We all love football, right? At least you do if you’re reading this blog. That’s why we spend so much time and energy discussing it, theorizing about it, watching it, listening to other people discussing it, and spending work hours on which running back we (although not me, I don’t play fantasy football) should play this week.
But that’s where our similarities as fans end.
Let’s face it, we all have that one particular team (or two, or twelve) whose fans we can’t stand. Most of these feelings are based along rivalry lines (Giants/Eagles, Redskins/Cowboys, Chiefs/Raiders, Jets/Dolphins, Steelers/Browns/Ravens, Saints/Falcons, etc.). We lump them into groups, hate them because we think they are arrogant, cocky, ignorant, self-hating, or self-serving. We all do tend to think that our cause is the most righteous. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of fandom. What I’m talking about here are the annoying behaviors that make football fans look like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. These are behaviors that have to go.
“Nobody gave us a chance”
The Monday prior to Super Bowl XLVI, both New York and Boston area radio stations were playing the “nobody is giving us a chance to win this game” card. Notice that I say “radio stations”, not teams, players, coaches, management, or ownership. This was a creation of the fans. Coaches have used this line for motivation since football has been around, and then too, it is way overused.
The Vegas line on the game was Patriots (-2.5). Being favored by less than a field goal is not being favored. Either one of these teams winning the Super Bowl was basically a 50/50 proposition. I’m not ragging on either side with this one, both fan bases were equally as obnoxious. There is no possible way that after this game, anyone could say with a straight face, “nobody gave us a chance”. We all like to think we are the underdog at all times because that makes the win all the more sweeter, but not every game is taken straight from the script for Rocky. The underdog and unappreciated card should be saved for situations like when Appalachian State beats the #2 team in the country in their stadium, not when you’ve been declared less than a field-goal dog in the point spread.
Using events that happened before you were born as sources of bragging rights or disappointment
I had a sixteen-year-old student that was a die-hard Steelers fan. He used to ever-so-proudly wear a t-shirt that had a Steeler logo on the front and the phrase “Got Six?” (meaning Super Bowl rings) on the back. Now, I have no problem with the Steelers whatsoever (they don’t even make my top ten in most hated teams in the NFL), but I have a real problem when someone brags on things that happened fifteen years before the aforementioned person was even out of Pampers. I get the same feeling when a good ole’ boy talks about the Confederacy in the first person.
The same theory applies to disappointments. Say you’re a Browns fan. The Browns had multiple gut-wrenching playoff losses throughout the eighties. The Mistake by the Lake, The Drive, The Fumble, any one of them could cause someone to lose their mind and their faith in their team. Can a twenty-one year-old fan feel a real sense of disappointment, loss, or angst as a result of any of these games? I really don’t think that fictional fan could because all of those games would have been learned about over a decade after the fact. To me, that’s like sending flowers after hearing about the sinking of the Titanic in 1997 after the movie came out.
Not convinced? Here’s another example: My beloved Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots in week 3 of this past season. That win snapped a fifteen-game losing streak to the Patriots that goes back to the opening week of the 2003 season. I remember thinking after the game was won, “This must be what it felt like in 1980”. What I mean is, Buffalo broke a similar streak (twenty games, 0-for-the seventies) against the Dolphins in week one of the 1980 season. The fans in attendance at the game stormed the field, ripped down the goalposts, and passed them up to owner Ralph Wilson’s box. I wasn’t around in 1980 to have seen it first-hand. I remember reading about it as a kid, but I didn’t feel the angst of that streak (the 0-for-the seventies) or the joy of breaking it, but I felt all of the emotions possible in breaking the Patriot streak because I lived it as a fan.
I am a historian by trade. I believe that people need to look at the past in order to understand the present, but I just don’t think it’s possible to get emotionally involved in a sporting event that was not seen live (or at the least, very soon after the fact), or on an NFL Films Greatest Games episode.
We (or they) would have won if… / (Insert opponent) only won because we (or they) let them win
I hate rationalizations. Rationalizing is just a mechanism to make us all feel better about the stupid decisions we (or in this case, our favorite teams) make. It’s always much easier to rationalize than to admit defeat to a superior opponent, or worse, accept that your team was beaten fair-and-square by an inferior opponent. Both of the above pretenses are such annoying cop-outs.
There are two reasons why these rationalizations annoy me so much. One, people always assume the best case scenario if one circumstance goes their way.
My college roommate’s dad once spun a scenario about how the Patriots would have won Super Bowl XX against the Bears if their starting tight end (Lin Dawson, who?) didn’t get hurt on the first play of the game, and if the Patriots converted 3rd and 10 on their first drive. The Bears won by 36 points. No tight end on earth is worth 36 points, and one converted third down in the first two minutes of the game is not going to give that kind of a momentum boost. Is a change in those two plays going to change dropped passes to completions? Missed blocks to pancakes? Blown coverages to a blanket? Alleviate that constant sense of urgency the 46 Defense caused? No chance in Hell. He was assuming that everything for the next 58 minutes of the game would go the Patriot’s way if those two occurrences went the other way. Neither of those plays comes close to making up for the fact that no matter what, the Bears defense was going to steamroll the Patriots that day. Deal with it.
The other reason that rationalizations annoy me is that it takes credit for the victory away from the winning team. Rationalizing a loss is a nicer way of saying that the winning team didn’t specifically do anything to win. Last time I checked, winning requires scoring more points than the opponent. Scoring points is an active process, which means that whoever scores has to perform a task to do so. “We let them….” attempts to take credit away from the team that scored the points and give the power to the losing team by saying that it was their conscious decision to “allow” the opponent to claim victory. Fans aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Listen to player interviews after a particularly disappointing loss. “We gave it to them” and “We just let it slip away” are common player rationalizations too.
Adding “Nation” to the end of any team’s fan base
I try not to single out particular fan bases, but the Steelers, Patriots, and Raiders are the ones most guilty of this one. Adding “Nation” to your team does not make you sound more numerous or more fierce. It makes you sound like the kid in seventh grade that says “I’m gonna round up all my friends and….”.
There’s that quote, “No matter where you are, there are Steelers fans”. Well, that may be true, but it’s true for most teams. The NFL is such a national entity now, thanks to the internet (you have to love radio streaming and real-time box scores) and NFL Sunday Ticket, that you can see every team, everywhere. Kids aren’t growing up with only one or two teams on TV every weekend anymore. I found a Bills Backers chapter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Bills haven’t exactly been world-beaters in the past decade, yet I was still able to find fellow fans and a bar eight hundred miles away from Buffalo. You can basically find fans of every team everywhere, so please stop making your team sound like a national brand that everybody rallies behind (including you, Cowboy fan).
Acting as your team’s apologist
It’s OK to disagree with the actions of your favorite team, even if even if they are being run by a great GM, coach, or has a star quarterback. Nobody likes the guy that says every move is “just part of their plan”, or “was their decision”. Holding management accountable may actually produce a better product on the field. But on that note,
The “everybody else’s team sucks” guy
Embrace reality when talking about the game. It’s obvious that a Bears fan and a Packers fan are going to have their differences, but if the Packers are 11-0, chances are, they don’t suck. I hate it when people confuse “don’t like” with “suck”. I may hate the Patriots (OK, I really hate the Patriots), but they definitely don’t suck. I hate them because they are so successful, especially against my team.
“Call for the coach’s head after the loss” guy
As far as the “fire the coach after the first loss” guy, everybody loses. No team is immune from losing. Every team, no matter how deep the tradition, has had bad streaks and mediocre seasons. Putting the coach on the hot seat from minute one is not going to make them prepare their team better. Would you do better at your job if your boss was hanging over you, constantly reminding you that you’re fired if you don’t perform perfectly, 100% of the time?
Deifying or idolizing teams, coaches, players, GM’s, or owners
Nothing good can come from making the people involved with the game bigger than the game itself. Nobody stays in one place forever, and nothing lasts forever. People move on, retire, get traded, and nothing makes the job harder for the person following the legend than having to deal with unreasonable and irrational fans expecting constant perfection because of the constant shadow cast by the guy that came before them.
The problem with placing someone on a pedestal is that once they’re gone, no one else can ever measure up. No Alabama fan ever remembers that Bear Bryant went eight straight bowl games without a victory, but every coach that ever came through Tuscaloosa after him was compared to his image. Holding someone up to “legendary” status is like buying a classic car. It looks great, but the real thing never measures up to the memory.
Look at the situation Penn State is in. The future of Penn State football is going to depend on how fast the fans and the administration get past the Joe Paterno era and moves on.
I just hit on some broad strokes here, but these are my major pet peeves when it comes to talking sports. If you agree, let me know what you think. Even better, if you disagree, I want to hear that too.