Over the last couple of weekends, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus has been bustling and vibrant as masses of Husker fans and guest football fans from out of state gravitated to Memorial Stadium to cheer their teams on. As someone who's the total opposite of a football fanatic, I usually have no idea there's a football game scheduled until my friends and I are stuck in traffic for half an hour, trying to find an open route to our residence hall, only to learn that most streets have been closed prior to the game.
I don't pride myself on being the biggest football fan, but I grew up in a family of football enthusiasts whose conversations always managed to find a way to my ears, even when football was the last thing on my mind.
Consequently, I have always been up to date with the latest football news, even when I hadn't made any effort to be. Rwandan football is what Americans would call soccer. Although Rwandan soccer and American football are a lot different, they do have some things in common.
One commonality is the countless number of die-hard fans who abandon everything on game day and apprehensively show up as early as they can manage with hopes of going home victorious. An unfaltering loyalty keeps them glued to their team even when it is barely playing up to their high expectations.
I used to have a hard time understanding why anybody would obsess over something as simple as a football game, a 60-minute event whose ending is definitely out of their control and, sometimes, doomed to be disappointing.
In Rwanda, I had never taken any interest in soccer teams until one of my mother's friends, a big soccer fan, asked me what my favorite soccer team was. At the age of seven, I barely knew of any Rwandan soccer teams. However, noticing my confusion, her daughter, who was also my childhood best friend, chipped in and gave me options: are you a fan of APR F.C. or Rayon Sports?
The two options that she gave me had always been and still are the major soccer teams that most Rwandans bet on. When the question was asked, my face turned blank, as I had never bothered to learn anything about the two teams. However, the daughter noticed the blankness on my face and tried to help.
"What she means is, ‘Are you a fan of APR F.C. or Rayon Sports F.C?’" she explained. Her explanation didn't help that much since I hadn't the slightest idea of how good either of the teams was.
However, in an attempt to not look stupid, I made a lucky guess.
"Rayon Sports," I muttered. "My favorite team is Rayon-" I was halfway through my sentence when the woman's thick arms wrapped around me and she exclaimed at how glad she was that we were fans of the same team. I hadn't put much thought or effort into my choice of a team — rather, I had chosen the one whose name was easier to pronounce.
However, spending two years in Nebraska has reminded me of the die-hard fan spirit and, for some reason, I have gained increasing admiration for it. I will have to admit that at first, I was the most skeptical person about people depriving themselves of their well-deserved sleep to spend a third of their weekend at a game, the outcome of which was never guaranteed to be in their favor. Yet, with time, I have grown to admire their courage and partake in the same loyalty as I've watched the Huskers face other teams.
"Why does anyone bet their happiness on an outcome that's entirely independent of their input and dependent on some players’ speed, talent or luck?" I used to wonder. However, in one of the classes that I am taking this semester, I was lucky to learn that as humans, we get bored so quickly with mundanity, and more often than we'd like to admit, we need some source of excitement.
As a result, watching football after a week of hard work satisfies our need for pleasure and indulgence, making us happier about life.
"Life is too short to spend it in a sulky mood," I've often heard people say, and I couldn't agree more.
At times, we football non-enthusiasts can't help but wonder whether all the fuss on game day is worth it. However, as the world gets busier and schedules become tighter, all humankind should realize that they are more similar than they are often willing to admit.
At the end of a hard day's work, we are all looking for something to alleviate our stress, help us relax and remind us that we are still in the world of the living. For some people, that thing is football. Although living in a state that gives this much value to football hasn't converted me into a football fan — at least not yet — it has taught me to be considerate of other people's tastes no matter how unorthodox they may appear. Having learned that, on game day, I get as excited as any other hardcore Husker fan would be.
Divine Mbabazi is a junior integrated science major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.