posted on: Thursday December 2, 2010
John Butler ’11/ Sports Editor
Forgive me, Friartown, for I have sinned. It has been a while since my last confession.
You see, I am guilty of a grievous sin, but to make matters worse, I have no desire to repent, nor do I see a need to repent. I suppose that makes this confession all the worse, but great sinner that I am, I need to get this off of my chest.
I am a fan of the University of Rhode Island. Always have been, and I suspect I always will be. Although my allegiance belongs first and foremost to Providence College, I cheer for, follow, and support the Rhody Rams.
Like most everybody else, I learned to follow the teams that my father followed and jeered the teams that my father jeered. When the Red Sox were playing, we rooted for the Red Sox. When the Packers were on, I was told, “The guys in the green jerseys are the good guys and the guys in the white jerseys are the bad guys.” When PC was playing, we cheered for PC. I learned to hate the Yankees, the Cowboys, and Boston College almost as much as I learned to love Boston, Green Bay, and Providence. From an early age, I was a Friars fan, but my father never had a bad word to say about our friendly neighbors to the south, the Rhody Rams.
So I followed the Rams as a boy, even though they were very often playing second fiddle to the Friars. For much of my life, PC has been a better team than URI, so the Friars have generally gotten the front page, while the Rams have gotten a “Special to the Journal” on page six.
But things have changed in the past few years. The Rams are now a force in the Atlantic 10, and made a four game run in the NIT last season. What’s more: the recent installments in the Friars-Rams rivalry have been very memorable. Providence lost last year in a heartbreaker, 86-82. This weekend’s contest should be a nail-biter as well.
It is, perhaps, a strange twist of fate that many of my high school friends became URI students during the past few years, during which the Rams have improved dramatically. How can you hate a team that the majority of your friends love?
All this sounds bad, I know. But I want to suggest that my being a fan of URI in no way detracts from my loyalty to Providence. There is a rivalry between Providence and Rhode Island which we can be proud of. I believe we can call it one of the great rivalries of New England basketball. There is a temptation, though, to believe that merely because of the rivalry’s existence, we are justified in hating the Rams and anything that looks blue and white with one eye closed and the other eye squinted. The temptation, I believe, is the result of our experiences with the greatest rivalries of modern American sports: Red Sox-Yankees, Army-Navy, Celtics-Lakers. In these instances, you cannot be a fan of both teams. To do so would amount to treachery.
But the PC-URI rivalry differs in kind from these great rivalries with which we are so familiar. These rivalries are born of a combination of three elements: first, competition for supremacy in a league; second, regular meetings at the highest level of competition; third, competing claims on being the standard-bearer for an institution. Notice that none of these, the most storied rivalries in sports, is dependent on geographic proximity.
This is not to say, however, that geographic proximity does not give rise to great rivalries, for it does. Geographic proximity alone is the mother of the Providence-Rhode Island rivalry. The point is that two teams playing in the same state, unlike the three elements of the modern rivalries I have mentioned, does not require a fan to love one team and hate the other. In fact, by virtue of their closeness, each team has a legitimate claim to the fans’ loyalty. In this way, it is neither treacherous nor disloyal for a Rhode Islander to be a fan of both the Friars and the Rams.
Now, there is an interesting corollary from this system I have set out that determines which teams we are, in fact, justified in jeering. According to the elements I have listed, Providence fans cannot root vehemently against a team based on the first or second elements. The Friars are not fighting for first in the Big East, nor are they regulars in the NCAA Tournament. We have all the reason in the world, however, to root vehemently against Boston College and Georgetown, based on the third element. The face of American Catholic higher education is too much influenced by our Jesuit brethren and their pseudo-Catholicism. Every Friars-Eagles and Friars-Hoyas game, then, is emblematic of Providence’s struggle to replace Boston College and Georgetown as the standard-bearer of American collegiate Catholicism. Although there is nothing so grave up for grabs on Saturday, I want to be clear: I will be cheering for the Friars this weekend. My heart is now with Providence, and my loyalty will always remain with the Smith Hillers. But after Saturday, I am hoping for both the Friars and the Rams to have great seasons, and to make Rhode Island proud.