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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Deserving Fan Bases

Every professional sports franchise has a hard-core group of truly dedicated fans.  But, when it gets down to the championship games, only two fan bases are left.  The rest of us find ourselves leaning and eventually rooting for one team or the other.  So, what pushes the undecided fans in one direction or the other?  For me, it often comes down to which fan base I think is more deserving of the joy of winning.  What are my criteria for deciding what fans deserve to celebrate?  Here they are, in no particular order.

Joe Nathan dressed as Tony Romo (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Year-round Devotion.  Most sports fans change their focus to a certain degree depending which sport is in season.  But, putting a pot on the back burner is far different from removing it from the stove altogether.  If you are a fan base that is wholly unaware of the existence of a team until their playoff run begins, then I cannot be excited to watch you hoist the trophy at the end.  This is the reason I can never feel good about the Texas Rangers winning a World Series.  The greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is so absorbed by the Cowboys and Longhorns football that they do not even remember that they have a baseball team unless it's actually Game 7 of the ALCS.  If the fan base doesn't think about a team except when the trophy is about to be rewarded, then that fan base simply does not deserve to have the trophy.

Knowledge and History.  You've got to respect a fan base that really understands the game.  The rules.  The strategy.  And the history.  You can actually pick up on this by paying attention to crowd reactions during telecasts.  But, you can pick this up even more if you spend any time on Twitter or Internet message boards.  This doesn't mean that a team needs to have existed since 1906 to be worthy of a title.  The Jacksonville Jaguars come to mind here as a young fan base that still fulfills this criteria.  I've encountered a large number of Jags fans in my real life and online.  These fans get involved in some of the most detailed discussions of draft strategies and defensive schemes that I've ever heard.  And, most of these fans were football fans long before the Jaguars were born in 1993, so they have a healthy respect for the history of the game.  If the Jags ever make another run in the playoffs, I'll be pulling for the folks who have backed them through these down years.
(Steve Ringman/Seattle Times)

Pain and Suffering.  The mere fact that a city has enjoyed recent success doesn't eliminate them from my list of worthy fan bases.  As I stated above, if you're knowledgeable and passionate then you can still be a fan base deserving of a title.  The Red Sox and Cardinals are battling for the World Series right now, and both of their fan bases fit this description.  But, being knowledgeable, passionate and long suffering certainly gets you bonus points in my book.  Cubs fans are the first group that come to mind, but they are hardly alone.  In some ways, the city of Seattle might have it even worse.  The last professional championship brought home to the Emerald City was when the Super Sonics won the NBA title in 1979.  And that team has since been yanked out of town and relocated to Oklahoma City. The Mariners and the Seahawks both have passionate fan bases that have never won a title.

Quality of Life.  I have a hard time getting really excited for a fan base that already gets to live in an awesome place.  I know San Diego has never won a championship.  But, how depressing can a loss
really be when you got to watch the game in sunny 75 degree weather and have a beach right outside the ballpark?  In contrast, I give you the cities of Cleveland and Buffalo.  The fans in those cities have never gotten to celebrate a championship in any major sport.  And, it's hard work being a fan there.  I mean physically hard.  Both cities have frigid, lake effect weather and no pansy domed stadiums to protect their fans.  It's even tough for indoor sports like hockey and basketball.  In order to get to the games, the fans have to dig their cars out of snow drifts in the driveway and then slip and slide across icy parking lots at the arena.  All this just to support a team that has never rewarded them with success.  Compare that to life as a pro sports fan in a lovely city like Charlotte or Phoenix.

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