The first time I went to a Kansas State University football game, they practically paid me to go. They were desperate for fans and had more give-away promotions than a used car dealer. K-State was playing Kansas University and neither had won a game. The crowd was so small we all knew each other on a first name basis by the time it was over. It was like; “I went to a networking event and a football game broke out.” Fittingly, the game ended in a tie and the KSU students were so happy they tore down the field goals.  K-Staters will celebrate darn near anything.

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I took my wife to the KSU versus OSU game.  They are no longer paying people to attend; rather, if you don’t have season tickets it requires your first-born as a down payment. We dressed appropriately: My wife is a K-State grad with inexhaustible variations of purple in her wardrobe and I found everything purple I owned (one shirt- I went to a different college). We then drove two hours through the beautiful Flint Hills to find one tailgate party in particular but discovered all of Manhattan is a tailgate party.  There were even purple people tailgating in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Andrew, my third-born, played football for my Alma Mater- Bethel College-, which has its roots in a Mennonite tradition.  Their idea of a tailgate party bears a striking resemblance to a church dinner complete with hymn singing and an altar call. On the contrary, K-Staters know how to tailgate!

Human behavior, and in particular crowd behavior, both fascinates and terrifies me.  Here are five observations I made:

  • Professional people love a reason to be unprofessional.  People with MBA’s and PhD’s who work in environs where we have to behave, well, professionally, surrounded me. Between yelling at the refs for blown calls, doing the “K – S –U – Wildcats!” cheer and adding our voices to the volume when the opposing offense was on the field, by the time the game was over we were hoarse. Had we more room, we would have been doing pushups with Willie Wildcat every time K-State scored.
  • There is an innate desire for fairness in every human being. “Hey ref, call it the same on both ends!” is often shouted at games because we have a desire for fairness, or justice.  Admit it; we all like  “make-up calls,” when the refs blow it for us, then turn around and blow it for the other team.
  • Bullies will find any opportunity to bully.  After the game was over, we got caught in a seething mass of people trying to exit.  If you don’t like your personal space invaded; stay home. As we were moving at an amoeba-like pace, some young guy behind me started pushing his way through. I felt sorry for his girlfriend who seemed embarrassed.
  • One person can make a difference. Coach Bill Snyder is, perhaps, the classiest coach in college football.  While he is an expert with X’s and 0’s, people close to him say he’s most concerned about developing the young people he coaches.  He knows that college sports are short term, but work ethic, character, and core values are more important that stats. That might be why he wins.
  • People need community. I would almost go up just for the tailgate parties, which are thousands of little communities engulfed in one big community. My wife and I decided that if we couldn’t find our friends, Chris and Allison Locke’s tailgate party, all we had to do was wander around and someone would invite us in- that’s Kansas State!

Next year, we’re getting seasons tickets, even if it does cost me my first-born, Caleb. But he’s 30 now and probably has an opinion about my offer. Especially since he graduated from K-State.

What observations about human behavior have you made at sporting events?