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North Dakota's online czar defends his state's fans
By the Leonardite

People in the ďbigĒ states are spoiled. The people who reside there go to professional sporting events all the time without thinking of it. Went to the Knicks game tonight, caught the Giants and Dodgers on Saturday afternoon, etc. You live in the lap of luxury. While you may shrug your shoulders at seeing these stars play every day, we mere plains people would salivate at the opportunity to see Ismael Valdez take the mound in our backyard.

It is because of this that I have come to the conclusion that the people in these desolate sports lands (the Dakotas and Montana) are sports fans in the truest sense of the word. You with all your Division I sports and your actual professionals playing for you nightly, you simply donít know what it is like to watch sports on a pure level. You might not even remember the teams that played in the last Major League Baseball game you went to, but I can remember the winner, the loser, and the guy who got the save, as well as how it ended. (Johan Santana picked up the win against Barry Zito in the Metrodome. Eddie Guardado picked up the save as Torii Hunter saved the game by making a fabulous diving catch on a ball hit by Ramon Hernandez that would have tied the game or possibly given the Athletics the lead.)

Let me ask you this question: Have you ever attended a Division II contest of any sort? Have you ever been even casually interested in the outcome of a Division II contest? In this state, people live and die by the performance of the Division II institutions here. Of course itís easy to get excited when Shaquille OíNeal is putting down dunks every night, but if you can get pumped up about a guy named Brian Sand piling up lay-ups, well, I think that says more for your fortitude and appreciation for sports.

How long does it take people to commute to games in the city? A few years back, I was in the nationís capital with a buddy. On a spur of the moment whim, we decided to go and catch the Capitals and Devils. We simply walked a block down the street, hopped onto the Metro, and fifteen minutes later we were haggling with scalpers and on our way to professional sports bliss. Contrast that with this past September, when we took our free tickets that we had won to the Twins final game home game. There was no walking a block and getting transported by a magic train. This was leaving in the afternoon to drive five hours, watch the game, and then worry about school again the next dayÖ..five hours away.

For us, sports are in this weird, distant realm. For all I know, the United Center might be on a moon orbiting Neptune as I have no personal evidence that it exists. The jerseys and names are all familiar through TV and video games, but I have never seen them. When a North Dakotan gets the privilege of seeing these people for real, live in person, it is like an out-of-body experience. I mean, I knew that Barry Zito was a pitcher because TV tells me so, but to see that he is an actual flesh-and-blood person is almost, well, disappointing. Since we never see them, itís easy to imagine that they are larger-than-life figures that are too important to be seen by us commoners.

Nevertheless, the sports passion burns strong. Have I ever seen the Chicago Blackhawks, my favorite hockey team, play? Absolutely not. But I have seen the Blues play and since I see the Blackhawks play them every now and then, so I can speculate that they might be a real hockey team.....that sucks. But have I seen the Huskies of St. Cloud State play? Multiple times every year in multiple sports. I may not know for sure if Tom Brady is an ESPN creation or not, but I do know that Rado Rancik was a dominant force in the middle for too long at St. Cloud.

Yes, itís a wacky way to enjoy sports. Minor league teams come and go, hoping to cash in on our lack of pros to watch, but we are a snobbish folk. While we may not have the big time, we arenít going to settle for the small time. Thatís why thereís a new CBA team here every five years and a constant rotation of junior hockey teams. The constant rotation of teams is almost like the changing of seasons. But now with North Dakota Stateís impending jump to Division I next year, things seem to be changing. We tried for too long to stay completely isolated, but that couldnít last forever. So we may not be big-time now, and wonít be much more big-time next year, but donít call us inferior sports fans unless you can name the head basketball coach at the University of South Dakota. (Itís Dave Boots, and his team just got beaten in Fargo this past Saturday in front of 4,500 spirited, true, sports fans.)

(The preceeding is what I would have submitted to SI in place of Phil Jackson's article, complete with intro sentence and dumb cartoon image)
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