I’ll tell you a secret. Even as the voice of MACtion in SBNation, I wasn’t always a fan. Unlike some on this site, it wasn’t my birthright. I didn’t grow up with little Ball State jerseys in my bassinette or listening to my father angrily rant about the no good dirty Toledo Rockets. No, that was an honor reserved for Louisville, as our house was a house loyal to the Big Blue Nation of Kentucky.
When I was little, I was regaled with stories of Hagan and Beard, Rupp and Issel, and why the basketball moon was hung in Lexington. I wanted to be Rex Chapman, didn’t think Rick Pitino was a bad guy to take your mom to dinner with, and the dirty birds up I-64 were the absolute worst. That was all passed down to me like my brown eyes, sense of sarcasm, and high blood pressure. Thanks, dad.
When I went to college, and joined the ranks of Papa John, Dave Letterman, and the dude that draws Garfield (Jim Davis, in case you were unaware) as Ball State Cardinals, it was a choice to support BSU. That choice wasn’t easy. At first I felt dirty. I felt like I was cheating on my Big Blue first love with someone new. After the first tailgate, I quickly got over that. I was hooked. “Let me get this straight,” I thought. “There is a justifiable reason to listen to music in a parking lot and drink profusely? Go on…”
It’s more than just binge drinking your way through a weekend, though how much more is debatable. It’s really more about the sheer unexpectedness of a mid-major program and appreciating that. Power 5 fans don’t realize what they have. I say that as someone who loves one of the most blue-blooded basketball programs in the country and someone who has worked at several top-level programs. I remember 2012 and Kentucky’s run to the basketball national championship that left me no real sense of joy, only relief. I didn’t enjoy that title, I only enjoyed the fact that Kentucky hit their expected finish. That is not what fandom is supposed to be.
In contrast, 2008 was a year that I will never forget. Week after week the wins piled up as Nate Davis led the Cardinals to a 12-0 regular season and week after week I rode an emotional high and a tremendous sense of wonder of what was possible. Could Ball State actually win out? Would this be the year that a MAC title would make its way to Muncie? Dare I even think about the Cardinals making it to the BCS? I was not a nice person to DC bartenders who refused to switch the channel to ESPN on random Wednesday nights to see the Cardinals rack up W after W after W.
I remember sitting on my patio despondent after the MAC Championship. How could Buffalo have ended this storybook? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Cinderella jams her foot in the glass slipper and runs off into the sunset with Prince Charming, she doesn’t have Turner Gill load her up with appletinis and steal her off to an hourly motel. Yes, I’m still bitter. Yes, I still choose to be. That’s what MACtion does. It starts out as a passing fad and ends up being a part of you and your sports universe.
That’s why I love MACtion. Because I chose to, and it’s a choice I would make again every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Or Wednesday. Or Monday. Or whenever a MAC athletic event finds itself on ESPN.