Most of us aren’t members of any team or coaching staff in any pro or college sport, but there is one position we all hold: fan.
This week, Stiles on Sports will glimpse at the admiration for our favorite teams and players, the exciting wins, and the heartbreaking close calls that are all a part of fanhood.
Welcome to Fans Week.
To start, I talked to three friends (and fellow recent graduates of Anderson University) who are as big of sports fans as I am in a roundtable discussion about their experiences as a fan.
All three have had one or more teams they pull for win championships in recent years, and all have had agonizing near misses too.
Justin Kenley is a St. Louis Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and North Carolina Tar Heels fan.
Ryan Pittman pulls for the Chicago Cubs, Green Bay Packers and South Carolina Gamecocks.
Garrett Black is a Clemson Tigers football fan. While he only has one team he is a diehard fan of, following that team has been a roller coaster ride over the last few years.
Our conversations covered the full gauntlet of fanhood: Part I of this two-part roundtable includes discussion on joyous championship occasions and agonizing losses.
SOS: What is your best win as a fan?
Justin: It’s got to be Game 6 (of the World Series) in 2011.
It was on a Thursday night, and I had a cross country meet Friday morning, and I had to run at 7:30, so we had to be at the meet at 6:15. Our coach was the kind of guy that you’re in bed by 9:00 on those nights, and I was like, “nah, I can’t go to sleep.”
I was sitting on the edge of our ottoman, and my mom and dad were in there, and I remember thinking we were really done. And when David Freese hit that triple, I lost my stinking mind. I just went crazy. And then, obviously, the next inning, Josh Hamilton hits a home run (for Texas), and then Lance Berkman ties it up again, and then obviously the home run in the 11th.
Honestly, the home run in the 11th, I didn’t freak out nearly as bad as I did for the triple and the single, because it was just the moment, with two strikes, down to your last pitch, but yeah, it’s got to be that. Game 7 was kind of a letdown too–well, not for me, but as a game.
Ryan: Probably South Carolina baseball in, I think it would’ve been 2011, they played UConn in the Super Regional, and it was at Carolina Stadium, and I was actually able to go, and I was there when they clinched it to go to Omaha.
As a fan, actually being there for that, seeing the celebration–you know, you watch other teams win on TV and stuff, but actually being there and watching them make the dogpile in the middle, that’s a priceless moment.
And obviously, my greatest sports thing as a fan ever was when the Cubs won the World Series last year. I’ve never been happier in my life. I was watching a team that I thought never could win win, and that was pretty spectacular too.
SOS: Garrett, as a Clemson fan I guess yours is pretty obvious.
Garrett: Well, let me tell you about a game that happened this past January… (laugh)
SOS: What was that like as a fan?
Garrett: I lost my mind. My younger brother actually took a video of my reaction. I go in and out of the frame multiple times because I spent the next 30 seconds to a minute just kind of screaming and running around the room.
SOS: What is your worst loss as a fan?
Justin: I’ve gotta go with the Super Bowl loss…not to the Patriots but to the Broncos. Villanova (beating North Carolina in 2016) sucked, but just growing up in Charlotte, and loving the Panthers, and just to see the electricity that that team was bringing to Charlotte, and to be on such a roll, and then to just fall short, that hurt.
I was awful mad that night. Because I had to drive back two-and-a-half hours from my home, because we had a Super Bowl party, and that was not a fun ride back. Because I still think, and call me a biased fan, but I still think if we play them 10 times, we win seven of them. I really do think that, especially that year, and they just didn’t play good, so that sucked. Villanova’s up there, but that one really sucked.
Ryan: I’ve got to go back to the Packers when they were playing the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.
They had the huge lead in the fourth quarter (19-7), and the Seahawks got a miraculous touchdown with like, what was it, 30 seconds or a minute left, and then freaking, was it… Bostick, Brandon Bostick, decided not to block, decided to be a hero and field the onside kick, and he ended up becoming the villain, and the Packers lost that game, which I thought was a game they should have easily won, and been in the Super Bowl that year. And that was painful.
Garrett: I’m probably going to have to go with the Orange Bowl loss (to West Virginia in 2012, 70-33). Just, I remember me and my dad watching it, and I think we were down two or three scores, and we’re like, okay, now’s the time to buckle down and get with it, and I think we allowed another two touchdowns within—I mean, West Virginia was scoring all over the place that game. So we just turned the TV off, and we didn’t speak for the rest of the night. It was tough.
SOS: What non-playoff win stands out in your memory?
Justin: Two years ago, we were playing the Cubs in the regular season, and it was just one of those frustrating nights, the ball didn’t seem to bounce our way, nothing really happened, and then the ninth inning with two outs, Jhonny Peralta hits a line drive over the left-center field wall in Wrigley Field.
And it was just awesome to see Wrigley Field so pumped and excited, and then the air was let out of that place. And I think if I remember correctly, they went on to win it in the 10th. Which, it’s kind of funny that that’s a baseball game, because one out of 162, but that one stuck out in my mind.
Another one I remember… I was at Bank of America Stadium the year before we made the big run, and we went 12-4, and it was when we played the Saints, in the monsoon game. And literally, I was up in the upper deck and couldn’t even see the field, because the rain was so bad. It was that bad. But that kind of like Cam (Newton)’s emergence, leading us to a division title and stuff, and that game sealed the NFC South for us. That was awesome.
Ryan: This is going to be a little off the grid…
SOS: That’s the point of the question.
Ryan: I think it was two or three years ago, South Carolina basketball was in the SEC Tournament as like a 13-seed, and all of a sudden they won a couple of games and made it to the quarterfinals and lost there. It wasn’t a great season, but those two wins, I think were against Auburn and another crappy team in the SEC, but it was like—in my opinion those wins were big, because I was like, “hey look, we’re winning in the tournament.” It was symbolic to the fact that it was going to get better. So at the time, obviously, it’s not a huge deal when a 13-seed beats a 12-seed, or something like that, it’s not a big deal…
SOS: But the next day beat a 5-seed, I think. I want to say it was Arkansas.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s like wow, here we are, it’s a game that didn’t really matter but it gave me hope as a fan.
Garrett: When Deshaun (Watson) snapped the losing streak against (South) Carolina, and he was playing on, what, a torn ACL, and it was a home game, in fairness, but five losses in a rivalry that heated, in a row, that was like being able to breathe air again.
SOS: What non-playoff loss stands out, or “still stings”?
Justin: Any time we lose to Duke, I hate it. I almost treat the Duke games like playoff games. And obviously there’s playoff losses that sting, but just regular season games—there’s always a game that where like, “man, we had that.”
I also hated when (the Panthers) lost to Atlanta, when we went 15-1. That really stung. Because I really thought, “we’re going to go undefeated this year.” Only two games away from doing it, and then to win in the fashion we did in Week 17, it would’ve been nice to have won in Week 16.
Ryan: This is going to go way back. Wow, it must have been ’03 or ’04. The Cubs were playing the Brewers at Miller Park. Craig Counsell hit a leadoff home run, and the Brewers won the game 1-0.
I watched that entire game as a 10-year old, like, come on, come on, let’s get a run, like, can we score a run, because the pitching was great, and that game still stands out, because, like, the first inning home run, you can get so much time to come back, you’ve still got 24 outs to work with, and…. no. That loss stands out. It didn’t affect anything, but that’s a non-championship, non-playoff loss that stands out.
Garrett: The one that’s freshest on my mind is the loss to Pitt this year, because we were the better football team, we were at home, we should’ve won that game.
But we were kind of resting on how good we were supposed to be, and not actually playing to our full potential, and I think had we won that game we wouldn’t have won the national championship.
SOS: Who is one team that didn’t win a championship that you are particularly fond of?
Justin: I loved the 2013 Cardinals. I thought that team was loaded. I still think we were the best team that year. I loved our bullpen, going seventh, eighth and ninth, with (Kevin) Seagrist, (Carlos) Martinez and (Trevor) Rosenthal; I was like, “man, you get us in the seventh inning with the lead, it’s ballgame.”
I loved that team, and I hate that—I feel like it was one of those things that we just didn’t play well in the World Series, and it happens. I loved that team, and obviously the Panthers two years ago. That was a fun team to watch. Cam (Newton) doing Cam things that we’d never seen before, that was a lot of fun.
But that Cardinal team was good, man. I remember going into the World Series, and obviously, 2011 was different, because we snuck in to the Wild Card and just got hot at the right time, but 2013 I was like, “man, this is the best team I’ve seen us put together in a while.” So just, it just kind of sucked to lose it, because I felt like we were so good, but that happens, man—sports.
SOS: Yeah, to win a World Series you’ve got to play well for a whole month. You have an off week, you’re done.
Justin: It happens.
Ryan: Does it have to be a team that’s my favorite team?
SOS: Not necessarily.
Ryan: Because, there’s a handful of those teams that I just… I think the Tampa Bay Rays, back in 2008, when they made the World Series. It was with their low-payroll, low-everything, no really big superstars, but they found a way to win games, and it was kind of cool to watch that small market team that hadn’t been in the league that long just kind of come out of nowhere with guys that were fun to watch and just enjoying the game. That’s probably my favorite non-championship team.
I could say the 2015 Cubs, too, (once the rebuilding team was respectable), but there wasn’t that connection yet with those players. It was still bits and pieces, and like it wasn’t quite there yet. It was all magical anyway, we shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs that year.
Garrett: I’d have to give it to the ’15 Tigers, the ones that lost the championship game. They’re the ones that kind of finally shed the underperforming label, because we could’ve won the ACC as many times as we wanted to and that would always just be “all you can do is win the ACC.”
I remember, like in the 24 hours after we lost that game (to Alabama), I saw probably three or four different think pieces on how much respect people had for Clemson after that game. It just was like the perception of who Clemson was and what we could accomplish kind of just changed overnight after that game.
Tomorrow in Part II, our roundtable will discuss the panelists’ favorite players to watch, who they wish they could’ve watched, and crazy things they’ve done and seen as a fan.