Sawatzke: To cheer for, against, or not at all

Monday afternoon, as time crawled closer to the start of the BCS National Championship game between Florida State and Auburn, I started to get worried.

You see, I didn’t have a team.

Early in the year, the Seminoles from Florida State caught my attention. When they went to Clemson and trounced the highly ranked Tigers on my wedding day (I wasn’t watching, I promise Anna), I was intrigued. As they continued to rout every opponent they faced, I started to get excited about their prospects, specifically the chance of them knocking off powerhouse Alabama.

Then, the Jameis Winston ordeal happened. And while charges weren’t filed, there was certainly enough information floating around on the Internet to dampen my excitement over the Seminoles.

Enter Auburn.

The Tigers, the supposed team of destiny, found themselves in the championship after consecutive last-second wins in the final two weeks of the regular season. They play a fun style, have a flair for the dramatic, and evidence to show they play best when it matters – a trait I greatly admire.

On the other hand, they hail from the evil Southeastern Conference (SEC), where the last seven national champions (including Auburn in 2011) came from.

This was a problem. I have to cheer for somebody, right?

I mean, that’s the point of sports fandom. Pick a side and cheer like crazy. Be biased, be blind to anything that goes against your fan beliefs, be boisterous.


Luckily, there was still time.

However, with just a few hours left until game time, I became resigned that I wasn’t going to become vested in a team by game time.

And see, that’s part of the issue. You can’t just say I’m cheering for Auburn, click your heels and suddenly be a Tigers fan. You have to believe it. You have to feel it.

With a few hours to go, I felt nothing. That was okay though. I texted my brother and said I guess I’ll just have to wait till the end of the first quarter to tell you who I’m rooting for.

I’ve done that before, after all. When the game begins, I don’t know who I’m cheering for. But ten minutes in I find myself pulling hard for one squad to make a big play while quietly hoping the other team’s quarterback turns into Christian Ponder (or Tavaris Jackson, Donovan McNabb, etc.). Problem solved.

Then the game got under way.

Clearly, both teams had a few big game jitters, plus a little rust to shake off after going a month without playing a game.

Florida State scored first, and I didn’t feel much. Hmm, maybe I can cheer for the SEC after all.

Auburn answered with a touchdown, and I felt some excitement.

Another Auburn touchdown made it 14-3, and I felt pretty good. I must be cheering for Auburn.

Then Florida State turned it over and I cringed.

Auburn added their third consecutive touchdown, taking a 21-3 lead, and I cringed again.

Huh? Now what’s happening?!

Finally, when Florida State scored to make it 21-10 and I felt relief, I understood. I hadn’t picked a side, instead I found myself rooting for a good game. That’s why I was excited when Auburn scored (for I had feared they may get blown out) and why I was excited when the Seminoles showed signs of life.

Was I disappointed when I realized I officially didn’t have a horse in the race? Not really. Maybe even a little relaxed.

And that is just another piece of evidence in the overwhelming case of why sports are awesome. There are so many ways to appreciate them.

Sure, I still prefer to have someone to cheer for. I love the emotion of it, the passion. I love the high of a huge win and I don’t even mind the feeling after a big loss. It’s a great reminder that you care about something.

But Monday night was plenty enjoyable in its own way. It offered a chance to appreciate greatness, in Auburn’s running game, Jameis Winston’s bounce back ability and Jimbo Fisher’s guts. It offered a chance to appreciate fans on TV and on Twitter who were much more invested than me and just chuckle, because I’m well aware that’s been, and will again be, me. And it offered a chance to cheer for greatness and to cheer against no one. It was refreshing.

So maybe next time a big game’s approaching and I don’t know who I’m cheering for, I won’t be worried. Instead I’ll relax, sit back and let the game prove once again that, rooting interest or not, sports are the world’s greatest theater.