There’s more to being a sports fan than just being a sports fan. This is something bandwagon fans don’t understand, man.
It’s like… dude… you’re not even a REAL fan, you jackass.
Real fans have emotional ties to their teams. There’s a bond there that goes beyond celebrating a goal, a touchdown, a homerun, a triple-double, a hat trick, a perfect game, a historical milestone being broken or a world championship in whatever sport. Being a real fan is much, much deeper than that.
If you are capable of rooting for one team during one season then rooting for a different team the next due to either a terrible record, your “favorite player” leaving for another team, or your down-low drug addict husband being traded and released from team to team because the fame of being on your reality show was too much to handle, then not only are you not a true fan, you are kind of an idiot to boot. Bandwagoning is for kids who are 12 years old and younger. Once you become a teen, you better pick a side and stick with it, homie.
Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m probably the biggest sports junkie they know, if not Top 3, and can be a bit of a sports snob. I spend more time staring at box scores than I do watching TV. I’m the type of guy that knows more about someone else’s favorite team than they do, and obviously arrogant enough about that to toot my own horn. But this isn’t about me… all I’m saying is if anyone is capable of making an unofficial guide to being a REAL sports fan, it’s the guy fingertip punching this keyboard right now. But before I get into what makes a real fan, let me debunk a few of myths on what some people think does not constitute as proper fandom.
Myth #1 – You can’t like a team that’s not from your current living region
This is just silly. What does it matter how close a team is to you? As long as that’s the team you’ve liked when you first got into the sport, then that’s all that matters. I live in California and have been a diehard White Sox fan since I was 10 due to WGN airing out here and being in awe of Frank Thomas’ size and hitting ability. Bo Jackson, my favorite athlete of all time, also had a short early stint with the team that solidified my loyalty. Besides, people move and stay connected with teams from their old stomping grounds. It’s not that hard to comprehend.
Myth #2 – You are not a real fan if you think your team is going to suck that year
There’s a difference between pessimism and realism. If you’ve ever seen Major League II, Randy Quaid’s character is the perfect example of pessimism as he hilariously quips throughout the movie that the team will blow their chances at some point, even though they continue to make an incredible playoff run. It’s the ballad of a fan who has soured from too many prior disappointments, which is understandable. But if a team is showing signs of chemistry and having fun while winning, you have to believe. Then there’s the realism, which is basically what any unbiased Raiders fan like myself has had to sit through for the past 10 years. Yeah, we’ll overpay and a past-his-prime QB, sign a few overhyped free agents and hope for the best, but no legitimate coaching staff, no competence on how to draft quality players and no solid structure coming from the front office means not a whole lot of wins are going up in those standings. Sad but true (although a turnaround can begin this upcoming season.)
Myth #3 – A real fan doesn’t change the channel from a game even when your team is getting crushed
How about a real fan can’t stomach the sight of his favorite team not showing up for a game? It can go both ways, really. This doesn’t make or break a fan, each individual simply has his or her own outlook when it comes to dealing with blowout losses.
So now comes the nitty gritty. These are the Top 5 rules anyone who considers themselves a legitimate fan of any team needs to be able to do. Plain and simple, if you can’t do all or at least the majority of these things to the highest standard, you either need to step your game up or stop faking the funk. Being a fan isn’t a novelty, or a way to brag or show-off. It’s a way of life.
(Side note: I’ll be lenient on a few of these rules for women, be it for chauvinistic reasons or whatever you wanna call it. Sorry, your memories just aren’t the best, but the women who do know the majority of this stuff are that much more awesome in my book and if any of you are single feel free to shoot me a line. Unless me insulting your memories is a turn-off; for that I apologize, insincerely.)
Rule #1 – Know your team’s history
I won’t go as far as saying you need to know when your team’s official inception was, but at least know if they’ve relocated from another city or two. Also, most historical moments or Hall-of-Famers should be known off the top of your head. Years when championships were won, if at all, is a plus. And of course a general knowledge of past players and coaches is supreme. Real sports fans recognize other real fans. I could sit here and rattle off some of the most obscure pitchers the White Sox had in the late 90’s without googling them like Mike Sirotka, Jason Bere and Esteban Loaiza… why? Do I even need to answer that? ‘Cuz I’m a real fan and an occasional pompous jerk about it, that’s why.
Rule #2 – Know your team’s current roster
This almost goes without saying, but because some people’s memories are better than others, I’ll put it in levels. If you can name the entire starting roster and reserves, doesn’t matter the sport, you’re a bona fide stud (football might be an exception because, let’s face it, offensive lineman aren’t sexy.) If you can name most of the starters and a few reserves, you’re a solid #1 draft pick. Name a few, but less than half of the team and you’re merely a journeyman looking for home. And finally, if you can only name 3 or fewer players on the team, you’re an embarrassment to yourself and the people you hang around with; in other words, a bench-riding cheerleader who’s capable of being cut at any moment. Again, I’m giving women a slight pass, but seriously, don’t be the type of chick that “likes” a team because so-and-so is “cuuuuute.” That’s just annoying.
Rule #3 – Know your coaches and important front office personnel
Not much really needs to be said here. If you don’t know the people calling the plays, making the moves or handing out the paychecks, then how exactly are you following your team? Do you watch the games? Because they pretty much go over all of that stuff in the commentary. I’m really not asking a whole lot here, folks.
Rule #4 – Own some sort of paraphernalia of your team to show some pride
Hats, jerseys, posters, flags… all of that works. But if you have a man cave of your team, you are so official. Kudos to those who fly their team’s stripes during the miserable years, too, as there’s no bigger show of support than when your team is down, and no greater satisfaction than when they return to prominence and you publicly rode with them the whole time. This was never more evident for me when the White Sox won in 2005, a championship I never saw coming and to this day was the one I was the most excited for, simply because an 80+ year drought means generations of fans probably never got a chance to see them win one, but I did. I consider myself lucky. But this isn’t the sole way of being a fan, it just kind of serves as proof. For example, I work with several bandwagoners, one of which claimed he “grew up a 49er fan from the bay area.” This was during the playoffs last year. He then asked me about 30 seconds later when the next Niners game was. I told him simply, “umm… you’re not a real Niners fan if you don’t know when they’re playing.” His reply? “Well if I had to pick a team…” I interrupted him quickly, “dude, you don’t have to pick a team. You’re not a real fan.” My point is I guarantee that if I were to go to his house, I wouldn’t have find a shred of 49er memorabilia. Some people flaunt it and know zip about the team, others talk the talk but have nothing to show for it. You have to be able to cover both grounds here, people. No ifs, ands or buts.
Rule #5 – Never stop following your team no matter how bad of a season they are having
Because you never know when they’ll start turning it around, and really, is there anything better than being able to pinpoint that exact instant when the momentum shifted during the season into your team’s favor? How can you experience that if you give up on them? I’ve seen people jump off a bandwagon during a slow start to a season only to jump right back on after a hot stretch midway. It’s an insult to the game and to true fans everywhere. It’s one thing to identify a season is a lost cause, but some people basically disown their teams during off years. This is something a true fan would never do.
*Bonus topic: People who like 2 teams in the same sport. This is a little more complicated than you might think. First of all, it has to be established why this person likes both teams, and it’s always safer if they’re in different conferences. The one thing that absolutely CANNOT happen is if someone likes 2 teams from the same division. You can’t do this. There’s no way around it. If your teams play each other on a regular basis, you either have to pick one over the other or completely alienate your allegiance to both teams for that game. Either way, that’s something a true fan should never have to do.
Liking a sports team is like a marriage. There are ups and downs, you may cheat and root for another team for a game (maybe because of a bet or fantasy sports situation) and you might even think about calling it quits. But the strong marriages, the ones that are meant to be, remain together for life. Why? Because it’s true love, and true love conquers all…