Georgia Southern has taken to referring to the runup to its annual showdown with Appalachian State as ‘Hate Week’. Some might feel that moniker isn’t something that should be promoted, but while I can’t agree with them, I will say that the reason the Eagles and Mountaineers’ rivalry is so intense is because it involves so much more than hate.
While I cover these games impartially, I can’t deny that the Georgia Southern graduate and fan inside of me is feeling all the feelings whenever I get to take off my journalism hat.
It’s like a bizarre, sports-oriented version of the five stages of grief.
At the beginning of the week, there was excitement. Georgia Southern was fresh off of three straight victories. Sure, Appalachian State would be the toughest test in a month, but the Eagles were rolling. It was all about living off of the good vibes of a convincing win in a torrential downpour.
Next came the superstition - or at least the overthinking - of what was to come. As sure as the Eagles and Mountaineers will play each season, there will also be the emergence of long-lost video clips and memories of years past. Just like any overly-attached fan, I watched it all. I reveled in the huge GS upsets and beatdowns. I seethed at the great injustices that led to past Mountaineer wins.
Like a typecast detective, I tried to figure out all of the trends and circumstances that led to the results of those games, I tried to suss out what that meant for the next game.
Then came the trepidation. A few days removed from the Eagles’ win over New Mexico State, some of the good vibes had faded. They were quickly replaced with a glut of stats and video clips showcasing how dominant Appalachian State had been so far in 2019.
Even the most hardened GS supporter couldn’t justify any opinion that didn’t acknowledge its biggest rival as being more than deserving as a top-20 team. Throw in that pesky 12-year drought in Boone, and dark thoughts started to mount.
In the last day or so leading up to the game, the next step of rationalization sets in. Regardless of what the odds are or what the opponent looks like, you start to read the tea leaves and find a path to victory. Even if you’re an underdog, if only A, B and C go right, there’s no reason that a win isn’t there for the taking.
The final step is hatred - which is what separates a big game from a true rivalry.
Hatred negates the other four steps and everything else that has led up to kickoff. Social media posts and message board arguments can get all parties riled up, but there is no match for seeing the game go live on the tv screen - or, better yet, in person.
Seeing the colors you root for and against filled up with bodies makes it real. Hearing the crowd roaring makes it all the more tangible. All of the emotion spews forth. The cheers are unmitigated love. The jeers come from every bit of pent-up aggression that other team has ever caused you.
But unlike the five stages of grief, there is no acceptance - just another year’s worth of memories to fuel next season’s fire.