Being a sports fan your entire life and getting older is a weird thing. I had a memory pop up on my Facebook the other day from 2012 when I let all my friends and family know I was rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. KD and Russell Westbrook were 23 then, and I was 13. It's hard to think that the two were my current age when I became such a big fan of the duo. To accomplish something like that at 23 seems insane.
Growing up, we idolize athletes. I remember being eight years old, going to the first Hickory Ridge High School football game, and having one of the players give me a high five after the game felt like I had met the biggest celebrity in Hollywood. Before I could blink, I was a Hickory Ridge football player. The players that were once like Hollywood Celebrities were now my best friends at my house, playing Madden and raiding my mom's pantry on the weekends. I blinked again, and my playing days were over, but the Hickory Ridge Football players were now young kids in the community who, in my head, are still 12 years old. So in about ten years, my perspective had gone from Carolina Panthers to my best friends and me acting a fool on Fridays to peewee.
The last time I went to a Hickory Ridge game, I couldn't find the feeling I had when I was eight years old and a fan of the team. It was different because I wasn't idolizing the players. Instead, I sat there and thought about how big those moments on the field felt to those players and felt what I imagine a proud father feels like when his kid hits their first home run. I was proud.
Once I got to college and worked with the Western Carolina Football Team, some of the feelings I had as a player in high school came back. The Catamounts had defeated their rival, the East Tennessee Buccanneers, and myself, along with a few of my classmates who were players, celebrated until we were too tired to carry on. That energy carried over into our classes and gave us something to bond over.
Once I graduated from college, watching college football gave me the same feeling watching high school football gave me. That was until I fell in love with an Oklahoma Sooners fan.
One thing I have learned about Oklahoma Sooners fans over the last nearly two years is that they are freaking crazy about their Sooners. Not just the football team but the entire athletics department. There's a sense of community that stems from the school in Norman that I have never witnessed before. When their team loses, it impacts the entire fanbase deeply. It took me a while to buy in, but as a new Oklahoma fan, it's been nice having a community around you to feed off.
Being a die-hard can be difficult as you get older if you have nobody to share those feelings with. It can be difficult being a die-hard for teams where most of the athletes are younger than you, but your teams are still your teams. You just have to find a new reason to root for them.