Following weeks of intense scrutiny, Cougar Nation has a unique opportunity to solidify its fanbase culture — and we could do a lot worse than Ted Lasso.
If you’ve streamed the drama-comedy by the same name on Apple TV+ (which has an MA-TV rating for a reason), then you already know that the fictional character Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is a Ned Flanders look-alike from Wichita, Kansas, with a personality that’s perpetually glass half full.
In the show’s first season, Lasso stumbles out of coaching Division II football and lands a role leading a struggling soccer club south of London.
But there are also plenty of warm and fuzzies built on Lasso’s indefatigable kindness.
So when Mark C. Moore, of SBNation’s Baylor sports blog “Our Daily Bears,” returned home from LaVell Edwards Stadium after this weekend’s game and described Cougar Nation as a fanbase full of Ted Lassos, he meant it as a compliment.
“Let’s get something out of the way—BYU and its fans are just different,” he wrote, “and I mean that positively.”
“From the first time I floated the idea on Twitter that we might try to go to this (BYU-Baylor) game, the response from BYU fans was, frankly, overwhelming. That was before I ever set foot in the State of Utah. They only got more intense from there.”
Apparently fans went out of their way to give the Baylor faithful upscale party favors. Then, “after they had won and stormed the field, multiple BYU fans said some version of ‘I’m really sorry that you guys didn’t pull it out’ despite it being THEIR team that had just won the game! Like I said, it would have been weird if it was fake, but I don’t think it was. They’re just nice people…”
For anyone paying attention to BYU headlines of late, all this can feel like Dickens fan fiction: a tale of two universities — “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.” Indeed, up until Saturday’s (er Sunday’s) thrilling double-overtime victory against the ninth-ranked Bears, the conversation swirling around Provo focused on the troubling allegations that BYU fans repeatedly racially heckled a Duke volleyball player.
A nonstudent BYU fan was banned. Sports stars and commentators weighed in. Dozens of stories were dispatched.
“If you’re BYU, you’re in the eye of the storm now. What’s your student body like? What’s your faculty like? What’s your administration like? I don’t know the answer but there’s a whole lot of people who think they do now,” the fiery commentator Steven A. Smith said on ESPN’s aptly named “First Take.”
But with each day, new reporting came to light. A police officer positioned by the fans couldn’t corroborate the allegations. The nonstudent fan who was banned was eventually cleared. BYU reviewed hours of raw video and audio, and a weekslong investigation interviewed more than 50 people at the match from BYU and Duke. Two weeks in, there was no corroborating evidence. BYU issued multiple calls for anyone with evidence to bring it forward.
After BYU concluded its investigation, ESPN’s Smith walked back his rhetoric and CNN’s John Avlon tapped the brakes on the story during an on-air segment titled “Upon Further Review.”
But now, suddenly, after its upset of Baylor, BYU is in the national spotlight for a much different reason. And if BYU keeps playing the way it did on Saturday, this season could — possibly, hopefully, maybe — turn into something special.
But more important could be the fan culture that emerges out of BYU’s recent pressure cooker.
It’s something BYU superfan Sheri Dew — yes, the Sheri Dew — has been talking about for years.
“BYU should be the kind of place where fans from other universities travel to Provo for an away game and they go to dinner the night before and BYU fans see them and welcome them to Provo and even pick up their check.” And then, she adds with a smile, “BYU squashes you like a bug on the field. Let’s let our teams do all the ‘talking’ on the field and the court.”
That’s the culture she encountered in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Nicest fanbase in the world, and then they take it to you on the field.”
Ted Lassos. A whole stadium full of them. Sounds collegial. Sounds respectful. Sounds funny.
And sounds loud.
It may even cause a few false starts for the opposing team.