Brian O’Neill is the Australian-born punter who went from a hero earlier in the game because of an unbelievable kick of 80 yards to an easy target for those who don’t have a life. The last-second loss by Michigan against Michigan State made jaws drop all through the crowd of over 100,000 in the Big House. Millions more watched on television. Immediately, Michigan fans at the game and across the land acted worse than the ancient Maori of the punter’s region of the South Pacific. They wanted his head!
What becomes evident from this game is – there are three levels of fans.
At the lowest level, there are those who – devoted as they may think themselves to their team – are actually out of touch with their team. These are the individuals who turned on the punter immediately, wanting to wring his neck.
By contrast, his teammates, coaches and administrators immediately surrounded the punter with expressions of support. That’s because it wasn’t just an incident – he isn’t just a punter. He is a complete person to them – someone they know, have been with, worked with, won with…
The team has a broader view than the fans. Too many fans live or die on the most immediate thing that delivers a win or a loss. They have no perspective, no long view of a player, nor a game nor of where sport fits within life itself. And – above all – these fans have no gratitude.
Chuck Noll coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles. But by the end of his career, he was being booed. His very success raised such a high level of expectation, fans became impatient and unforgiving – a type of ingratitude. This level of fan possesses the lowest rung of people who attend sports events. All sympathy to those sitting next to them – let along LIVING with them.
The second level of fan is: the intelligent. They, too, don’t know the players or coaches personally, but these fans are at least aware that one incident doesn’t win or lose a game. WHY was Michigan punting with 10 seconds left in the game? Because the offense couldn’t get a first down to run out the clock! There was plenty of blame to share — the offensive coordinator, the offensive linemen, the running backs…Players, coaches and the more intelligent fans knows this. One incident does not win or lose a game.
There is finally the highest level of fan: those who personally KNOW the players. These are their family members, their classmates, the university administrators…
I remember as a teenager watching a high school football game in my hometown stadium. Our team was doing poorly. By the fourth quarter, the starting quarterback (a mere teenager, mind you) was being booed by some of our own fans. These weren’t students – these were adults! A middle-aged woman in the adult section of the bleachers — a parent of one of the players – her son was not the quarterback – she was the mom of a different player – turned to the men who were booing, and put her index finger to her lips. As politely as she could, she was telling them, “Zip it!” She knew the quarterback – she knew the quarterback’s parents – she knew this was high school – this was a teenager – why were adults booing a teenager…
She represented the highest level of “fan.” They know these young athletes. They have a concern for the full person – even for the athletes’ family members. These can put everything into perspective – one incident – one game – sport itself.