Three years ago, a sportswriter told me you should never be a fan of the team you cover. I’m still trying to decide if he was right.
I now cover the football team for the Daily Cal, and I’m starting my second year on the job. It’s the coolest gig around, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have it — even if it pays me nothing besides memories and free entrance to every home game.
But chances are I care less than you do when the clock runs out.
When I tell people where I work, they often assume that I’m obsessed with the fortunes of Cal football. That’s not entirely false, I suppose. I scan through countless stats and quotes each week. I need to remember the numbers and faces of most of the team. When I write lengthy feature articles, ideas constantly bounce around in my head for days on end.
A Cal loss, however, doesn’t bother me anymore. That might be partly because I’ve simply gotten used to them, but my job is to write about the team as objectively as possible.
Sportswriting and fandom don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as Bill Simmons’s wild success will attest, but it does help. The blue and gold faithful have long worn Rose Bowl-tinted glasses, which helped make Cal one of the most statistically overrated teams in the past five years.
So I try to pull back. I sometimes think about whether or not this makes me a bad sports fan. Is some part of my sports-obsessed self lost forever? Has the job sucked some of the joy out of watching sports? Is this the real-life equivalent of being attacked by a Dementor?!
Big Game 2010: Cal’s worst loss to Stanford since 1930. My best friend from high school turned down Harvard for Stanford, and that 48-14 dismantling gave him the first win of our college careers.
And strangely enough, I didn’t feel particularly distraught when he rushed the turf at Memorial Stadium, echoing what I did across the Bay one year prior. Maybe the slightest of twinges, but nothing that distracted me from how incredibly good at football Andrew Luck is. (What did hurt? Losing my second consecutive Ink Bowl — an annual flag football game against The Stanford Daily. Fuck those guys.)
Maybe part of this was a coping mechanism. I did start the beat on what became Jeff Tedford’s first-ever losing season at Cal.
It takes more than a win over Colorado to get my heart pumping. Cal baseball managed to do this with a stunning run to the College World Series a few months back, less than a year after the team was cut by the administration. The Bears did it in Big Game 2009, the greatest football game I’ve ever seen in person.
There’s a plus side, too, I think. I get excited by stellar plays in general, even when they come at Cal’s expense (YouTube “Andrew Luck, Sean Cattouse”). I can see the big picture.
I have other teams I follow with unbridled fervor. No young boy becomes a sports fan without latching on to something or someone, and maybe it’s a detriment to the craft of sportswriting to dismiss that.
The aforementioned sportswriter, who still writes for the Chronicle, was from the old school — the type that still eschews recorders for illegible shorthand. In opposition to him is the blogosphere, which the old school will say is run by a bunch of moronic fans who shouldn’t be granted access.
But there are some solid blogs out there, even if they’re outnumbered by horrid ones. Some don’t make much attempt at objectivity; it’s not as if we’re handling court cases here.
I probably won’t be a sportswriter forever. And somewhere deep down, I still bleed blue and gold. OK, scratch that — leak blue and gold.