Over the past week or so, I’ve been wrestling inside my own head with the questions of why I’m so excited about this week’s Bassmaster Classic. I go through the same process every year about this time, getting hyped up for a tournament that I’m not participating in, only watching. While I will get paid to be there, I have no direct financial stake in the outcome, and truth be told I’d probably be just as excited if I was there exclusively as a fan (please don’t tell Bowman that).
It’s not necessarily for the rainbows and giggles. It’ll be long days, working from 5am until 9 or 10pm, usually in horrific weather. I will be sitting in a boat watching other people fish. I can’t stress enough how painful that is when fishing is the one thing in the world that you love to do most. Most anglers, even true fans of the sport, would rather fish than watch others do the same. By the end of the week, I will be fried. Remember, I take vacation from my day job to do this, and by Sunday or Monday I’ll be vowing to use that limited vacation time next year to go to El Salto or Clear Lake or Costa Rica instead of signing up for another round of voluntary torture.
As a true bass geek, there’s a thrill in being that close to the action. I’ve been the closest boat when multiple Classic winners – including Chris Lane, Casey Ashley, Cliff Pace and KVD (twice) -- hoisted the winning fish over the rubrail. In and of itself, is that enough to push the excitement meter to where it currently sits at 10? Perhaps not, but it’s definitely a piece in the puzzle.
Coincidentally, this week I read a book by Pulitzer Prize winner and former Sports Illustrated reporter George Dohrmann called “Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom.” He interviewed all sorts of freakish sports fans for his book, everyone from those obsessed with Portland’s Major League Soccer team, to people who dress up like Purple and Gold Vikings on frigid Minnesota Sundays, to devotees who create shrines in their houses to their favorite athletes or teams. For the most part he doesn’t judge, preferring to try to figure out what makes them all tick.
Near the end of the book, though, he does make a foray into “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” fandom:
During my time talking to fans around the country, rarely did anyone talk about the joy they got from going to games and seeing great athletes at work. There was too much at stake, too much of their identity tied up in a team, too much of their self-esteem in play, for people to stop and consider how lucky they were to witness Tom Brady or Kevin Durant or other elite athletes at their best.
The fan who he singles out as purest or healthiest, even though he’s obsessive about one particular team, “never loses sight of the pure joy he feels watching (a favorite athlete) play.”
I’d like to think that that’s who I am. Yes, I have biases – anglers who I respect and greatly enjoy working with, others who I’d be happy to never see them again – but I’d also like to think that I recognize the pure moments of greatness that we so often see during the Classic. It might only be a few minutes on Day One, or it might be a brilliant move that leads to a slight cull as Sunday winds down, but they happen every Classic. I’ll be there for a week, much of it leading up to the event and not comprised of any actual fishing, but I’m excited because I am going to see the best anglers in the world, on the sport’s biggest stage, and there will be brilliance. I hope I can step back for that brief moment and recognize it and experience the pure joy that every angler should feel at watching someone transcend his peers, even for just a short time.