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The Church of Fandom

Duke fans probably knew this day was coming. Most seasons end in losses, not wins.

But the ‘cruelest month’ came earlier than expected, with the Blue Devils only hanging around for one song of the Big Dance.

The tell-tale signs of defeat were everywhere—jerseys strewn on dorm-room floors, empty gazes, angry hashtags and the staggering silence settling across campus.

But how do we justify and rationalize fanaticism when a team can lose like Duke did Friday, sending an entire campus into distress, despair and depression?

Wouldn’t it be easier to have never been a fan in the first place?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I can say that I believe in fandom because it’s akin to religion for me. I believe in something greater than myself—I’m not quite sure why—and I know it can be my rock and my redeemer during my lowest lows and highest highs.

I know when moments like Friday’s loss happen, I am not alone in my misery. Nothing compares to the camaraderie that is born from willingly submitting to becoming a part of something that my own will cannot affect.

Would you jump up and down and paint yourself blue if you stood alone in the student section? The comradeship seals the deal—the Crazies wrap their arms around each other during the alma mater after each game, win or lose.

As much as I cared about the team, carried out my superstitions and yelled at the television screen, when Duke tipped off against Lehigh I had no say in the outcome. But I was similarly powerless when Austin Rivers hit arguably the greatest shot in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry Feb. 8, capping a miraculous comeback with a moment we will never forget.

As Jimmy Fallon’s character says in the movie “Fever Pitch”—a film that probably only makes sense to sports fanatics and suckers for romantic comedies—“It’s good for your soul to invest in something that you can’t control.”

Friday night’s clouds of misery form the flood of doubt for why it makes sense to be a fan, but in the distance a rainbow marks the hope that the future holds.

For every awkward silence after this year’s home loss to North Carolina, there was a crushed beer can next to the remnants of a bonfire after last year’s victory.

And the agonies of loss make the spoils of the next victory that much greater.

I have to believe this as a sports fan, rooting for teams that over my lifetime have made a reputation out of being perennial losers. I don’t take pride in this, it’s just a fact. I root for the Mets, Jets and Knicks—teams so messed up that we end up talking more about their off-field issues than their on-field potential.

None of those teams has won a championship in my lifetime, and I’ll consider myself lucky if and when they do. Everything we go through makes our bonds as fans that much closer, because as the tunnel grows longer, the light at the end of it only grows brighter.

When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, breaking a drought of 86 years without a title, surely the rare nectar of victory for their fans was sweeter than it is for Yankees supporters who get a taste seemingly every other year.

Hardship spawns great moments at Duke, too. The lore of the 2010 national championship begins with that team’s seniors getting bounced from the opening round of the tournament as freshmen in 2007.

The Class of 2012 has never experienced an AP poll in which Duke was not in the top 10. The hallmark of Blue Devil basketball is its success, but crushing losses teach us that winning should not be an expectation or a privilege, but something special.

We must treasure the few moments that make it all worth it, because they are the dividends of our suffering. The glory of the 2010 national championship. The euphoria of the 2011 comeback in Cameron over the Tar Heels. The pride in Coach K’s 903rd win. And Rivers’ shot heard ’round the Triangle.

And as I have to sit around for the next half year without any Duke basketball to watch, I thought it was important to remind myself why I’m a fan.

I don’t necessarily believe it’s always darkest before dawn, but I believe that the darker it gets, the brighter dawn will feel. And that’s how I can get through times like these: It can feel awfully stupid to care so much about something so heart-breaking, but let’s learn from yesterday and hope for tomorrow.

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