spent awkwardly trying (and failing) to make friends.
And when you combine a love of school with a love of sports, you get pure magic. I, like just about everyone else reading the blog, have followed the Huskies around the country. I've slummed it in dingy motels in Fresno and Charlotte, I've stayed in relative luxury in Tampa and St. Louis, I've screamed until my throat cried out for mercy at the Rent and Gampel. And I relished almost every minute of it. UConn's successes became euphoric, freeze-framed moments stuck in my brain, its (many, on and off the court) failures causing me the good kind of anguish.
Don't get me wrong - our own personal origin stories, especially about something as simple and relatively unimportant as "why I like a sports team," are objectively boring to others. They're usually things we bring up when the conversation reaches its "awkward pause" stage at some cocktail party.
But we all have a story like this. We have our shared experiences, those dizzying highs and despondent lows that come with every team's success and failure. The road we took to become a fanatic? That informs everything else we do and say as fans, I think. And even if the stories themselves don't knock your socks off, I like to think that it's interesting to know find out where people are coming from.
So that's my story. What's yours?