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Why I’m a fan

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NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Hi! My story about being a fan ends up in an unexpected place, and I like to write it down occasionally. The Why We’re Fans stories are a good excuse to do that.

I remember watching the Snow Bowl, seeing Bledsoe hit a sliding Bobo, who ended up with a face full of snow and a touchdown. My dad’s side of the family was basically all Washington State, so I saw plenty of the Cougs early. There were stars, and a Rose Bowl quarterbacked by Ryan Leaf that still has three seconds left. Bledsoe to Bobo was probably where the fandom took hold, but it was there humming in the background all along.

***

There really wasn’t much of a decision to be made about where I was going to school. Memories of Washington State sports had been seared into my brain from the start, and now, as a kid out of high school, it was the university far enough away to be on your own, but close enough to home to not really be isolated.

So I applied. I had just watched the football team finish off its third 10-win season in a row. They beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl. It was a high point!

I found out I had been accepted during basketball season, while Washington State was playing undefeated Stanford. Matt Lottich hit a shot prayer at the buzzer* to beat the Cougs. That was a lesson I should’ve picked up on at the time.

*I forgot about the five second call and the mad scramble for the ball. This whole thing [kisses fingers]

I still hadn’t been to Pullman, either, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I wasn’t even sure exactly how to get to Pullman, either — I know, I know ... it’s a really, really simple route from Seattle. But all it took was one visit, with beautiful weather, to hook me.

That visit also taught me another valuable lesson — when people tell you not to speed on 26, they mean it. I didn’t survive the radar minefield that is highway 26 on the way home.

Over the next five years (don’t judge), the football team cratered. My fall Saturdays, outside of the first year — when the Cougs were bowl eligible but passed over — were largely filled with blowouts in bad weather. At least that’s the lasting memory (hi USC and Oregon State and many others I think I’ve just forgotten by now).

At least we won an Apple Cup featuring a combined one win.

***

Somewhere along the way I discovered Lookout Landing — probably about 10 years ago now. The Mariners were fine, but the writers, and the people, at LL drew me in. Jeff, Graham and Matthew published brilliant writing daily, and there was a community of people with jokes and thoughts and ... game threads. It made watching games, and commenting in real time, more fun.

I went to school for computer science, graduated, and had no clue what to do. By then, I’d gone from reading and commenting on Lookout Landing to doing the same at Field Gulls and CougCenter — each had authors who were, well ... fans. The topics, the way they wrote, just worked, and better than some of the basics you’d get from TV or the paper.

For whatever reason, Jeff sent me an email one day asking if I wanted to try out to be CougCenter writer. I wrote FanPosts for a week — during an NCAA Tournament that a bunch of us spent hours and hours each day commenting and making jokes. He let me stick around. Now I was writing with Jeff, Craig and Grady — three people who I looked up to and learned so, so much about basketball and statistics from.

Jeff happened to be a journalism teacher and taught me how to write — I’m not sure I was actually forming real sentences at the time, and hadn’t taken an english class since high school. We all figured out how to grow the site, expanding coverage and taking advantage of Pac-10 expansion in the summer.

At the time, SB Nation was launching regionals, and I somehow talked my way into writing for the Seattle one. There, a Trail Blazers fan (Ben Golliver, who shot up the ranks in the basketball writing world) and a Washington State fan found audience writing about Washington football recruiting. I already spent way too much time commenting on all of the local team blogs, and now it was basically my job. I met Dave Clark and Jeremiah Oshan, got to cover the Sounders, and they even let me write about soccer. All of the Seattle team sites are incredible, and I was spoiled to work alongside them.

Suddenly I was working a night shift at SBNation.com, running the site by myself. One thing led to another and over the next year I worked longer shifts, directing traffic and editorial coverage on SBNation.com. I was hire full-time, and a year later was asked to be the site’s manager editor, working with Spencer Hall — another writer I’d always looked up to — to build up the flagship site. I’ve been there six years now.

Along the way I’ve been lucky enough to read and work with other fans who also happen writers I just enjoy. There’s no better way to improve as a writer than to be pushed by the people around you — Jeff and the CougCenter authors to start, the SB Nation College football team, including my life guide Holly Anderson and Spencer, whose writing leaves me in awe every time, and an incredibly talented group of people. It was like trying to keep up with roadrunners.

So long story short, being a fan got me a job as Managing Editor of a pretty big, pretty great sports brand.

***

I moved to Washington DC four years ago, which again was fantastic timing on my part. As soon as I left Pullman, Washington State made a bowl. I came home for the holidays and watched them ... yeah, you know what happened. The Seahawks won a Super Bowl the first year I was in DC, too. I jumped into the arms of a friend from Wazzu when Richard Sherman tipped that pass in the NFC Championship.

CougCenter, and all of its brilliant writers, has been my connection back to Washington State and Seattle. It’s harder to follow the team here, a product of distance, time zones and just plain time (you haven’t lived until you’ve stayed up until 2 am after desperately trying to find a way to watch Pac-12 Networks). But CougCenter bridged a lot of that gap, and I got to write whatever I wanted on Sunday mornings because nobody was awake to stop me.

It’s easy to forget why you actually love sports when it’s your job to cover them all the time. I was warned early and often that once you peek behind the curtain, and have to spend long days and nights immersed in sports, that it was easy to become jaded, to just not be a fan anymore. And that’s all true, if we’re being honest.

At the same time, it’s the moments that remind me why I’m a fan of it all — like having an awful golf round but hitting one good shot. It’s watching the Super Bowl in an office in DC right after moving away from home, and finally seeing a win. It’s also watching another Super Bowl in that same office and wondering why Marshawn didn’t get a carry.

That last part is important, too, because it’s how we bond. I’ve been reminded of Malcolm Butler’s interception at random, unexpected times since it happened, usually by my staff (Zito, if you’re reading this, go ahead and send me the Vine again). Our Saints fan Editor In Chief reminds our the Falcons fans on staff (there’s a lot) what happened in this year’s Super Bowl weekly. Being a fan is also taking the bad, and the jokes (and dishing it out too), and it makes it all fun.

That’s also why I love CougCenter and SB Nation. At its core, it’s fans talking about what fans want to talk about. There are ups and downs, good days and bad, but there’s something about the shared company that makes it fun. It’s just a really long-running (like 10 years for me, longer for others) conversation at water cooler, except the water cooler is now connected to wifi and serves 15 kinds of water and seltzer.

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