Gregory Krieg, special to ABC News On Campus, blogs: Two weeks ago, I walked out on the University of Maryland basketball team. On Saturday, with some company, I reversed course and chased the lads 350 miles southwest to Charlottesville’s John Paul Jones Arena, home to the University of Virginia’s lowly Cavaliers. It was the 2008-09 regular season finale, and a match that the Terps, stuck at a game under .500 in the ACC, absolutely had to win to keep alive any realistic hope for an NCAA Tournament berth. Naturally, they lost.
Another 350 miles later and I’m over it. Almost. Losing important early March basketball games: that’s what Maryland does! And crab cakes. Our mission today is more significant. With this weekend’s misery still fresh in mind, I’ve fashioned for you, dear reader, a guide to supporting your team in a hostile environment — a primer on staying safe, keeping some pride (win or lose, and by average, the latter is more likely), and avoiding any unnecessary dealings with local law enforcement.
Part One: Being There
The savvy traveling fan arrives with a thorough knowledge of the home side, its players — this includes a catalogue of off-field embarrassment and malfeasance, should it exist — and the city hosting the game. The contests might not always unfold as we hope, but that’s no reason to sit idly by and absorb verbal abuse from the sodden mule three rows back, who, in his infinite kindness, begins wishing you a “Good ride home!” well before the score is settled. Example: Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Students and fans in Charlottesville hold him in the highest regard, and for good reason. But there are some, shall we say, unsavory details in his personal biography. Know them. Just in case. Part Two: Pre-game It’s also important, preferably before the game begins, to take a thorough survey of your section. If possible, keep “the play” in front of you. That is, don’t get into it with the idiot sitting three rows back. You won’t know he’d decided to dump his drink on you until the ice cubes are running down your shorts. Example: Not more than two minutes into Saturday’s game, it became clear we’d been seated in the amateur referees’ section — a real zoo, zebras everywhere. Red-shirted buoys bobbing in the Orange Virginian tide, my friend and I were taking a fair bit of stick from a zebra three rows back (not to be confused with his pal, the mule.) If they were sitting six rows lower, we might have engaged. But given their [physical] high ground, we demurred. Having the early lead made this a tolerable option. Part Three: And we’re off! You’ve traveled six hours to get here and don’t you know it, your boys have jumped out to an early seven-point advantage. This is only going to get better, right? Wrong! It may turn out well in the end, but you don’t want to start crowing too early. Cheer the team, there’s nothing wrong with that, but remember, whatever you give now will come back to you 30-fold when the worm turns. And it always does. Example: Not so veiled reference here. The Terps started the game on a 17-6 run. Virginia is not having a good year, and looked about ready to fold the proverbial tent. But we knew better and kept mostly quiet. A good choice as it turns out, for two hours later, when Virginia’s Mamadi Diane drilled the game-winning three-pointer, we were able to shuffle out the building in relative peace. There were no scores to settle. Part Four: Heat of the battle For the less evolved, the less diplomatic among us, be warned: no matter who “started it” or who “got the worst of it,” you, the visitor, are the one with the target on your back when security arrives. It’s simple math, really. Ten thousand people in orange and you, red-nosed and red-shirted. Enjoy the sucker punches and kidney shots on the way out.
Example: Just take my word on this. The regular customers get the benefit of the doubt, even when there’s no doubt. Part Five: Game Over We won! You earned this. If you want to scream and yell on the way out, best do it while on the move. And keep your head on a swivel. There’s always one guy willing, perhaps hoping, for a chance to poleax the giddy opposition. We lost! Unlike the mundane humiliations that have become a trademark of your personal and professional lives, this is a sharper blow. As the home fans are likely to note, you have a long ride home.