This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
One of the delightful and somewhat eccentric aspects of the American sports landscape is that there are sports bars dedicated to highly popular school and pro programs all over the country. If you bleed the blood of America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, but you have left the lone-star state, you can find kinship every Sunday in many faraway places. Right here in the San Fernando Valley, there's a Cowboys saloon where rabid fans pack the place every Sunday from late summer to winter. Nobody enters the place without at the very least a Cowboys cap, but more likely they've got the jersey, some flags, and a few guys (grown men, mind you) even show up in full-on pads and helmet. While others are praying in church at 10am kick-off time, these folks bow to the revered Cowboys star.
And there are similar Cowboys sanctuaries in similar neighborhoods from Florida to Chicago to upstate New York. Same for the Giants, the Jets, the Steelers, the Redskins, the Raiders, the '49ers, the Eagles.
Last Saturday, I went with a few die-hard University of Florida fans to an establishment here in Marina del Rey to catch not only the biggest Florida game of the year, but the game that perhaps should have been the National Championship. The Gators faced the Crimson Tide of Alabama and this place was super-charged. A crowd of maybe 300 people sounded like a stadium of several thousand. My ears were ringing for 24 hours afterwards. The 'Bama game happened to be a good one, two strong teams not committing many turnovers. But the thing about these bars is that none of these people are rooting for a close game. They love a blowout. Whereas home audiences leave their television sets during the second half of a lopsided game, not so for the Cowboys or Gators radicals. Florida can be winning by four touchdowns and those good people are still wearing their Gator schnozzes, chomping their outstretched arms in a fervent Gator Chop, and chanting "Come on Gators, Get Up and Go" right down to the final whistle.
It's true that as an outsider you don't seem to understand the blatant lack of objectivity and lack of humor at these dedicated team sports bars. No call against their beloved team is ever right. Booming boos echo at each and every such call. And if you make the mistake of smiling, or God forbid laughing, at any moment when their team is down, you are reviled and openly chastised. But, as an outsider, I will admit that the experiences I've enjoyed at these watering holes has been a reminder to me. I tend to watch weekend games for the quality of competition. I'm not a true fan of any one team in any sport. But it's these fans, the loyal Cowboys and Gators fanatics, who fuel the spirit of these teams. And every now and then, even as an outsider, it's more than fun. It's inspiring to be doing the Gator chop right alongside them.
Let me finish with a note about Michelle Wie today. Wie is 19 now and has just qualified for her official LPGA card. She'll finish her winter quarter at Stanford and then play the women's pro golf tour full time. It was seven long years ago when Wie, a then seventh-grader, embarked on riveting the golf world with such feats as leading early rounds of three LPGA majors and reaching the quarterfinals of the men's U.S. Amateur Public Links. But the high hopes of the prodigy crumbled as she fractured her wrists and met dark moments out on the course. She missed the cut on her eight tries on the men's tour. And she was soundly criticized for not officially qualifying for most of the tournaments she played. Of the 62 she entered in the last seven years, she was invited into 53 of them, rather than earning her way. It just goes to show that a super talent who bangs onto the scene at age 12 can afford a few missteps because, even after seven years of snafus, she's only 19 with a chance to start her career anew.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image of Alabama v Florida at the 2008 SEC Championship: Cory Johnson