College football is about so many things.
It’s about young men finding themselves on a football field. It’s about a community of alumni and local enthusiasts to come together. It’s about triumph, failure, connection and hope.
Of course, it is about a lot of ugly things, too. It’s about money, TV deals, conference alignment, BCS controversy, kids losing their way, adults using them, too.
But some days, it is just about the sunshine, lining up against each other on the turf and playing ball — and letting some of us non-athletes enjoy it.
That’s how I felt Tuesday afternoon when I attended Washington Huskies practice with Janey Mills, a season-ticket holder since 1958.
Janey, a retired teacher and grandmother, became a fan when Jim Owens took over a not-very-good team while she was attending UW. But things quickly changed. On Janey’s first trip away from home by herself — to Mexico — she stopped in Pasadena to catch the Rose Bowl and watched her Huskies beat Wisconsin. A passion was born.
In all the years Janey has been a fan, she has missed three home games. Three! When her oldest daughter came home with news she had become engaged and was to marry in the fall, Janey nixed the date her daughter had picked. It was a Saturday and the Huskies were playing at home. Her daughter was married on a Sunday.
Janey and her husband Geoff Mills are paying Tyee members, which Janey laughs about. You know, “. . . for the opportunity to purchase” their seats each year. She wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
Tuesday’s scrimmage looked more like a bye-week scrimmage when the non-starters and non-regulars get a lot of repetitions so the coaches can get a good look at them. I have to think Janey was a little disappointed not to see Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jake Locker throw a few more passes, but she sure got a kick out of backup Keith Price‘s 70-yard bomb to Cody Bruns and seemed to soak up the atmosphere.
The Huskies were god-awful when I covered them. They got beat every which way you could think to get beaten. But Janey — and a whole lot of other devoted fans — still showed up at Husky Stadium.
Someone like Janey had seen this program hit previous rock bottoms, like in 1969, or ’73 when the Huskies didn’t win a conference game. Then she jubilantly got spoiled by the Don James era before the post-Rick Neuheisel slide into the Tyrone Willingham years that Huskies fans recently endured.
Fans like Janey could hardly stand the losses, but still they showed up.
Because it’s just what fans do. They stick it out to see guys like Isaiah Stanback and Juan Garcia, like Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Sonny Shackelford, Paul Homer, Evan Benjamin and James Sims — young men who didn’t win many games, but played their hearts out for fans like Janey. In those previous bottom-out years, those fans watched players like Denny Fitzpatrick and Jim Cope. Even when wins were in short supply, these kinds of players never were.
Nor were fans like Janey.
Fandom is an interesting phenomena from a psychological perspective. Most of you know I’m a Pittsburgh fan. I’ve endured 17 consecutive losing seasons from the Pirates on the baseball diamond and plan to root for an accused rapist this year on the NFL gridiron. Who does that?! A fan does.
It’s fun for me to watch someone like Janey Mills get excited over her football team’s prospects — especially after a handful of such dreadful seasons. But what is even more fun for me is to know she supported the players through those dreadful seasons, that she still wanted to be at every game every Saturday, even in the pouring rain when the oddsmakers had Washington as a huge underdog.
Janey and Huskies fans don’t “deserve” a winning team. That’s not for them. That’s for the players who put in the effort and time. But these everlasting fans do deserve that time and effort. Even when the wins aren’t coming, these kinds of fans still deserve and still appreciate that.
That’s what makes a fan a real legend in a program.
That’s what kind of fan Janey is.