Sports Fans Really Do Live and Die by Their Teams

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IMarch 24, 2009

Sports fans are like nothing and no one else. They seem to live in a world all their own where their happiness or attitude may be determined by the players and the outcome on the field.

To them sports are sacred and time for family, friends and anything else is scheduled around the broadcasts. Sports fans will go to extreme lengths to not only express themselves, but their team loyalty.

It’s almost a necessity for a sports fan to be seen and heard and it doesn’t matter to them whether it comes off in a positive or negative light, as long as their point is made.

From buying merchandise to making signs and getting tattoos, it will never be enough as they will always be searching for new ways to show their team loyalty.

The faithfulness and dedication that comes with being a sports fan causes them to live life in a different manner than everyone else for both the good and the bad.

The sporting world is a highly competitive place. The players and the teams are there to not only do a job but prove something and compete for a championship. Fans tend to compete with each other in terms of who has the most spirit.

That’s where sports offer up many things to its fans. Watching sports has become a past-time for parents and their children; they want to pass on their love of the game.

It is a game that has young children idolizing the men and women on the screen and dreaming of growing up to be just like them.

Something their parents may be doing as well, watching with their children and wishing they could be a hero or rich and famous. But most of all, sports provide a time for bonding and connecting with others.

“For example, according to social identity theory, people gain a sense of who they are and derive much of their self-esteem from their memberships in social groups and categories” (Dietz-Uhler et al 226).

Socials groups and categories that are sports which are all:

About eye-black, stickum, and pine tar. It’s fourth and goal, first and long, and John 3:16. It’s about tapping in a sixteen-foot putt for an eagle on the eighteenth after seventeen holes of triple bogeys. It’s about divots, brush-burns, rally caps, the Miracle On Ice, and Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh my!).

It’s Goose Gossage, Bear Bryant and Catfish Hunter. Sweaty gym socks, the Boston Red Sox and the penalty box; ballpark franks, checkered flags and if you ain’t rubbin,’ you ain’t racin.’

It’s about sudden death, extra innings and being behind the eight ball; the Green Monster, Wrigley ivy and Yankee pinstripes; goal-line stands, the terrible towel and the Dog Pound. RBIs, FGs, HRs, TDs, FTs and the 7-10 split.

It’s about tying flies, slimy worms, baiting the hook and having fun whether you catch a fish or not.

It’s about…‘and down the stretch,’ ‘Let’s get ready to rrrumble,’ ‘How ya hubba’ and ‘Holy Cow.’ Cans of corn, blue darters and playing pepper in the backyard until the sun goes down and you can’t see the ball anymore.

It’s about the Music City Miracle (even though the Bills lost), the Immaculate Reception and the Drive…The Thrilla in Manila, No Mas, and floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

It’s about Any Given Sunday, The Fish That Stole Pittsburgh, and Rocky I through V (although V wasn’t all that good)…mashed potato mouthpieces, Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, face masks, shin guards, shin pads, the stand-up slide and natural grass…sunflower seeds, chewing gum and Gatorade.

It’s about driving the lane, finding your line and being in the zone; press boxes, dugouts, sidelines and that peanut guy who can hit you between the numbers from twelve rows down and hand you your change before you open the bag.

It’s about still being in your seat long after the game is over because we were having too much fun to realize the game was over…grand slams, Hail Marys and the suicide squeeze…hearing swoosh before the buzzer, slap shots, wrist shots, sand traps, Ping-Pong, aces high and bull’s eyes.

It’s about tailgates, the tale of the tape and knocking a leaner off with a ringer; starting blocks, tackling dummies and spring training. The boys of summer, the rope-a-dope, who’s on first, what’s on second, and I don’t know-third base.

It’s about Go Army, Beat Navy and how kids scream ‘car’ during street hockey games to let the goalies know they need to move their nets. It’s about playing umpteen games of P-I-G and Around the World in the driveway until you finally beat your older brother.

It’s about cutmen who make Frankenstein’s monster look like Christie Brinkley, first baseman who can scoop up a dirt ball like it were rocky road and goalies who guard their nets like Fort Knox. It’s about slumps, streaks and standing Os…the Ice Bowl, the Super Bowl, Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Heisman and Touchdown Jesus.

It’s about the smell of your first baseball glove, the feel of your first lucky bat and sound of your mother cheering at your first football game.

In short, son, it’s about the thrill of victory, the agony or defeat and everything in between.

But most importantly, it’s about passing all this on to you son one day as my dad did to me and I am to you. (qtd. in Canfield et al 21-23)

William Wilczewski described it perfectly when talking to his son about sports and what they mean, as well as describing in perfect detail everything about those magical plays.

And in doing so he showed how passionate and dedicated he is. There are many different categories to define and categorize sports fans.

First, the groupies who are exactly like rock-star groupies in terms of following the teams and players from town-to-town in hopes of maybe catching someone’s eye.

Some just want to be trophy wives; they may understand sports but are more into the sweating men and large paychecks. Following the groupies would be the followers, the ones who watch sports and are interested but don’t necessarily have favorites.

They tend to love the sport and love watching. The faithful fans are next. These would be the ones that have followed a certain team for many years.

They like to sit around and tell stories about how things were played in the old days and trade stories about retired players or the all-time greats such as “Mean Joe Greene” who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 1970s.

The faithful fans will own an old tee-shirt or hat that looks beat up and worn out, but that’s the team for them, they don’t need anyone or anything else.

They know where their heart lies. And then finally there are the die-hard fans. The die-hards are in a league of their own and it’s up to everyone else to step up.

They know everything about every player and every team and use that when it comes to their fantasy league or when engaging in sports talk with others.

The die-hards are also very passionate and loyal and they express it by buying anything that has a connection to their favorite teams and players and they wear apparel proudly.

The die-hard sports fans are the ones you see in commercials that get game scores on their cell phones while they are out or if they have to go out shopping or to church, they make sure they are back home by game time.

They get tattoos of the hero’s faces on their arms and legs. After the NFL’s Detroit Lions became the first team in history to go 0-16, Lions fan Dan, decided to remember the dreadful season by getting it tattooed on his chest.

"Yeah, I was there when they went 0-16, and I didn't abandon my team. It only strengthened my resolve to stick with my beloved Lions until they turned it around" (“Lions fan gets a reminder of 0-16 tattooed on his chest”).

NASCAR fans are among the die-hards that will get tattoos of driver’s faces or car numbers all over their bodies.

They refuse to buy food brands that sponsor drivers they don’t like, such as M&M’s, instead supporting brands that sponsor their favorite driver, like Budweiser. They [NASCAR fans] also lead the way when it comes to tailgating before the big event.

For football, baseball, hockey and many other sports the tailgating party only lasts a couple of hours, fans pull-up in the morning and occupy themselves before heading into the stadium or arena.

NASCAR die-hards buy campers and spend hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms to travel about the country from race to race. And their tailgating party, most likely on the track’s infield or parking lots outside, last for the entire weekend, they grill, drink and have their own Mardi Gras.

They do it because they love racing and show it week after week, “NASCAR racing fans are some of the most loyal sports enthusiasts and represent a population ready for increased analytical consideration” (Spanu 352).

Some fans love racing so much that they won’t even let it interrupt their weddings. On any Saturday or Sunday victory lane plays host to a union between man and woman. Some drivers may even stop by and play best man.

"'This is the climax of the honeymoon,” Matt Slutter said. The couple drove from Harrisburg, PA., decked out in NASCAR-sponsored merchandise: a Dodge jersey and cap for Christine, who roots for Dodge-sponsored Kasey Kahne; a Lowe’s tee and cap on Matt, who roots for Jimmie Johnson’” (Song).  

Matt and his wife spent their honeymoon in Charlotte, North Carolina during Memorial Day weekend where the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 was taking place.

The pre-game or pre-race time also offers fans the chance to get in the game spirit by painting their body and faces, making signs in hopes of getting on TV, and getting themselves pumped up.

Then, when they enter the stadium and the game begins, sports fans show how loyal and dedicated they are by sitting the teen degree weather with snow falling at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin or the hot sun of San Diego, California.

However, it’s like they don’t even notice as they stay for the entire game. They cheer and jump around in support of their heroes and to them it doesn’t get much better than being in the middle of it all.

For others, they make their living room the center of it all. Buying large screen televisions and all the sports packages that go with it, one game isn’t enough, sports fans want them all.

Senior Vice President of Programming Marc Fein, says that when high definition television came out, it was an instant hit with fans, “Sports fans are great and fanatical and crazy, and anytime you can deliver their sport in a higher quality, people go nuts” (qtd. in Finn).

For these fans that stay at home to watch sports, some of them turn their homes into shrines, consisting of recliners and sports memorabilia.

Family and friends seem to understand that when the game is on, nothing else matters and they are not to be disturbed. Some can even tune out everything except the noise coming from the television.

The perfect example of being not only a die-hard fan, but one that is very serious about game time would be Terry Harper of Mansfield, Ohio.

Harper has a game day tradition, almost of superstition, that he completes before the start of every Pittsburgh Steelers game.

First, he takes a shower and dries himself with a Steelers towel before hanging it on the bathroom door and it’s important that the emblem be showing. Then he’ll head to his favorite restaurant and his order will always be the same: “rare, eight-ounce sirloin, baked potato with extra sour cream, salad with peppercorn dressing, and peach tea” (Struby and Feldman 33).

Afterward he returns home and turns everything off except the television, he doesn’t eat anything and no guests are allowed. Next he puts on his own uniform: black socks, gold shorts and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s tee-shirt, the song “Renegade” by Styx goes on the stereo.

Harper is not done as he heads for a room that has been dedicated solely to the Steelers where:

Inside hang jerseys, hats, banners, flags and shelves filled with mugs, shot glasses, pens, figurines and Steelers Heinz ketchup.

Harper kneels on the Steelers rug, bows his head and touches the team emblem…Back in his den, Harper plops a beanbag chair between the couch and the coffee table and lays another Steelers towel on top…But first, time to make the Drink: one can of Pepsi in a favorite plastic Steelers mug with four ice cubs (for the quarters of the game). (Struby and Feldman 34)

Finally in the remaining few minutes before the opening kickoff Harper will turn up the heat, the lights go off and the television volume is set on 22 and then as the teams take the field, he rubs the tattoo on his right shoulder (Struby and Feldman 34).

The Pittsburgh Steelers would win their sixth Super Bowl a few weeks later and Terry Harper believes that he did his job in helping the team, which according to research at Miami University is not that uncommon.

“Those who identify strongly with their team attend more games and predict more future success for their team, tend not to waver in their commitment to their team over the course of a season, and have greater knowledge of the team’s players and history” (Dietz-Uhler et al 221).

Die-hard fans such as Terry Harper live their life for the good; they are not hurting anyone or anything, except maybe their social life if the people around them find it creepy, crazy and annoying.

While Harper and others go about dedicating their life to their teams in the right way, some take their fandom too far and just don’t know how to handle themselves.

For as long as sports have been played, there have been highly publicized incidents of the fans that used their burst of energy to express their hatred with a player or team all while embarrassing themselves.

It all starts before the game when there’s tailgating, trash-talking, and booze. That’s not saying booze is always a factor or that alcohol drinkers are the main offenders, but it definitely plays a role. By the time the event actually begins, any given fan is a walking volcano ready to erupt.

It might be streakers looking for their 15 minutes of fame or something bigger and worse: someone throwing objects or throwing fists over a call or play they don’t like. It was during a 2003 National League Championship game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins that fact became the center of attention.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan, had reached into the playing field to catch a ball that a Cubs player was trying to field. Because of Bartman’s interference the Marlins were able to come back and win the game and eventually eliminated the Cubs from World Series contention and they haven’t won a championship in over a hundred years.

After the incident fellow Cubs fans started chanting “kill him” and “asshole” then poured beer on him as he was escorted from the stadium.

For sports fans it’s more than just a game and because of that they stick with their team through the good and bad, and it’s during the bad times that their true colors bleed through.

They may love their team and players but they love them enough to chastise them when they lose or do something wrong. On September 29, 2002 a father and son at a Kansas City Royals baseball game jumped the railing and attacked the first base coach.

A few years later a Boston Red Sox’s fan reached out and hit rival player Gary Sheffield in the head. During a soccer match fans began throwing flares onto the field, one hit a goalie in the shoulder and the game was halted because firefighters had to be called.

The National Football League is as well known for their sport as they are for the female New York Jets’ fans that always make the 11 o’clock news for their halftime antics.

Other NFL incidents include fans throwing snowballs at players who were sitting on the sidelines during a Giants game in 1995 or when five years later fans threw snowballs that were packed with batteries at Oakland Raiders players.

There have been player and fan fist fights in the NBA, however from personal experience it is fair to say that NASCAR fans go above and beyond to get heard. Sitting in the stands it is not uncommon to hear insults or see a fan give a certain driver the one finger salute, with children all around.

It is one thing to set an example on how to be passionate, but it’s another to go about it the wrong way. And of course, NASCAR fans love to throw things as well. Either when someone wins that they don’t like or when NASCAR officials make a controversial call.

The fans are likely to liter the track with anything they can pick up and haul over the fence.

Sports fan are a different breed of people and their passion is undeniable, but as shown that passion can cross the line. It’s not just physically either; sports fan can be vicious in a verbal way as well.

At the stadium when they aren’t sharing cheers for their hero, they’re booing and shouting insults that could make anyone’s ears cringe. At home while watching the game, when things take a turn for the worst they are likely to scream obscenities at the television, slam things and stomp around.

Websites and message boards light up with obscenity laced tirades that administrators are forced to remove. They’ve become so attached that they win when the team wins and they experience the joys that comes with it.

They lose when the team loses and they experience the frustration that it entails. Sports fans are emotional.

Super Bowl Sunday is the one night of the year that has a high number of cases involving husbands beating their wives. It’s the biggest game of the year and only one team is going to be the NFL’s champions and fans need an outlet when it’s not their team.

That outlet is unfortunately their wife or anyone else in the area. But to sports fans it’s all fair game as they live their life according to team colors.

There will never be enough sports and there will never be enough ways for sports fans to show their loyalty. Sports fans love their teams and players as much as they love their family but during game time it’s only about what’s happening on the playing field.

They go about dedicating their lives in the clothes they wear and the merchandise they invest tons of money in to show how much sports mean to them. Sports fans live to be at the stadium cheering until they’re blue or even red in the face.

They enjoy sitting at home with their television packages and revel in 24/7 sports. Sports fans will never waiver in their commitment, passion, and expressions.

As long as sports are alive and kicking, driving, shooting, hitting and throwing, sports fans will continue to show others everything positive and negative about America’s favorite past-time.