According to the dictionary, the word ‘sports’ is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” But you and I both know that sports mean more to us in fandom. Growing up a Michigan football fan, my heart would break every year. It never failed. The same goes for the NFL, as a Detroit Lions fan, that 2008 season still creeps into my nightmares. While we are at it, rooting for the Detroit Tigers has broken me on several occasions as well. But why do those moments still haunt me? More importantly, why do I continually root for failed franchises and teams?
In the first edition of the Quarantine Chronicles, I take a look at what sports mean to the common fan, and why these fans are slowly losing their minds during this pandemic. Also, I give a little ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for all of us fans.
How Fans Find Their ‘Team’
Ask any fan why they root for their favorite team and I guarantee each and every one of them will have a different reason why they began to be fans of ‘their’ team. It may be family ties, or they grew up in that city, or the fact they like a player on a certain team. It could the colors of the team, a cool logo, as I said, any reason is in the realm of possibility. For me in the examples listed above, it was family ties. My grandfather lives in Michigan, and every time I went to see him, he always had either Lions or Tigers tickets depending on the time of year.
As a seven-year-old, the Tigers had made a deep run in the MLB playoffs, they actually made the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time I was living in the Chicagoland area, and everyone and their brother hated Albert Pujols. He was the big bad first basemen of the Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs rival. So all I knew about Pujols, was to not like him. I did not know why, I was too young to understand rivalries and all that. But after the Tigers loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series, Pujols had himself a new hater.
That’s how fandom begins. You learn from your elders, watch the games are on TV, and one moment ties you to your favorite team forever. For me, it was that World Series. How did I know I would be tied to the Tigers forever at the young age of seven? As a second-grader, girls still had cooties, and talking to them was contraband. So heartbreak in that sense would not occur for another ten years at least. But heartbreak as a fan? That can happen whenever, just ask this little guy.
The 2006 World Series broke my heart as a Tigers fan, but it gave me a team to root for, for life.
Ask any Detroit Lions fan about their fandom, and you get a story of heartbreak. As I said, I have been a Lions fan for life. But, that has not been without any embarrassment. Growing up in Chicago, and now going to college in Milwaukee, I have been surrounded by Bears and Packers fan for most of my fandom. I am the butt of every joke, and I feel my football takes are almost deemed irrelevant because of the team I chose to root for.
In my years of living, the Detroit Lions are yet to win a single playoff game. Why I am still a fan is beyond me, but every Sunday I find myself on the same spot of the couch in my same Matt Stafford jersey rooting for Lions W. Every year after our inevitable poor season, I find myself saying “Next year will be different, it is our year”. That is always to no avail, as we have yet to win a playoff game. Thus, the heartbreak of sports fandom.
In 2008, the Detroit Lions did something only four other teams in HISTORY have ever done. The Lions did not win a single game. At the age of nine, I told myself, that is it, I am going to be a Bears fan, they have Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester, a strong logo, and I am living in Chicago, it is time. But then in 2009 NFL draft, the Lions took Matthew Stafford, and as one of my favorite college players at the time, it locked me into a lifetime of rooting for below-average football.
On the flip side of the NFL, I mentioned living in Chicago growing up, and I always had a soft spot for the Cubs as the lovable losers. The Cubbies were always the games I went to as a kid. The tickets were cheap, and watching the fans always made the games entertaining. Between the Tigers, Cubs, and Lions, heartbreak ruled my sports fandom. If you do not believe me, here are some of the worst moments as a fan of those teams.
But with heartbreak, there is triumph. And a team like the 2016 Chicago Cubs comes along.
This is why we do it. Every fan’s dream is for their team to win a title, and none more important than the 2016 World Series for the Chicago Cubs fans. It was one of those sports moments where everyone knew where they were at during the final out. After the championship, and ‘your’ team wins it, the party is on. It is what we are longing for in sports fandom. You work nine to five, Monday thru Friday, and rooting for your team is what gets through the week. If you cannot get excited for your favorite players accomplishing their ultimate goal, then why do it. Why watch the games or buy the gear?
For me, I was never the biggest Cubs fan in the world. But, it was my hometown team, I rooted for them every game outside of when they played the Tigers. They were number two on the totem pole. So when they won, everyone in the city of Chicago was ready to party at the parade. I mean, our high school made it optional to show up to that school, that is the impact that sports and fandom can have on people. If you do not believe me, look at these fans at the parade. It was chaos in the streets of the windy city.
I remember waking up at 4:30 AM, just to catch the 6:15 AM train, only to wait in a line for three hours to get into Grant Park to listen to the players speak. People were waiting there to get into Grant Park at two in the morning. That is what exactly fandom is. Crazy for sure, but you watch ‘your’ team play and root for the success, so when they are successful, you get to celebrate with them.
The triumph is the best part of being a sports fan. As a baseball player, success is the best part of playing, it is what you shoot for when you are lifting at 6 AM workouts. So as a fan, of course they are going to be excited when the players and teams are successful for a few reasons. One being, we as fans know how much work and dedication it takes to get to the highest level and have success there. Us fans recognize that work they put in by buying jerseys and team gear. We support them and all their hard work. The second reason being, is the games and playoffs give us working-class citizens something to look forward to every day.
Now that everyone is in quarantine and sports and work is at a minimum, we are starting to see how important sports and fandom can be.
Fandom is Important, Like it or Not
As I said, quarantine has been something. No sports to watch has made the Twitter timeline miserable, and fans are dying for any sort of sport to watch. The Michael Jordan documentary is a nice reward for staying in, but nothing can replace rooting for your team with a room full of your buddies watching the big game. As I said, that right there, it gives people a reward for the hard work they do day-in-day-out. Sports and fandom play an important role in many lives around the world. Whether your favorite sport is football or fútbol, baseball or basketball, it makes the world go round. Sports unite people, unite fans of the team, give strangers a common ground, or even can make some relationships very unique.
When we get out of quarantine, and sports ARE back, do not discount the importance of fandom. Whether its a rival team’s fan or not, talk to them about sports. We all see what the world without sports looks like, so do not take the world with sports for granted.
As Always, Stay Safe Out There Folks
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