It comes to this: I have played sports all my life, I have coached a TON, I have done a fair amount of teaching, and I have missed watching a only a small handful of MSU football and basketball games in the past 18 years. I have had many discussions with friends, family, random people, etc. and the consensus appears to have been that a single fan, an individual, could not have a great impact on their team's performance, in a game or season.
That is bunk.
There are innumerable anecdotal stories of individuals having a direct impact on teams and individuals, both on the court/in the arena, and off the field/court (which then would directly affect them on the court/arena). For examples: the infamous Duke grad student who directly contributed to missed free throws in a tight UNC game (back in 2003 I think, you all remember--he was wearing a speedo, and danced during the free-throws, I read and watched numerous interviews over the subsequent years and the guy shooting WAS affected), Lacy Holsworth has had a huge role in Adreian Payne's play/development both on and off the field (his words), the OSU fan who pissed Izzo off, and thousands if not millions of other instances (the guy who threw that soda at Ron Artest in the Malice in the Palace incident)... The point is that despite our seeming detachment we can and DO have an impact on the players/teams we support (much more so than those that we cheer against---the opposition becomes one big loud voice, but the support is heard much more clearly).
Of late social media/technology has made this phenomenon MUCH more significant---players read stuff, they hear stuff, they watch things on the TV (see Dawson, Branden)---the fact is that the atmosphere and the support or lack there of from every individual matters. We may not have an easily identifiable, quantifiable metric here, but WE matter. Our comments, our message board posts, the things we say to our friends and family, the things we say to strangers in a bar, it all percolates. By diffusion or some other form of magic (science?), these players absorb the energy of the community that surrounds them. That energy can be positive, or it can be negative.
Confidence is a funny thing, as is the mental state of champions. Let me provide a personal anecdote: I remember playing lacrosse in high school, on the East coast. My school had never won our league championship. Ever. In the school's history. Three schools in the league (six schools in the league) comprise my school's main lacrosse rivals. These schools are some of the best lacrosse programs in the country. My school has had US lacrosse HoF players come out of it. We had never won the championship. Ever. My senior year we had high expectations, but only an OK regular season, we had some injuries, some bad losses, some internal friction, we had some issues heading into the post season. To put it succinctly, we beat our chief rival in the semi-finals (a team my school had not beaten in over 25 years), and we won the championship in double-overtime. I tell this story not to re-live glory days, but to underscore my own personal connection to the theory that I am proposing. Leading into our final run of the season we all clicked, we bought in, and we were focused on the details of each game plan. Part of the confidence that we had was drawn from our community, our players, our classmates, our teachers, and part of it was drawn from a determination to fulfill our perceived destiny (we had decided that we were going to be the ones to do it, and we would not be denied). I know that much of our confidence was drawn from the POSITIVE energy around us.
I have had similar experiences on other sports teams since then, both playing and coaching, and I have also had experiences with our own Spartans. Think of 2009 and the March to Ford Field, think of Travis-freaking-Walton, think of our Rose Bowl this year (and Mark Dantonio standing on the field last summer...).
What I am trying to say is that if we, as individuals, as a community, as supporters, buy in, if our energy, comments, love, etc. is positive then it WILL have a positive impact. That is not to say that we will definitively accomplish everything we want to, but it will undoubtedly contribute to whatever success will come our way. It takes courage, grit, determination, and a willingness to open up oneself to profound disappointment to be a true fan.
To not back down in the face of failure is the truest test of character. Being defeated is only a temporary condition; giving up is what makes it permanent---that is just as true for us, as fans, as it is for the players and coaches.
I will leave you with a thought of my own and a quotation from Abraham Lincoln:
Some people say that adversity tests character, but I firmly believe that adversity reveals character...
What do you say Abe? Abraham Lincoln: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
We have the power to impact our team in this pivotal part of the season, we have had the adversity that will surely reveal our character as individuals and as a community---what will the rest of the season reveal about us?
I am all in.