Stay In The Stands

I love football and I’m particularly fond of the college gridiron. On Saturdays in the fall my schedule is not complicated. Barring something unforeseen, I can usually be found doing two things: hanging out with my family and viewing college football until my eyes are red and scratchy.

The other night, I was watching my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, play Vanderbilt. My Gamecocks were beating the Commodores as if they caught them stealing the mascot. The final outcome appeared to be just a formality by the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The score was 35-10.

After a TV timeout, the network cameras swung through Williams-Brice Stadium to reveal large vacant areas in the stands. Even the student section, which is usually the most excitable group in the place, resembled the campaign headquarters of Anthony Weiner. It was a puzzling sight.

Why would they leave? Their team was finally dominating a decent opponent. They were finally playing up to their potential. This performance did not constitute lethargic indifference and a longing for the after party. It certainly didn’t call for dismissal and the perfunctory wave of the hand upon leaving. If there was ever an opportune moment to stick around, this was it. The timing was odd and incongruent with the team’s effort.

This is not an anomaly though. Staying in the stands at sporting events and in life is a thing of the past. We exist in the polarization of leaving early. We scramble for the door when things are going bad because we’re deterred by the pain of struggling and we walk away when things are going well because we’re never satisfied. What lies in the middle of this manic propensity of departure are some pretty good ballgames and moments of life that enrich, inform and thrill.

Now I am not trying to suggest that there is never a time when one needs to leave or move on. There’s always rain delays, lightning and extenuating circumstances at games and on the journey. But, this scenario got me thinking about some of the benefits of staying in the stands.

If We Stay, We Might Be Apart Of The Excitement

Less than 10 minutes after the exodus from the south end zone, it was 35-25 and Vanderbilt was two yards away from closing the gap to 3 points with plenty of time left. The faulty presumption of all the fans caused them to miss the most exciting part. The action became dramatic and intense while they unconsciously walked to their unopened brews in the parking lot.

This happens in the various nuances of life as well. We make flawed projections about how things are going to turn out and consequently forfeit all the potential enjoyment that could be just around the corner. We leave looking for the next adventure and pass by the one right in front of us.

If We Stay, We Might Learn Something

Vandy’s quarterback confidently fired a pass to his receiver like he knew it would be completed and his team’s improbable comeback would be in reach. But, that’s when a Gamecock defender stepped in front and intercepted the attempt. 8 minutes later the game was iced by a methodical USC drive.

The fans that left early missed an opportunity to learn more about their team. They missed a prime occasion to identify additional strengths and weaknesses, to gain a little context for the rest of the season. They missed the maturation process of some young kids who developed through adversity.

If we’ll stay in some situations in life, we may learn valuable things about ourselves and others that could benefit us in the future. We might learn that we can tolerate a frantic onslaught of challenges. We might discover that we can take advantage of opportunities to win even though our backs are against the wall. We might even learn to grow up.

If We Stay, We Might Appreciate Success

A USC student wrote this open letter about the fans’ leaving at the beginning of the 3rd quarter last Saturday night:

I would like to call for something. I want to call for the entire fan base that attends the next game, to do their very best to stay until the end of the game. It is something we can ALL work on as a fan base. I recognize I am young compared to most USC fans, and have not endured nearly as much struggle and pain as other, older fans. I do feel however, that a portion of the fan base that is larger than I am comfortable with has gotten lackadaisical and too comfortable with our recent success. Let’s all stay for the entire game, and support our team.

Success can be a sinister thing. It is the consummate tease that makes misleading promises that it will always be around. Fans that leave early during success are either the ultimate suckers of its greatest ruse or they’ve yet to experience what it feels like to really collapse.

If we stick around for some hard fought victories in life, we’ll have a greater appreciation for success when it alludes us. Sticking it out has never failed in the instruction of how to maintain achievement over the long haul.

Some famous guy once said, “Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” I think he was trying to say that sometimes, its advantageous to stay in the stands.


©2013 Jason Autry. Originally posted at