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What's up, Buttercup?

A report from the Super Fan Zone

photos of the superfans

"Oops, I picked the wrong thing out of my closet to wear," cracks a visiting Stanford student, staring at the swarm of BC undergraduates in yellow T-shirts, thousands-strong before him. It's a gloriously sunny day in Chestnut Hill, the first Saturday in September, the first quarter of Boston College's football standoff against Stanford, the second home game of the season. Hoping to meet up with a friend, the unshaven Stanfordian scans Alumni Stadium's student section, a grandstand corner demarcated by an overhanging banner that proclaims it the "Super Fan Zone."

He finally finds his pal, a skinnier, scruffier version of the actor Elijah Wood, near the 30-yard line. "Elijah" also sports the yellow Boston College T-shirt with the maroon trademark "Super Fan" and the eagle thrusting up his dukes—a stance that bears more than passing resemblance to the posture of Notre Dame's fighting leprechaun. The Cardinal kid swaggers over and, in lieu of a greeting, points to his friend's golden garb. "What's up with this?" he scoffs.

"This is what we do here," shrugs his friend, who places nine calls on his cell phone during the game's first half and repeatedly ridicules bad plays by taunting, "That's some weak sauce you're stirring there!" Weak sauce seems to be a humiliating thing to have.

The Super Fan phenomenon is a relatively recent tradition at BC. It began in 1997, with a conversation at Addie's, a campus eatery, between roommates Jeff Bridge '99 (now a financial analyst in Florida) and Chris Millette '99 (now an assistant basketball coach at Tufts University). Late in his sophomore year, Bridge had been offered a cabinet position in undergraduate government as director of athletic affairs, in the newly elected administration of Kristin Pugh '98 and Dean Bell '98. That day, Millette was helping him brainstorm ways to boost fan participation. Inspired by universities like Wake Forest and Nebraska, whose young followers all dressed in one color, the pair came up with the idea for a simple uniform: gold BC T-shirts emblazoned with the superlative "Super Fan." Soon after, they managed to persuade the BC Bookstore to sponsor the cause, print its own logo on the back, and produce the first batch of 500 Super Fan shirts for free.

But donning the gold didn't become a game-day ritual until after the first football season had passed, when the Office of First Year Experience got involved. These days, every incoming freshman receives a Super Fan jersey during ori-entation, and each year there are two orientation leaders anointed "Co-Presidents of the Super Fans." This fall, Dan Cahill '03 and Ryan McCarthy '03 shared that office, an appointment that involves, in Cahill's words, "getting the message across to incoming freshmen that everybody is a Super Fan"—plus the indelible responsibility of choosing a slogan for the back of the incoming class's Super Fan tee. Previous taglines have included "Whatever It Takes!" ('02), "Go Eagles!" ('03), and "Eagles on the Warpath!" ('04); McCarthy and Cahill's contributions have been, respectively, "Always Believe in BC!" ('05) and "Fly Like an Eagle!" ('06). The Bookstore also sells the shirts individually for $10. So many students wear them to games that Alumni Stadium's sloped student section resembles a hill of sunflowers.

And just what do Super Fans do? They laugh a lot. During the Stanford game, when the action on the field slows, they pose for group snapshots, trek to the bathroom in packs, chat on cell phones, smack each other with Nerf footballs, head to the concession stands for sodas and hot dogs, hurl handfuls of M&Ms in the air, adhere temporary tattoos of eagles to one another's cheeks, and gossip about acquaintances or a late-night occurrence in the Mods. And over and over again, they trade answers to one of three questions: "Where are you going after the game?" "What are you doing tonight?" "Have you talked to (insert name)?"

When the action on the field is moving, but in the wrong direction, Super Fans chant "De-fense!" and blurt "You can't do that!" When Stanford puts BC to shame by intercepting a pass, Super Fans, unprompted, pretend they're in physical pain ("Ouch!" "Owwwww!" "You're killing me!"), summon a deity ("Oh My Lord!" "Sweet Jesus!" "Oh My God!"), or use indelicate language (number of jeers taken up by the crowd during the first half of the Stanford game that include the word "suck": nine). Most of all, Super Fans threaten to leave—"Shea Field, here we come!" (an allusion to the practice field where tailgate parties collect)—though they invariably stay.

When BC is faring well, Super Fans let loose with shouts of "Boo-yah!" or "Day-yam!" or "There it is!" They clap high above their heads, stamp their feet, and pump their fists in the air. They intone mass rallying cries like "Let's go, Eagles!" and "Go BC!" And when BC completes a particularly spectacular pass, male Super Fans flex like professional wrestlers while their female counterparts embrace.

All this is nothing compared to when BC scores, as it does during the fourth quarter with 6:27 left on the clock, when for the second time this day, BC kicker Sandro Sciortino '03 ties the game by booting a field goal. High fives are everywhere. As the marching band blares "For Boston," group hugs crumple into pig piles on the aluminum bleachers, and two girls, slathered head-to-toe in maroon body paint, mew like seagulls. A Super Fan with a Cat in the Hat hat and a fuzzy blue bathrobe opens and closes his housecoat like a flasher. (He's fully clothed.) Female Super Fans of all shapes and sizes are tossed in the air 27 times, once for each point BC has accumulated, by circles of arms springing like mini trampolines. There doesn't appear to be an established method for choosing the fliers: Some girls go willingly, hopping up on their friends' ten-fingered lifts, while others initially feign reluctance but invariably end up giggling. According to senior Dan Cahill, "A lot of people who aren't willing end up going up anyway."

As the crowd calms somewhat and the competition wages on, the band breaks into "Build Me Up Buttercup," a song BC students have come to interpret as alluding to the Super Fan Zone's brilliant hue. The entire student section sings along, swaying, snapping, pointing, miming the lyrics to one another. Since the band typically only has time to perform two-minute-plus tunes like this one—and another fan favorite, "Hey Baby"—during TV time-outs, it's a moment driven by external circumstance, but if the crowd response is any sign, it is perfectly timed.

Even better timed is senior Derrick Knight's 12-yard run for the winning touchdown with 36 seconds remaining in the game. The Super Fan Zone erupts into a surging sea of shouts, claps, stamps, pumps, cries, flexes, hugs, high fives, tosses, smiles, cheers, fists, leaps, bodies. Now when some Super Fans yell, "Shea Field, here we come!" they actually mean it.

Camille Dodero

Camille Dodero '98 is a freelance writer based in Boston. Her article "Laughing Matters" appeared in BCM's Summer 2002 issue.

Photos: Section G in Alumni Stadium. By Justin Knight

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