The good folks as SI’s new Campus Rush site asked me to write this story on the rare excitement in Philadelphia about Temple football as it plays the biggest game in program history this Saturday night against Notre Dame.
This was a fun story to report, and it inadvertently provided an answer to a question posed the other day on Facebook by a former journalism professor of mine, one I greatly admire. He plays sports more than watches them. But when he does watch, he said, he enjoys excellent play by either team, and he asked people to explain the us-against-them mentality of most fans.
I didn’t weigh in when the discussion was happening—busy writing!—but the short answer is that sports fandom is a tribal behavior. And tribal behavior is something we are less removed from, evolutionarily, that we would like to think. Sebastion Junger, without once mentioning sports, explored this topic in a brilliant Vanity Fair article on PTSD. He argued that part of the difficulty soldiers experience is going from sharing a barracks with 16 guys to coming home and sharing a bedroom with either one or zero people.
Being a fan is a tribal experience, especially if loyalty to a particular team runs through your family. This Temple story gets at that in its way, especially through the lead anecdote, which—spoiler alert!—I come back to at the end. Enjoy!