I wanted to share some thoughts on a question from Stewart Mandel's mailbag this week:
Longtime reader and podcast follower, first-time writer. One of the great debates is whether to follow a team that wins all the time (Florida, USC, etc.) or follow a team that wins big once in a blue moon (like the Northwestern team that went to the Rose Bowl that you talk about a lot). Which is the more rewarding type to follow, in your opinion, for a neutral party?
-- Elijah Abram, Washington D.C.
I saved this one for last because it's a fascinating question -- so much so that I'd be curious to hear opinions from the readers.
Personally, I've always been drawn to the underdog. I've felt sorry at times for friends of mine who root for, say, Ohio State, for whom reaching the national title game in 2006 and '07 caused more grief than joy. The Florida fans in my office seemed downright miserable most of last season even before that Alabama loss, because nothing short of outright domination was good enough for that team. But it's also no coincidence that the teams with the largest national fan bases, whether it's Michigan and Notre Dame in football or Duke and North Carolina in basketball, are the teams that have traditionally won the most games.
So which would you prefer if picking a team from scratch: Rooting for an underdog with modest expectations for whom the occasional championship is a pleasant surprise, or rooting for a perennial power for whom championships are expected and anything less is a disappointment?
Cool thing about being an Oregon fan? We get the best of both worlds.
We're going to have a winning team almost every year. Our rise in the last decade and a half into a perennial top-15 team has been nothing short of phenomenal. But we are no doubt a perennial top-15 team. And the benefit of that is that we are going to win a lot of games. We expect that, and something like a 5-7 season isn't going to fly here.
But, despite recent success, we still overall have very little in the way of positive history. Although we expect to win 9-10 games a year, we can still revel in them because, in the grand scheme of things, we haven't had a lot of them. Most people my age still remember how big of a deal it was to just beat Washington, or go to an Independence Bowl. Were we disappointed about losing the Rose Bowl? Sure. But it was ecstacy that we even got there.
To use Mandel's examples, we have made ourselves into an Ohio State. But we can still enjoy the success like we're Northwestern. And its something very unique to this time. My kids will grow up with a powerhouse Oregon program. They won't know about a bottom-feeder Oregon except for in the stories I tell them. Their Oregon will be an Ohio State. My Oregon will always be that little team that did something really special.
And there's something really damn cool about that.