Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ask Nancy Walker Gemar about sports fanaticism

Can you explain it?

Interviewed by Morris Dean

[Interviewer’s Note: My friend Nancy Walker Gemar, whom I knew in high school as Nancy Walker and only recently got in touch with again, after 55 years, told me that she was in Chapel Hill for a Duke-UNC football game in 2009, when I was still working at UNC General Administration. She said that she and her friends whom she was visiting spent the next day touring the UNC campus and checking out the hot spots on Franklin Street.
    But she also wanted to see Duke University, so they went there “and the three of us went into the chapel. Tom refused to walk on the campus because of his overwhelming hatred for Duke! He sat in the car while Dianne and I checked out the campus. That’s what you call a ‘loyal son’!!”….

I innocently remarked, Ridiculous, isn’t it? Sports fanaticism.
    Actually, I understand it!! I am a huge college sports fan. I have been watching Bowl games since 8:00 am. Not a real fan of the pros except golf and tennis.

Ooh, sorry, not ridiculous! I’m delighted to have discovered someone who understands it. Please explain it to me. Why do you spend hours watching college bowl games? Do you care who wins? Why?
    To paraphrase Lou Holtz: “If you are a college football fan, no explanation is necessary. If you are not a fan, no explanation will suffice.” I do care who wins most games. The reasons vary. Did you ever go to a basketball game at UNC? Talk about fans.

I went to two or three basketball games in the 25 years we lived in Chapel Hill. Apparently Duke fans are even more fanatical. The “Cameron Crazies.” I have been to zero UNC football games.
    You are right about the Duke fans. They are pretty crazy.
    You were at UNC during the Michael Jordan era. Did you see him play? I saw him play one game when he was with the Bulls. Pretty amazing athlete.

I think I saw UNC’s Michael Jordan team play once. Even if you can’t “explain” sports fanaticism to me, can you verbalize why you spend hours watching college bowl games and why you care who wins?
    I’ll try. It is a lot like trying to explain why you are religious.
    First of all, you need to know that I am a hard core Notre Dame fan. Have been for 60 years. ND’s football program has been great, super great, bad, and really bad over the last 127 years. There are schools that are their arch rivals so I always want those teams to lose no matter who they are playing. USC, Michigan, Florida State, and Alabama are among that group.
    Being from California, I like the Pac-12. I root for UCLA and Stanford. That leaves 10 teams that I want to lose. Then there is the ranking game. If Notre Dame is in the top 25, I want every team above them to lose.
    I was interested in a few games yesterday. Wanted Marshall to win because of the tragedy the school had years ago.* Always root for Marshall. Washington and Washington State are in the-Pac 12 (see above). Wanted Duke to win because they have always been known as a basketball school and they have had pretty good teams the last few years. The Virginia Tech game was the last one under the coach they have had for 27 years so wanted him to go out a winner. UCLA over Nebraska (see above).
    That was just yesterday. I’m not going to go through all 40 of them. Let’s just say that I have some reason that I want one team to win over the other. It is really based on emotion (like-dislike) more than anything.
    Not sure if this makes any sense but it’s the best I can do to explain sports fanaticism to you.

That makes sense to me.
    I would like to add why I believe college sports are such a big deal. You are dealing with kids, both male and female. You never know what they are going to do. A huge underdog can have an out-of-this-world day and take down Goliath. Case in point: A few years ago, Appalachian State goes into Michigan’s 110,000 seat “big house” and wins the game. I was watching the game and all of the announcers were asking, “Where is Appalachian State?” I’m yelling at the TV, “It’s in Boone!!!” I knew that because I had been there.
    Another reason is that each kid has a story. They are all at a certain school because some coach sat in their kitchen to convince them to attend their school. Team members truly care about one another.
    The atmosphere on college campuses is also special. Tradition plays such a large part in the spirit of college games. The band, the fight song, the cheerleaders, and of course, the screaming fans all go together to make “game day” the day it is. Notre Dame’s fight song is one of the most recognized tunes in America. I could go on, but you get the idea.
* From
On November 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying most of the Marshall University football team clips a stand of trees and crashes into a hillside just two miles from the Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia. The team was returning from that day’s game, a 17-14 loss to East Carolina University. Thirty-seven Marshall football players were aboard the plane, along with the team’s coach, its doctors, the university athletic director and 25 team boosters–some of Huntington, West Virginia’s most prominent citizens–who had traveled to North Carolina to cheer on the Thundering Herd. “The whole fabric,” a citizen of Huntington wrote later, “the whole heart of the town was aboard.”
Copyright © 2015 by Nancy Walker Gemar, Morris Dean


  1. Nancy, Dave Frederickson tried to comment. As he told me: Interesting Interview, Morris... I did attempt to Comment... But it seems to have disappeared into "Google Space"!

    1. Dave adds: My main point, that her answers all make sense; plus a couple of other elements: a competitive spirit and a sense of traditional loyalties... Often carry-overs from youthful experiences.

  2. Comments rolling in, but on Facebook, alas! From Bonnie Anderson: I understand what she is saying. We need to be a part of our favorite team and follow the kids even after college. We recently attended our grandsons graduation from Texas Tech and what a football town. You can feel the excitement everywhere you go!

  3. well...I get wife Jan is a sports fan, mostly a fan of individual players, professionals in particular. The afore mentioned M. Jordan, Larry Fitzgerald (AZ Cards), Russel Wilson, (Seahawks QB), Blake Griffin (LA Clippers), etc. One thing I've always appreciated about you Nancy is your heart for stuff - you are not ambivalent about anything. You either like it or hate it! Good for you! Appreciate your passion for college football. We too enjoy the Pac 10, UCLA, Stanford. One thing i like about college sports is the over-the-top enthusiasm of the fans and the energy of the players in football and basketball. Our local Cal Poly teams are not Pac 10, but that does not keep the players from giving their all. Jan's also an avid pro tennis fan, particularly Rafa Nadal and Andre Aggasi. So, again, good for you Nancy, glad you are in your element with the bowl games this season.

  4. Blogger can seem daunting to new commenters. Many commenters just select "Comment as" Anonymous and "sign" their name in the body of their comment. Or select "Comment as" Name/URL" and give their name in the "Name" field (leaving the "URL" field blank). In any case, ALWAYS copy the text of your comment to the pasteboard prior to clicking "Preview" or "Publish," in case the comment goes into "Google Land," and you need to re-enter it. (I always do this myself.)

  5. Met Nancy Walker in Kindergarten and were friends through elementary, junior high and high school. We reconnected on facebook and tho I really didn't know that she was such a sports fan, it really does fit in with the same Nancy that I grew up with. Great article, by the way.

    1. Thank you, Ron! How affirm- (and confirm-) ative these comments are!

  6. Nice article. I am an avid Packer Backer and love football. Here I also watch the Florida Gators.