Traditional fanaticism: United through rivalry

Open Space
Derek Franz

This time of year, TV really gets my adrenaline pumping, which seems weird for a guy who frequently takes 40-foot falls on the end of a climbing rope.

My girlfriend left me alone at a table in a bar during the Broncos game last week but I hardly noticed.

Mandi teases me for being a dork about my football team.

“Go Broncos!” I hollered at a guy crossing the street a few weeks ago on game day. I raised my fist in the air triumphantly in recognition of his jersey, hat and jacket. He nodded. Mandi took a step away from me and laughed.

If there’s one thing Mandi is tired of hearing, it’s a slurring Broncos fan bringing up the famous 1987 John Elway “Drive” as if she’s never been teased about it before.

What can you expect from a kid who grew up with orange-and-blue Christmas ornaments?

I wish I had a better understanding why it matters so much to me. It’s an aspect of American culture that has seduced me from a young age.

For example, when I think of Thanksgiving, football is the second thing that comes to mind. A memory of watching games with my grandpa is the third thing. Mom sitting next to me by the TV while the turkey cooks is the first thing.

To some degree, my girlfriend understands. When she was around 10 years old, she wanted to be the first woman in the NFL, and Santa gave her a pair of receiver gloves for Christmas. Living in Ohio, she grew up a Browns fan and played football with the boys at recess.

If there’s one thing Mandi is tired of hearing, it’s a slurring Broncos fan bringing up the famous 1987 John Elway “Drive” as if she’s never been teased about it before.

“I don’t dislike the Broncos,” she reminds me whenever we settle in for a game at my mom’s house, “but I’m sick of hearing about ‘The Drive! The Drive!’”

Her voice twists into one of mocking disgust as she says it. It makes me laugh, so I bring it up whenever I can. (Oh, maybe that’s why she left me at the bar!)

Football is an odd sport in that teams reset between every play. Other sports like basketball and soccer have an ongoing fluidity to them. In football, if the last play was ugly, there’s renewed hope when the players return to the line of scrimmage, because the next snap could be a beauty. One second, your team is down by four, the next, Champ Bailey returns an interception. It’s like reading a good book with short chapters.

“I’ll just watch one more play,” I tell myself. Then two hours go by.

That’s when losing is hard. It’s not so much that I’m bummed about the Broncos as much as I’m disappointed in myself when I invest the emotional energy, staying up too late on a work night, just to watch a $#@!ing fumble in the final seconds.

Why do I care so much over the outcome of something that has nothing to do with me?! It’s as though I project all my hopes and fears on a GAME, which happens more than I’d like to admit.

So there I was, alone in the bar last weekend. Some other fans were hooting and pounding on the bar in the next room, but I didn’t want to immerse myself in that energy. I had to watch in silence, consciously maintaining a healthy detachment, even though I was just fooling myself.

When I think about what I’m thankful for these days, I must admit, I’m thankful my life is stable enough that I have the opportunity to care so much about silly things.

And thank God Denver beat the Chiefs, because I’ve had a great week since. I wish I could watch the Patriots match-up this Sunday but I’ll be on a climbing trip, relaxing on the side of a cliff.

“I am a football addict, and I am not alone in this country. We are legion, and we must have football.” — Hunter S. Thompson

— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at

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