AP Photo/DOUG McSCHOOLER
Everybody experiences disappointment in their lives; learning Santa and the Easter Bunny aren’t real (spoiler alert), getting a worse grade on a test than you thought you would, not getting that promotion at work, and dozens of other experiences we all have. Those disappointments usually happen once maybe twice in a lifetime. What if I told you there are a group of individuals that experience the same disappointment year after hapless year? Yes, my friends, I’m talking about Indiana University football fans, fans of the program with the most losses in FBS history with 672 in 131 agonizing seasons, eleven more than Northwestern. With another disappointing season coming to an end in Bloomington I asked myself “Why do I even care about this team anymore? Am I crazy?” Me being crazy is an easy answer but figuring out why I care so much year after year is much more complicated.
IU football is a disappointment even the smartest of Hoosiers can’t resist. Is it an average of 5.13 losses per season? No. Is it the sole Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl appearance over 50 years ago? No, but you’re getting closer. Maybe the 41-74-6 record against arch-rival Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game? Sorta. What makes IU football what it is today is the annual hope for the best (AKA a bowl game), only to be followed by an agonizing, mistake-ridden fall from the precipice of winning 6(!) games to blowing it in the last 3 weeks of the season to finish with 4 or 5 wins, miss a bowl and “reset and regroup” for the next year.
I grew up a Hoosiers fan. My great-grandfather was a chemistry professor at IU in the early 1900s, my grandfather and great-uncle both graduated from IU. I have two older brothers and cousins who graduated from IU: I bleed Cream and Crimson. And that’s where the problem begins. IU fans like me are a proud, passionate group of people, raised from their earliest days to root for the Glory of Old IU. Memorial Stadium may not be routinely full, especially in the student section, but the alumni are always there in full voice, rooting on their cursed alma mater. Our passion leads to a hopeless hope year after year after fruitless year. No Power 5 program has lower expectations for their football program than Indiana University. Win 6 games, go to a bowl and hopefully win that bowl. Easy, right? Nope. In my 21 years on Earth, the Hoosiers have gone bowling three times. The yearly disappointment of 4-8, 5-7 seasons should lessen the passion fans have for the program, and in many cases it does. The majority, however, can’t escape this modern form of psychological torture. We talk about our “prized” three-star recruits, cross our fingers we can get that one uncommitted four or five-star recruit from Indiana to come to IU and change the program. We know the program is cursed, but we just don’t give a damn. We study the rosters, learn the players’ names and strengths, fantasize about beating the Big Ten blue bloods, calculate how we can reach six games, and still finish the season 5-7, rinse and repeat.
But why we care so much about a below average program that has no chance to compete in one of the top conferences in college football has nothing to do with the program itself. It’s the people and a different kind of hope that we as fans collectively create year after year. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, once said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” Superficially IU football fans hope lies in what happens on the field, but our real hope, the light through the darkness that hangs over Hoosiers football, lies in the community of fans that descend upon the grass lots outside Memorial Stadium for six Saturdays a year. It’s the smiles on the faces of young kids who are coming to their first IU game. It’s Fred Glass’s copious fireworks during pre-game. The band. The Taaka. All of it. Football Saturdays are reunions for old friends, Greek brothers and sisters, families and a community united by collective suffering. We just can’t get enough of this town, our people and our stupid team.