I’d say that in the past five years I’ve taken my personal sports “fandom” from a level of casual supporter of certain teams to something close to a “fanatic-in-training.” I’m not quite at the level of watching two unranked Division II football teams fight it out without getting some sort of paycheck out of it, yet. I am, however, much more willing to watch the closing innings of a Tampa Bay-Detroit baseball game (two horrible teams that haven’t been any sort of threat in the past 15 years) or a Philadelphia 76ers/Boston Celtics 1979 ESPN Classic special (a game that happened when I still learning to walk.)
Part of being a sports fan is following “your” teams – I’ve got the Indiana Pacers, followed by the Miami Dolphins. You root for them to win, criticize their weaknesses, and give them a pass when they make stupid moves. These teams, for me, can’t do anything wrong, and while there will be times when I will drag their name around, primarily I’m stuck with them for life.
To prove this point: I once defended Jay Fiedler. That’s all I really have to say.
There’s another side of this, though. As I was listening to the Pitt/Nebraska game on the radio today, I heard mention of Dave Wannstedt (former Dolphins coach and team-wrecker.) I said to myself: “I hope he loses.”
I stopped and thought about what I had just said. I was not rooting for a team or player anymore – I was actively rooting against someone, hoping that they would fail. I realized how horrible this is, but also how much a crucial part of sports it is as well.
Everyone has a certain group of teams, players, and staff that they hate – teams that they want to see fail in every way possible. We’d root for these people to lose rather than rooting for the other team to win. It doesn’t matter the circumstances. The team must lose. Preferably very badly.
Dave Wannstedt is in my group. As is Barry Bonds (with his incredibly poisonous personality), Isiah Thomas (who has screwed up everything he’s touched as a coach and GM), and Jayson Williams (sure, he may have killed someone, but you should have seen his lack of hustle against the Skyforce last year.)
Every non-Miami team in the AFC East (the New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Buffalo Bills) is actively rooted against every week. In the event that two of the teams play each other, I root against the one with the better record.
Additionally, you can throw the Detroit Pistons in my group – as a Pacers fan I have no choice. Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace used to be rooted against, but Rasheed Wallace is on my fantasy simulation team and it would be hypocritical to wish him bad luck at this point. Ben Wallace gets a pass because he does the grunt work, which I always appreciate.
I’ve always had a thing for hating certain teams that have entered themselves as “dynasty” teams, especially when they haven’t done anything dynastic for the past ten years or so. The Oakland Raiders, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Yankees (who still do well, but wouldn’t without the ridiculous payroll) all fit this category.
I’ve never liked Antoine Walker or Latrell Sprewell, and I especially hated John Starks when he was in the league. Larry Johnson, too.
The list could go on, but I’ve already been put on snooze by half of my readers. My point is this: isn’t it weird to hate a group of people – to wish horrible defeat and never-ending failure upon each and every one of them – when they’ve never done anything to warrant your ire? Is it completely horrible to want Tom Brady to do nothing but throw interceptions, get thrown to the bench, and end up cut the following year?
Of course not. It’s sports. This is part of what I signed up for when I became a sports fan: utter contempt without guilt, hate in the form of team loyalty.
Now if you don’t mind, I need to attempt to curse Dave Wannstedt a little more.