Rules for being a true fan
- Bill Simmons, "Page 2", February 27/02
Ugh ... the dog days of February. The Olympics just ended. The NHL and NBA are limping toward the playoffs. We're still a few weeks away from WrestleMania, Junior Kiper's final NFL draft rankings, the Masters, fantasy baseball and watchable spring training games. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue already came out.
You know what that means? We're delving into my "BREAK OPEN IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" treasure chest of column gimmicks! Today's topic: Shouldn't there be rules for being a sports fan? Shouldn't somebody write down some sort of charter? Shouldn't that person be me?
This column has been brewing for about six weeks, ever since a startling phone conversation with one of my Page 2 bosses (KJ, a Seattle native and die-hard Seahawks fan). We were chatting about the Patriots and Steelers potentially colliding in the playoffs, when KJ suddenly said, "At least if my Steelers lose, I'll be happy for you, because the Pats made it."
Huh? My Steelers??? And this was how I found out that KJ -- my esteemed editor and friend, a good man, a father and a husband, the man who makes Page 2 run so smoothly -- was a Sports Bigamist. As it turns out, the Steelers are KJ's Second-Favorite Team, whatever that means. Apparently, as long as Pittsburgh isn't playing Seattle, he roots for the Steelers, but he doesn't root for the Steelers quite as hard as he roots for the Seahawks, and if both teams are doing well, he chooses the Seahawks, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care about the Steelers, and I think I just lost control of my bowels.
Honestly, I just can't understand it. You cannot root for two teams at the same time. You cannot hedge your bets. You cannot unconditionally love two teams at the same time, when there's a remote chance that they might go head-to-head some day.
(I can't believe it -- KJ, of all people. We need to go undergo Friend Therapy just so I can come to grips with this.)
Did the entire turn of events warrant a column? Probably not. But I couldn't resist slapping together a list of 20 set-in-stone rules that every professional sports fan should abide. Maybe you have your own rules; these are mine. And just so you know, I concentrated this column on the dynamic involving fans and their favorite team, so there are none of those "No talking on your cell phone and waving to the center-field camera if you're sitting behind home plate"-type rules in here.
Without further ado ...
1. You can't purchase a "blank" authentic jersey from your favorite team with no name on the back, then stick your own name and number on the jersey ... well, unless you want to be an enormous dork.
2. If you're attending an NBA game, don't wear the jersey of a team that isn't competing in the game. It's bad enough to see people wearing authentic NBA jerseys in public -- if they're wearing a T-shirt underneath it, they look ridiculous, and if they aren't wearing a T-shirt, usually there's flab and shoulder hair everywhere, and you're wishing that they were wearing a T-shirt. Besides, it's not like you need to wear an NBA jersey to get yourself in the mood for an NBA game, unlike baseball, football and hockey.
3. Don't wear cheap-looking replica jerseys or flimsy-looking bargain-basement hats. Come on. You're representing every fan from your team. Show some pride.
4. Don't wear replica championship rings as a conversation starter. Don't carry someone's baseball card in your wallet as a conversation starter.
5. It's OK to flagrantly show your contempt for the home team by wearing the colors of a hated rival, as long as you're not being obnoxious as you root for the visiting team. If you make a spectacle of yourself, all bets are off and you'll get what you deserve. Back in the late-'80s, I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium -- during a Red Sox-Yanks game, no less -- wearing a Sox hat, Bruins jersey and Celtics shorts, and the Yankees fans left me alone. Why? Because I wasn't going overboard. There's a lesson here, and it's not just that I had a death wish back in the late-'80s.
6. When your team wins a championship, it's your civic duty to purchase as much paraphernalia as possible. Don't be ashamed. Hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, videos, cards, magazines, books ... there's no limit. Gorge yourself.
7. Be very careful when using the word "We" with your favorite team. Use it judiciously. Just remember, you don't wear a uniform, you don't play any minutes, and you're not on the team. And yes, this was an extremely tough line for me to straddle during the Patriots' Super Bowl run.
8. No hopping on and off the bandwagon during the season with the flip-flop, "I knew we were going to self-destruct! ... All right, we won six straight! ... I knew we wouldn't keep playing this well. ... I knew we would bounce back!" routine as the season drags along. Just for the record, this is probably my biggest fault as a sports fan -- I overreact to everything. I've already written off the Celtics three different times this season, and I've given up on Antoine Walker roughly 435 times over the past six years. Can I get some medication for this?
9. It's OK to root against your team, if they're hopelessly out of the playoff race and you want them to keep losing so A) they'll get a better draft pick, or B) you're hoping the coach and/or GM will get fired. Don't feel bad about it.
(Note: It's also OK to wager against your team, if they're hopelessly out of the playoff race. But only then. And only if you don't make it a habit.)
10. If one of your fantasy guys is lighting it up against your favorite team (scoring goals, rushing for big yards, making jumpers, etc.), you can't pump your fist, high-five anyone or refer to the player in a "That's one of my guys!" sense, especially if it's a crucial game or a crucial juncture of the game.
(That's maybe the No. 1 problem for sports fans these days: When to draw the line between fantasy and real life. It's an ongoing battle. Even if you can't help getting secretly excited about your fantasy guys when they're thriving against your favorite team, at least make sure you feel guilty, too. Don't you hate that enthralled/guilty feeling? Is there anything worse? I'm babbling ...)
11. Don't boo your team unless it's absolutely warranted -- like with the brutal Knicks situation this season, or if you're hoping to get a coach fired or a specific player traded or something. When you think about it, what's the purpose of booing your team? If you're trying to inspire them, usually you end up sending them into a deeper funk -- odds are, your team already knows it's struggling. And if you're trying to light a fire under a specific player, usually you end up making him even more nervous and tentative. So why boo in the first place? Trust me, dead silence sends a bigger message than anything. And it's not potentially destructive.
(There's only one circumstance where booing doesn't cause more harm than good: If you have a great team that seems to be going through the motions. For instance, the Lakers have a tendency to sleepwalk against inferior teams at home; As soon as the fans get a little restless, Shaq and company seem to wake up. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their fans aren't paying attention that closely because they're busy either trying to get on the Jumbotron, averting their eyes from Dyan Cannon, or trying to figure out things like "How many points do you get if you shoot one from half court?" or "How come that clock on the backboard keeps counting down backward from 24?")
12. After your team wins a championship, they immediately get a five-year grace period: You can't complain about anything that happens with your team (trades, draft picks, salary-cap cuts, coaching moves) for five years. There are no exceptions. For instance, the Pats could finish 0-80 over the next five years and I wouldn't say a peep. That's just the way it is. You win the Super Bowl, you go on cruise control for five years. Everything else is gravy.
13. You can follow specific players from other teams, but only as long as they aren't facing your team. For instance, it's fine to enjoy the Brett Favre Experience if you're a Jaguars fan ... just don't get carried away and start making a scrapbook, collecting all his football cards and so on. That's a little sketchy. And you can't purchase his jersey under any circumstances.
14. Just because you supported a team that won a championship, it doesn't give you the right to turn into a pompous, insufferable schmuck. Remember this.
Friendships and relationships
15. If your team defeats a good friend's team in a crucial game or series, don't rub it in with them unless they've been especially annoying/gloating/condescending/confrontational in the days leading up to the big battle. You're probably better off cutting off all communications in the days preceding/following the game, just to be safe.
15a. Along those same lines, if your team squanders a crucial game/series to your buddy's team, don't make them feel guilty about it -- don't call them to bitch about the game, don't blame some conspiracy or bad referee's call, don't rant and rave like a lunatic. In the words of Vito Corleone, you can act like a man. You have plenty of time to bitch in private.
15b. If your buddy's team loses an especially tough game, don't call him -- wait for him to call you. And when you do speak to him, discuss the game in a tone normally reserved for sudden, unexpected deaths.
15c. If one of your best friends loves a certain team that has a chance to win a championship, and your team is out of the picture, it's OK to jump on the bandwagon and root for his team to win it all. That's acceptable. Like Temporary Fan status.
16. If you marry someone who roots for a different team than you, you can't be bullied into switching allegiances. You'd be amazed how often this happens ... and how often it's the guy who folds. The power of women to whip men never ceases to amaze me. The funniest part is when the guy starts making excuses: "Well, once I moved to Boston from New York, I got caught up in this whole Red Sox thing and the American League, so I stopped following the Mets," or "I never liked the Browns as much as she liked the Bengals, so I'm taking one for the team," or even my personal favorite, "We wanted our kids to root for the same team as their parents."
(Don't you love when "The sake of the kids" becomes a reason? What is this, like a Jewish-Catholic thing?)
17. If you're an American woman and visible former actress, and you marry the most famous Canadian hockey star of all-time, and eventually he becomes the man in charge of putting together a Canadian Olympic hockey team, and they end up playing the Americans for the gold medal in a game that's taking place in a U.S. city, and you show up for that game cheering for the Canadians, and you're hugging everyone in sight as the Canadians are putting the game away in the third period ... well, you have to leave the country immediately. And you can't come back. Ever.
(Yes, I'm talking to you, Janet Jones. Nobody likes a Sports Traitor. Turn in your driver's license, turn in your passport and take a hike. If you like Canada so much, move there. How come nobody is making a big deal out of this? TRAITOR! TRAITOR!)
And the biggies ...
18. If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team. None of this, "The Bengals weren't very good when I was growing up in Cincy, so I became a Cowboys fan" crap.
Also, you can't start rooting for a team, back off when they're in a down cycle, then renew the relationship once the team starts winning again. All those Cowboys fans who jumped off the bandwagon in the late-'80s, jumped back on during the Emmitt/Aikman Era, then jumped back off in the late-'90s ... you know who you are. You shouldn't even be allowed out in public.
(There's nothing worse than a Bandwagon Jumper. If sports were a prison and sports fans made up all the prisoners, the Bandwagon Jumpers would be like the child molesters -- everyone else would pick on them, take turns beating them up and force them to toss more salads than Emeril Lagasse.)
19. Once you choose a team, you're stuck with that team for the rest of your life ... unless one of the following conditions applies:
Your team moves to another city. All bets are off when that happens. In fact, if you decided to turn off that sport entirely, nobody would blame you.
You grew up in a city that didn't field a team for a specific sport -- so you picked a random team -- and then either a.) your city landed a team, or b.) you moved to a city that fielded a team for that specific sport. For instance, one of my Connecticut buddies rooted for the Sixers during the Doctor J Era, then happened to be living in Orlando when the Magic came to town. Now he's a Magic fan. That's acceptable.
One of your immediate family members either plays professionally or takes a relevant management/coaching/front office position with a pro team.
You follow your favorite college star (and this has to be a once-in-a-generation favorite college star) to the pros and root for his team du jour ... like if you were a UNC fan for the past 20 years, and you rooted for the Bulls (because of MJ) and then the Raptors (because of Vince). Only works if there isn't a pro team in your area.
The owner of your favorite team treated his fans so egregiously over the years that you couldn't take it anymore -- you would rather not follow them at all then support a franchise with this owner in charge. Just for the record, I reached this point with the Boston Bruins about six years ago. When it happens, you have two options: You can either renounce that team and pick someone else, or you can pretend they're dead, like you're a grieving widow. That's what I do. I'm an NHL widow. I don't even want to date another team.
If you're between the ages of 20-40, you're a fan of the Yankees, Cowboys, Braves, Raiders, Steelers, Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Canadiens and/or Oilers, and you're not actually from those one of those cities ... well, you better have a reason that goes beyond "When I was picking a favorite team as a kid, they were the best team, so I picked them."
At least give me a reason like "Reggie Jackson was my favorite player growing up," or "I always liked the red Bulls uniforms," or even "Everyone in my gang wore Raiders colors." Do you really want to be known as a bona fide Bandwagon Jumper?
20. If you hail from New York, you can't root for the Yankees and the Mets. You have to choose between them. Repeat: You have to choose between them. Don't give me this "As long as one of them is doing well, at least New York is winning" spiels. What is this, the sports fan's version of bisexuality? How about making a choice? Any New Yorker who said the words "It's the Yankees versus the Mets ... I can't lose!" during the 2000 World Series deserves to be tortured with a cattle prod.
Besides, as we mentioned in the beginning of this column, you shouldn't practice "Sports Bigamy" in general. Sports teams are just like wives ... you can only have one wife, you can only have one sports team, and for the love of God, I will not argue about this.
(And yes, I'm talking to you, KJ.)