SALT LAKE CITY — A commercial for this year’s World Cup features madly bouncing USA fans shouting, “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!” The chant was labeled the coolest in the country in an ESPN.com blog by Eamonn Brennan in 2011.
“It's everything a basketball chant should be: Organized, direct, supportive, intimidating and not the least bit hokey,” he wrote. “It's not cocky, either; when I hear ‘believe,’ I hear less expectation than faith.”
Apparently the chant works for soccer, too.
Brennan noted something else that’s hard to dispute: Nobody does it better than Utah State. That’s where I first heard the chant. It resonated with good-natured passion and made driving to Logan on a subzero winter night worthwhile.
Now everyone wants that feeling — the optimism, if not the weather. And almost everyone uses the chant.
But there was another thing that made the trip to Logan great: “Wild Bill” Sproat. With his messy dark hair, week-old beard and beach ball belly, he could elicit an involuntary laugh from almost anyone. That was due to the getups: Tigger the Tiger, a Chippendales dancer, Nacho Libre, the Teapot from “Beauty and the Beast,” Aladdin, Peter Pan, the Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh, Batman.
At one point he had more than 100 costume ideas.
He was featured by ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated and other national publications. Why?
Nobody did the “believe” chant better than USU, and no one inspired like Wild Bill.
The publicity hit its zenith in 2010-11, Sproat’s last full season as college sports’ best fan.
“My thing is always going to be that there’s somebody better than you are at something — unless you’re Michal Jordan,” Sproat said on Monday. “In my opinion, nobody has done it better than Michael Jordan in his prime, and nobody ever beat him. And honestly, USU three years ago was Michael Jordan. I don’t think anybody could beat that.”
Yet in the summer of 2010, Sproat found himself in danger. Sluggish and heavy, he required 10 minutes to walk 30 feet down his driveway. Some of it was due to lifestyle, but he had also contracted a virus that enlarged his heart. Lacking insurance, he refused to visit the doctor until he was coughing blood. He was immediately transferred to a hospital, where he saw the grim numbers. His ejection fraction, which measures how well the heart is pumping, was below 10 percent.
He watched the 2010 World Cup from his hospital room.
Sproat returned to the front row of Aggie games later that year. But even with proper medical care, problems continued. In one episode his heart stopped for seven minutes. After that, he made a few single-game appearances, but his every-night work was finished.
“I made people laugh; that’s what I was going for,” he says.
As for the chant that Sproat helped promulgate, he says the Aggies didn’t invent it. Some say Navy midshipmen created it for a 2003 football game against Air Force, but as Sproat points out, “We made it famous. We were the ones who did it on a national scale.”
Now employed at a residential treatment center that works with emotionally and behaviorally challenged youth, Sproat says he watched the USA-Ghana World Cup match on Monday during breaks.
Though he says he was never a big basketball fan, “I do love soccer. It’s a great sport.”
Is there a chance Wild Bill will one day return? Unlikely. For one thing, it was his girth that provided comic appeal.
“I think I’m done,” he says. “I’ve pulled a Brett Favre or Michael Jordan twice, and came back after retirement. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m done with that and I’ll enjoy just going to the games.”
He’ll still get stopped for autographs, even without his costumes.
“It’s hard not to be recognized and loved when you’re this good-looking,” he says.
Though last winter he regained some of the 70 pounds he lost, Sproat says he is eating fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and visiting the gym daily. Yes, he still has to monitor his health, every day. But life is good, even without the grass skirt and coconut bra.
In other words, he believes that he will win.
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