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Loyalty: What Makes Us Love Our Team and Hate The Others?

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Loyalty:  What Makes Us Love Our Team and Hate The Others?
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The discussion that was started on my article Was Phillips Telling the Truth About the Cardinals got me thinking about what it really is that we are rooting for in our favorite sports teams, and how that came about in the first place.

I think if you had to boil it down to the three most important factors when we first make that decision who we’re going to root for, they would be:

1)       Family

Face it, a lot of the time we are born into rooting for a certain team.  I would say this is the single most influential factor in how we decide what team to root for.  If you’re born in a household of Cardinal fans, you most likely will turn out to be a Cardinal fan. 

2)       Location

I would say that where you grow up is the second biggest reason for liking a team.  Where you end up later in life can threaten the team you grew up rooting for- but it’ll never be the same.  Right Aaron?

3)      Exposure

This really isn’t as much of an issue in today’s world as it was in my childhood and even more so my parents childhood.  Two generations ago, teams like the Yankees and Notre Dame were America’s teams because that’s what people had access to.

During my childhood, we had more access to sports but superstations like WGN and TBS brought teams like the Cubs, Braves, and Bulls to the forefront.

For myself, I was attracted to baseball from an early age.  I think it was because it was always on.  When I wasn’t in school, the Cubs were on TV almost every day.  It was comforting.  And there was really only so much GI Joe I could take.  Watching the Bears was fun- but even when it was football season it was only once a week.

Between baseball being on TV every day in the summer, being in the prime days of baseball card collecting, and neighborhood baseball playing (we actually hauled dirt into an empty lot and created our own infield and warning track)- baseball became my sport of choice.  My favorite show was This Week in Baseball with Mel Allen that aired every week at noon—right in time to watch before Sunday dinner at grandma’s.

Growing up in Central Illinois, I was halfway between Chicago and St. Louis and I live in an area where you’re either a Cub fan or a Cardinal fan.  I remember my dad worked with a guy named Earl Kingman that helped put together the Cub caravans that came to town.  My dad would come home from work with some autographed pictures, old Vineline’s, and other Cubs memorabilia that made it official:  I was a Cubs fan.

My hatred for the Cardinals was an easy fit- my neighborhood friends that weren’t Cub fans were Cardinal fans.  So obviously, the popular argument was which mascot could beat the other in a fight- “A bear would kill a little bird!  The Cardinals stink!” 

Made sense to me.

The Cubs had Ryne Sandberg.  The Cardinals had Ozzie Smith.

The Cubs had Andre Dawson.  The Cardinals had Jack Clark.

The Cubs had Jodi Davis, Shawon Dunston, Rick Sutcliffe, Leon Durham, Greg Maddux, etc.

The Cardinals had Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr and a bunch of other guys I didn’t find as likable.

And then Mark Grace started his career with the Cubs in 1988 and became my all-time favorite Cub. 

I had other sports teams I liked too.  I loved the Bulls, the Illini (basketball), and the Bears.  But the Cubs were by far my favorite team to follow- even though they were horrible through my childhood except for 1989 when they lost to the Giants in the playoffs when Will “the Thrill” Clark went off for a series (they had a great season in 1984, but I was only 5 at the time).

To me, following the Cubs isn’t just about winning.  Obviously I want the Cubs to win.  But I’m going to follow them whether they’re in first or last place.  I grew up with the Cubs. 

Your favorite team is like your brother or sister that has flaws that everyone else can see but you will defend until your last breath because you love them. 

That’s why I don’t understand it when Cubs fans (or any teams fans) go through this whole “I am not going to cheer for them anymore” phase when their team is struggling. 

Being a fan isn’t about just the wins.  The wins are a bonus.  If you want wins, cheer for the Yankees.

But I guarantee that the victory that the Cubs fans will experience will be that much sweeter.  At least I hope so.  It only seems fair that people with wishy-washy ties to a team won’t experience the same joy that those of us who struggle through a teams’ dark days (especially when that’s pretty much all we have) long to experience.

I sometimes fear that when the Cubs finally do win the World Series if it will actually be a letdown.  I lived through six Bulls championships and I’m pretty sure that when they win their 7th with completely different players than the Jordan-led teams I grew up watching, it won’t be the same.

I started to get that feeling in 2003 when it appeared as if the Cubs were going to make it to the World Series.  It was a surreal feeling that it was finally happening. 

Of course, it didn’t.

And maybe—just maybe--- we’re lucky it didn’t.  It leaves us with unrealized hope.

And maybe that will make it all the more sweet when it does finally happen.

So for you Cardinal fans that are experiencing a tough meltdown that may lead the missing the playoffs altogether in 2010- hang in there.  It happens.  But like clockwork, they’ll be back in the Spring to do it again.

And the true fans will be waiting with hope that this just may be the season.

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