Sports | Sports Columns

ALAM: Being a fan means more than just the present

  • SO CLOSE | Columbia's 1983 men’s soccer team went 18-0 during the regular season. Even though the team lost in the national championship game, it's still one of the best Light Blue teams in history.

Between the women’s and men’s soccer games on Saturday, there was a ceremony to rename Columbia Soccer Stadium in honor of Rocco B. Commisso, SEAS ’71, who played on the team while he was here and has been involved with it since. I hadn’t initially realized that the athletics department had also invited members of the ’83 and ’93 soccer teams to commemorate their accomplishments, 30 and 20 years on, respectively.

The 1983 men’s soccer squad was… I don’t want to say “one of the finest in college sports history,” but “one of the best in Columbia history” strikes me as selling it short. Like the 2007 New England Patriots, the team rolled through the regular season and most of the playoffs with ease, winning all 18 games and outscoring its opponents by a combined 52-6 (including 17-0 in the first five games of the season, and 22-2 in Ivy play). In 2012, that would have left the team with the country’s best offense and second-best defense. In its final tune-up (aka the NCAA Tournament semifinal) before the national championship game that year, the Light Blue hammered UConn—which, coincidentally, beat Columbia Tuesday night—by a score of 4-0.

Also like the 2007 Patriots, the 1983 Columbia team couldn’t get it done in its final game of the season. Without injured Olympian Amr Aly, the Lions just didn’t have enough to really take the game from defending champion Indiana, and they fell 1-0 in double overtime. Loss notwithstanding, though, that team was totally badass.

Why am I telling you this?

When you become a fan of a team, you’re not precluded from enjoying past accomplishments. (See: New York Rangers fans and 1994, Toronto Maple Leafs fans and 1967, Montreal Canadiens fans and 1993… and that’s just in hockey!) In many sports, we see teams go through cycles. Normally, the cycles are short: Build, “win now” and “mortgage the future,” then rebuild. When the cycles are longer, championships from years ago cease to excuse current failure. But that doesn’t mean those past triumphs are meaningless.

A team is not just its current collection of coaches, players, and managers—that viewpoint ignores all the history. If you truly love a team, you should be able to connect with everything that has happened to it, past and present. (Pull up your favorite team’s top moment from the 1980s or earlier on YouTube. If you smile, then you know what I mean.) And in our irrational minds, loyalty to the team through bad times, no matter how long they last, is like paying it back for all the good times—championships before you were born included. 

Moreover, if you are willing to move beyond the level of a superficial sports fan, you’ll see that there are a lot of reasons to enjoy watching your team, even in the midst of nightmarish seasons. Just ask the guys writing about Columbia football every week.

Even though men’s soccer has been pretty good this year, I’ve still written recaps of far more losses than wins for this newspaper. Looking through the Spec archives at some of the glory days is an easy way to cheer up and remind ourselves that Columbia’s athletics program has been meaningful on a national scale in the past—and for teams including fencing, rowing, and baseball, it continues to be. The connection to older and younger fans isn’t merely my misery seeking company—it’s misery seeking, well, the opposite of that.

Thirty years from now, no one is going to want to be the next 2013 Fordham football, or 2014 Harvard men’s basketball. But Columbia’s own 1934 Rose Bowl-winning football team, its 1939 baseball team (which played in the first sporting event on television), and the 1983 men’s soccer team? They’re still going to be pretty cool.

Muneeb Alam is a Columbia College junior majoring in astrophysics and economics. He is the sports columnist deputy for Spectator. Picked Apart runs biweekly. | @muneebalamcu

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