For the first time in my life, I am looking at Indiana athletics differently. It is not that the football program seems to be making real progress for the first time since the 90s or that the basketball team seems primed for its longest-sustained success since the 80s. Instead, it is that this season. Hoosier success means less to me than it ever has.
Each of the first 25-plus years (or at least the ones I can remember) of my time here have been spent looking at Indiana athletics in mostly the same way – hoping for wins, nets, and the Bucket, all the while expecting men’s basketball to disappoint me, football to be nothing more than a footnote to some other program’s history, and, in general, to be miserable for a good part of the athletic year. But something changed a few weeks ago.
I did not attend Indiana University as an undergraduate, but am a recent alumnus, graduating from the school in May with a professional degree. But having attended a small, liberal-arts college with Division III athletics, I have never had to hide my love for the Indiana Hoosiers. I could stand in the basketball student section at Wabash and cheer on my Little Giants on a Saturday afternoon and then flip on the television and live and die with every bounce of an Indiana game, like I did on December 10, 2011, and countless other weekends. And no one could accuse me of being a reversible jacket fan.
But until three years ago, when I matriculated to Indiana University, it was a locality thing. I grew up just down the road, my friends are Indiana fans, and my family is full of Indiana fans. It was a factor of my environment that I would be an Indiana fan. But as a student, it became something different. Any of you reading this who have been a student in Bloomington know what I am saying, especially those of you who were Indiana fans before stepping foot on campus. Winning became everything because that was YOUR team, YOUR school.
I thought it would stay that way forever. I mean, now three-plus years removed my graduation from my undergraduate alma mater, I am more proud of it than ever, finding new ways to love and adore it. And winning matters. But it took just a handful of weeks after moving 2,000 miles from Southern Indiana for me to realize that it is not that way with the Hoosiers.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that winning does not matter and that I will not be fighting every urge to throw things at my television when TV Teddy calls Thomas Bryant for his third foul for a little elbow hook when he makes a post move sometime early in the Big Ten season after Tom Crean put him back in for one offensive possession at the end of the half. And I am not saying that I won’t be considering jumping in the fountain at the Bellagio if Kevin Wilson and co. could knock off Michigan or Ohio State.
No, what I am saying is that I have realized that winning is not most important to me. At least not for a while.
At the beginning of July, I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. I have had a Nevada driver’s license for over a month and have not had a breaded tenderloin the size of my face in at least two. My life has changed dramatically. And I have realized that this season, the Hoosiers mean something different to me. For at least this coming athletic year, they are my connection to home.
When I am listening to the opener this Thursday night while I drive home from work, it’s going to remind me of Fall afternoons driving around doing who-knows-what when I hear Don Fischer scream, “TOUCHDOWN, INDIANA!” When I am watching a 9 P.M. Assembly Hall tip-off on ESPN and Dick Vitale is losing his mind, because the crowd is so electric, I’ll be thinking of going to games with my late grandfather or being in the student section last season for the Iowa and Purdue wins. And when I listen to sports talk radio the next morning, see the shots down Kirkwood from the Sample Gates, or get to talk about anything Indiana with the other guys here at Crimson Quarry, I’ll feel closer to home than I’ve felt since July 1.
I still wants wins, nets, and the Bucket – hell, throw in a bowl victory too – but the losses will hurt a little less and the wins will be sweeter as long as when I go to bed I’ve had a little taste of home.