College athletics are truly the best form of sports in the entire world. For Thanksgiving this year, I traveled to Playa Del Carmen, a small town outside of Cancun, in Mexico. I was without my phone for seven days. I could not check scores or even tweet throughout the day (I struggled with the latter greatly). I couldn't watch the Battle for Atlantis or hear any news throughout the day. I thought I was going to be disconnected from college sports altogether, but boy was I wrong.
In order to get to Playa Del Carmen, one must fly through Cancun Airport. As I turned the corner in customs, I saw black and gold everywhere. However, it was not a friend, but a foe. Iowa. The Hawkeyes were in Cancun to play in the Cancun Challenge tournament. I was shocked at the irony.
After it took what seemed like forever to get through customs, I stood and watched the entire Hawkeyes' Video and Medicine staffs get box after box opened to be checked. I felt bad for the basketball team, but their football team did pick Big Game Blaine off in the Insight Bowl, so the sympathy ended really quickly.
As the days went on, I saw more and more people passing in different college shirts. LSU, A&M, Ohio State, Michigan State, IU and the U all were present. I even saw an Illini shirt - I rarely see those even in Chicago! It wasn't until I was sitting at a restaurant off of Calle 6 where I heard my first "MIZ!" chant. I was wearing my Mizzou hat and sure enough, I turned around to see a man with a very familiar tiger head shirt on.
Upon returning home, I flew from Cancun to Atlanta to St Louis. Just before takeoff, the captain came on the radio and announced Ohio State had beaten Michigan 26-21 and two families cheered. I laughed because at that point I knew I had to write a story about the large community of college sports fans in the world. Yet, this wasn't even the defining moment.
When I was flying into Cancun, I was sat next to a screaming toddler. The entire first hour, the kid was crying his eyes out. I didn't think it could get worse, but then I remembered there's only one thing more annoying than a crying baby on a three hour flight. A couple sat down donning kansas Jayhawk shirts, at this point I just laughed. I tapped the lady, reached into my carry on and grabbed my Mizzou hat. We both laughed and she asked if she should get new seats or whether I'd be friendly. I told her I'd try to remain cordial.
I joked with the kU couple and said "it's such a shame we don't get to play today", and after a dazed and confused look she replied with "Oh, I had know idea we stopped playing in football. Lawrence is really only a basketball town." Even though Kim and Dan were the nicest kU fans I had met in my lifetime, they still fit the mold to a tee, even if we were hundreds of miles from Columbia.
This past weekend was rivalry weekend in college football. And while I was upset I would not be able to watch all the great games, I experienced something way more important. I got to see the influence that something so small has on something so large. Whether it's a team traveling hundreds of miles away to play Western Kentucky, or some friendly mid-flight banter, college sports matter all around the world.