The junior’s a diehard Musketeer fan and hadn’t missed a single game since he first came to campus three years ago from Alphanetta, Ga. So for days, while sitting in class or eating in the cafeteria, he debated his options: Basketball game or astronomy lab? Astronomy lab or basketball game?
While the decision wouldn’t normally be so complicated, there was another factor adding to the anguish: Cranston’s a blue man.
At his first game his freshman year, Cranston saw the students sitting in the front row who cover themselves in blue paint. “That,” he said to himself, “is what I want to do.” So he made some contacts and for every game since, he’s painted himself head to waist with blue paint, sat in the front row of the student section and cheered and jeered players from the time they step onto the court for warm-ups until the final buzzer sounds.
Being a blue man has become part of his identity. In a way, it’s who he is. So in his debate between class and game, he did what any rational basketball-loving college student would do: He painted himself blue, went to the basketball game and then sprinted across campus at halftime just in time to make it to his lab.
“I put a shirt on, but my face and arms were still blue,” Cranston says. “The lab instructor just looked at me, handed me the lab packet and shook his head.”
Welcome to the life of a blue man.
Two hours before the tipoff of the Xavier-Temple game, the Cintas Center is quiet. The doors are still locked, the stands are empty, the players are no where to be seen. Only a few workers scurry around the arena taking care of last-minute details. That’s when the blue men—and women—arrive. Coming in through the loading dock entrance where the guards all know their names, they file in and head upstairs to the family restroom on the concourse level. The restroom is large, and a section in back offers sinks, mirrors and plenty of room to prepare.
They spread plastic garbage bags on the floor and break out bottles of cobalt blue acrylic paint that are stuffed into their nylon backpacks. Each week the blue men carpool to Michael’s Crafts to buy the paint. “We discussed buying it in bulk from them,” says Cranston, “but they won’t take customer orders.”
As they slop it on, people pause and snicker. “Moms will bring their kids in and say, ‘Look, honey, they’re painting themselves blue.’ ” The process takes 30-45 minutes, depending on the level of detail they choose. Each blue man has his own unique design, some more intricate than others. The goal is to be done and out in the arena by the time the band starts and the players head out for warm-ups. The freshmen are in charge of cleaning up, which helps explain why the restroom is messy despite their earnest efforts to keep it clean.
“We try, but it still gets all over the sinks and garbage cans,” says Cranston. “After Christmas we came back and it was sparkling clean. We said, ‘What happened?’ That didn’t last too long. No matter how hard you try it gets messy.”
The blue men are actually just the radical fringe of the larger group of crazies that fill the student section known as the X-treme Fans. First created 10 years ago, X-treme Fans is actually the largest student club on campus with nearly 1,000 members. Its goal is simple, says president Matt Robinson: Support all Xavier athletics, even the lesser-known sports.
But it does a lot more. The 10-member executive board organizes on-campus viewing parties during March Madness. It creates and sells the X Shirts, the annual must-have fashion statement among basketball fans in which the proceeds—usually more than $5,000—go to a local charity. This year it organized a $23,000 road trip to New Jersey for 152 students so they could watch Xavier play Duke. It also does a lot of the little things, like rolling up all of the posters that given away at games or taping Skyline Chili coupons on the back of 10,250 seats. This year’s blue and white night in which alternating sections wore blue or white shirts was the club’s idea and execution.
“We’re the sanity behind it all,” says Robinson.
Life in Blue Man Land
A few years ago, the students were so rowdy and unflattering in their comments that University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., had to apologize for their behavior. Now, security guards sit in front of blue man land and monitor the tumult and the shouting. “We scream at the players, but you really can’t say much,” says Cranston. “You can’t swear. You can’t say they suck. We’ve been told to calm down and we’re being too loud.”
So the students did what they had to do: They turned to sarcasm. “Welcome fellow scholars,” became a banner aimed at an opponent not known for its studious athletes. “We really just try to be annoying,” says Cranston. “We yell at the other players. If they say something back, we don’t let up. Sometimes you can get in their heads. After the Duke game one of the players pointed at us. When we played Tennessee, Chris Lofton looked at us and started laughing.”
Does it make a difference? Sean Miller thinks so. So do the players. After the game, it’s become a tradition for the Xavier players to offer a high five or fist bump the blue men on their way into the locker room.
And it’s all worth it—despite the post-game effects. “Normally,” says Cranston, “you have a headache and can’t talk after the games.”