Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Cavs' finest? Look local

The University of Virginia football program announced an interesting contest this past week. It's a fun little competition, a creative marketing idea, a nice gesture, and it got me thinking about fandom.

Essentially, new coach Mike London wants to identify -- and reward -- the most passionate UVa football fans. So he bought 100 season tickets in section 117 of Scott Stadium. He's going to give them away to people who write the best essay.

In 1,000 words or fewer, you have to tell him what makes you the most loyal, passionate UVa football fan, and then explain how you express that exuberance. You also can attach a photo of yourself in your best Cavs get-up.

Now, having judged similar contests myself over the years, I pretty much can tell you who will win this. The submitter of the wackiest photo will be one winner. Somebody who lost his job in the rough economy and no longer can afford season tickets that he'd had since the Nixon administration will be another. So will a little girl who submits her essay in crayon, with a cute, rudimentary drawing of a football and a simple message: "I Heart UVa."

Let's face it: Judges are suckers for such things. There's nothing wrong with that, either. Your contest, your rules.

But in this case, I think these judges ought to consider a system of bonus points. Because if you really want to peg the most loyal, passionate fan of Cavaliers football, you need to value one factor over any other: The city on each fan's return address label.

You live west of Rockbridge County, you automatically advance through the first cut. You live in the Roanoke Valley, you get 10 extra points. Blacksburg? Twenty.

Anybody can be a UVa fan in Charlottesville or Richmond or Nelson County.

It takes resolve to be one here. Persistence. Patience. And most of all, a sense of humor.

UVa fans often tell me that, while they love Roanoke, it's one of the most difficult places in the nation for them to live. Usually, they say that just before they blast the paper for covering Virginia Tech so much. Hey, I get it. We DO cover the Hokies like crazy, and we don't apologize for it. People want to read that stuff.

Even headlines that have more to do with business or entertainment than sports -- "Bud Foster's Restaurant closes its doors," for example -- evoke images of Orange and Maroon.

But it's not just the media. It's also the environmental stimuli -- the license plates, the bumper stickers, the window magnets. If you're a UVa fan in Roanoke (and there are many), you're constantly bombarded with your rival's message. Rarely is this a message that encourages peaceful coexistence.

So where you live ought to count for something. A native Texan residing in downtown D.C. who finds a sports bar to watch every Dallas Cowboys game should get more credit than the guy who does the same in Fort Worth. The Red Sox fan transplanted in the Bronx gets more kudos for sticking by his team than the one in Quincy or Cambridge.

One of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had as a journalist was a 2005 trip to the Rockbridge County town of Glasgow. It was Tech-UVa week, and we were looking for a different approach to covering the build-up. So I called a Tech natural resources professor ("Of course you did, Hokie Boy!") to see if he could give me the exact geographical midpoint between Blacksburg and Charlottesville.


One mile west of Glasgow.

A lot of times in this business, what you think is a good idea quickly peters out. Glasgow did not disappoint.

This little town on the James River was split almost exactly 50-50 between Tech and UVa fans. The mayor refused to pick a side and risk alienating half his constituency. You drove down any street, and the flags flying in the neatly maintained yards would alternate allegiances: UVa, Tech, UVa, Tech....

And just about every resident I talked to said the same thing: You head south and west, you're in Tech country. The other way, it's UVa. Here, you're in for a battle.

I'm sure there are a slew of incredibly passionate UVa fans who live on the other side of Glasgow. But I still appreciate ours more, because they've endured more. And if you're among them, you can find all the contest details on

I encourage you to pen an essay, enter the competition and win those tickets.

Just to be safe, though? Write it in crayon.

Weather Journal

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