I hate fake enthusiasm.
I love the simple phrase "keep it real."
It's hard to be honest in sports to the public. You can't say the injuries of a college football player because the kid is also a college student and his privacy is protected. A manager isn't going to tell you how bad a player is if the contract is too big to cut him.
Every year, I laugh at overly-optimistic fans. I stopped laughing at ASU fans Thursday night.
I attended a Sun Devil Club dinner. Of course, there was some pep rally stuff -- Coach Graham declaring victory versus certain opponents and A.D. Steve Patterson making mention of ASU's win over Notre Dame at the negotiation table. Little digs and bravado are expected at these events, and 123 other teams in college football do the same thing. There was something more, however.
Todd Graham told ASU fans to quit telling him they had a great season last year. He declared 2012 "good." He said 8-5 should be the minimum standard. He told the fans to expect championships. I didn't take it as pep rally talk or building up a sense of false hopes. It's simple. Coach Graham believes if the bar isn't there, you'll never hit it.
He also didn't shy away from the attendance problem. He hit it straight on. He explained to fans how important the game day experience is to success. Obviously, it's important for crowd noise to disrupt an opposing offense. We all know 18-to-22-year-old kids can be intimidated or enthused by a loud and engaged crowd. There's more to it, though.
Attendance can affect the outcome of a college football game. It affects the future of a college football program even more. The number one issue in college football recruiting is uniforms. Number two is game day atmosphere. ASU has very little. The crowd received the message from all angles. Safety Alden Darby brought it up. Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph spoke on the benefits of a loud crowd. Patterson preceded Graham by declaring the crowd size vital to future projects for the athletic department.
Usually, this message is met with complacency, anger, ignorance or apathy from ASU fans. I've been saying the same thing for years. I get consistently ripped by a minority of ASU fans who refuse to take any blame for the lack of football/basketball consistent success over the last two decades.
The room was different Thursday night. The words seemed to motivate, not accuse. It may have been preaching to the choir. The fans in the room may have been the group that didn't need the message, but they took it. If Todd Graham's message gets out to the masses, ASU might finally reach its potential.