As a Jets fan, I’m in a dark place with lots of questions and very few answers. For the first time ever, I will not watch the Super Bowl. But I love football. So, how did I get to this point?
There are many factors. For one, it’s the gluttony of “what Jets fans should do on Sunday” articles that keep popping up. Right now, the media has a sick interest in the plight of the Jets fanbase, sort of like rubber-necking a bad car accident, caused in large part by the team’s brash brand image, penchant for big talk and ensuing collapse. All things considered, I keep coming back to one big question.
What does it really mean to be a fan?
I’ve been an athlete for a long time. 10 years of organized football, 4 years of collegiate rugby and countless pickup games. In each case, I was a fan of the team I played for. I wanted to win, because it proved that we, the team, were better than the other team. I was mad when we lost.
But what if I’m not involved in the game? How does fanhood extend from a professional sports team to an average joe like me who is not participating? Should I be happy when “my” team wins? Rather, should I really be MAD when they lose? Does being a FAN of a winning team make someone better than the FANS of the other team?
And what makes them “my” team to begin with?
Typically, it’s based on geography. If you’re from, let’s say, Pittsburgh, you root for the Steelers. But most of the players aren’t from Pittsburgh. In fact, maybe none of them are from Pittsburgh. They are playing in the game, so sure, they’re rooting for their themselves, just like you or I would. But are they rooting for Pittsburgh? Do they even give a shit what city they’re in?
Is it possible that perhaps fans place more importance on a game as it relates to their city than the players do? Does sports success have any implication on how “great” a city is? Or are we better suited making that judgement based on actual attributes, like free parking?
After a certain period of time, fandom is no longer about where you’re located. Instead, it’s based on the fact that you’ve “followed the team for a while.” If after 20 years you move from Pittsburgh to Phoenix , you still root for the Steelers. You have a passing interest in the Arizona Cardinals, but they don’t have the esteemed winning tradition that your city of Pittsburgh has, so your fanaticism is minimal at best. “Phoenix doesn’t even have a Primanti Bros.,” you think to yourself as you enter the double doors of an old, creaky saloon. “Do they even have cardinals in the desert? At least we [used to] have men who work[ed] the steel mills.” You view Cardinals fans as awkward, out of touch and a little sad. Even if they’re from Phoenix.
But who are you to judge in this capacity? Is it because you’re a Pittsburgh fan? Because the Steelers have a “winning tradition?” You’ve somehow earned the right to gloat based on the success of your “blue-collar” franchise, made up of millionaires from Florida, Texas and California, who would be totally fine with playing in Pittsburg, KS, if the salary was the same? Remember, you don’t play for Pittsburgh… you were just born there. And regardless of how hard you’ve rooted over the years, or what superstitious traditions you’ve kept up, the odds are that aside from the occasional false start due to loudness, your fandom has had zero impact on the outcome of the games.
Fan allegiance is not always about geography though. Let’s not forget about the folks who determined their rooting interests based on who was good when they were kids. (Heathens!) I’m talking about the 49ers, Cowboys and Patriots fans scattered across the country because those teams had extended success in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, respectively. Think about it – ever met a Seahawks fan in New York? What about a Jaguars fan in San Francisco? The success of a franchise can give birth to legions of fans, with no relation to geography. Outside of football, the same can be said for the Yankees, Lakers, Bulls and Celtics.
On the other side of the coin, there are teams that suffer from an awful brand image due to years of ineptitude, poor image, bad management or some combination of the three. These teams don’t have legions of fans across the country. Instead, they’ve fostered disrespect and sometimes pity from America’s fans. I’m looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles. Basketball fan? How about the NBA’s LA Clippers or Minnesota Timberwolves. Why on earth would anyone root for these teams? Are they mental? Do they like pain? Is heartbreak an aphrodisiac? Why didn’t they just pick the Lakers or Patriots when they had the chance?
The one shimmer of hope is that things can change overnight. Look no further than the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
Some might argue that it doesn’t really matter HOW you picked your team, as long as you’re a “true fan.” What the hell does that mean? And more importantly, is it really worth it?
Is it being an insufferable die-hard? You’re frequently spotted at your local sports bar wearing your lucky jersey with a pitcher of light beer close by. You missed a game during the birth of your 1st son, but not the 2nd or 3rd. Your season tickets cost more than your mortgage. Is that really healthy behavior? Your fanaticism plays into your personal brand, but does it really reflect who you are as a person? Does anyone really give a shit who you root for?
Is it knowing everyone on the roster, past and present? Say you can rattle off every Saints QB since 2000. Say you OWN a Billy Joe Hobert jersey. Were you entitled to more joy when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV than any of the casual fans? You might think so, but my guess is that everyone in New Orleans had an awesome time that night. Sure, you may have broken down in tears, telling everyone about how you sat through 3-13 seasons with a bag over your head, but it doesn’t really matter. People are still going to enjoy it just as much as you.
My gut says we’re better suited viewing teams as brands, because that’s what they are. Do you think the Giants or Patriots really give a shit about the people of New York or Boston? Not in the slightest. Neither do the Jets, Yankees or Red Sox.
That’s what I tell myself anyway, and I still can’t bear to watch this game.
It’s pro sports and it ain’t got no soul.
Beef Supreme is Editor-in-Chief of the Idiocratic Post.