Like they say: Man is a social animal. For all of our insular impulses and isolating obsessions, we still love us some group association; we long to be part of the crowd, part of the herd—so many disparate pieces of a grand and greater whole. The caveat, obviously, is that the whole has got to be a thing worth belonging to...and that every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the end, the same maxim holds for a company, a country, or a caucus of self-identified sports fans:
If one of us drops the ball, we all end up looking bad.
For godsakes, Meat: Get your act together or get out of the game. We're all in this thing together, and you—you very definitely ain't helping...
Number Five: The Critic
Like you mom always told you: If you don't have anything nice to say, keep your damn mouth shut. Now, don't get us wrong. Is screaming yourself hoarse in condemnation of your favorite team/player/beer vendor part and parcel of being a sports fan? Yes. Of course it is. But: Does that condemnation at some point have to be countervailed by praise, by the sort of unconditional love that implicitly recognizes the utter absurdity of your having ever even criticized at all? You bet. Otherwise, well—otherwise you're just a jackass. Or a Red Sox fan. And come on now, right?: Like there's really a difference.
Number Four: The Superfan
Passion is great. Ditto for ardor, fervor, zest, and zeal. We're all for over-the-top loyalty, is the point—why do you think they call it fanaticism?—but, well...let's just say that everything has its limits, and it's very definitely possible to have too much of a good thing. To wit: If you've spent your whole life following your team, and you're able to derive a significant measure of kinda-silly-but-still-thoroughly-genuine satisfaction from their success in a big game—that's a good thing. If, on the other hand, you've spent your whole life following your team and see fit to express that devotion by painting your body, shaving your eyebrows, donning a cape, and holding a week-long candlelight vigil in preparation for an isolated and bourbon-soaked tailgate party followed by three hours of Tantric chanting in the nosebleed section—that's too much of a good thing. Get help. Better yet, get a clue. Everybody knows the eyebrow-shaving bit isn't anything but bad luck.
Number Three: The Armchair Expert
Just...shut...up. We know you're up on the game notes. We know you read Dr. Z religiously. We even know you haven't sniffed a piece of tail since Buddy Ryan was working his 4-6 mojo in Chicago. But here's the thing, Meat: We don't care. We really don't care. The marginal efficacy of the zone blitz in the modern NFL? Save it. The impotence of the Tampa-2 against a power running attack quarterbacked by a competent play-action passer? No thanks. If you really want to impress us, try doing something productive with all that pent-up sexual frustration. Like getting laid. Or writing a weekly sports column. Hey: Whatever floats your boat, right?
Number Two: The Fantasy Nazi
Look, we can tolerate fantasy sports. They're not our cup of tea, necessarily—but different strokes for different folks, after all, and far be it from us to tell anyone how to spend his leisure time. That said, Meat: There are boundaries. Standards of etiquette, even. The fact that we happen to be sitting next to you at a bar during a football game should not be construed as license to burden us with the extended version of the epic tragedy that is your fantasy season. Are we sorry that you were dumb enough to let your hopes ride on Daunte Culpepper and the revitalized Miami offense? Sure. Do we want to nibble glumly at a plate of hot wings while you expound upon said dumbness through a mist of warm spittle? Not exactly. So go tell it to Tony Kornheiser. He doesn't seem to have anything better to do.
Number One: The Has-Been
Or the Never-Was, more like it. You know the type, Meat: Broad shoulders. Beaten eyes. Maybe a bum knee, just to cover his bases. He's a sad man, the Has-Been/Never-Was, a reminder of what can happen when we get just close enough to our dreams to know that we haven't got a prayer of ever reaching them. The poor bastard isn't anything more than a shell, when you really look hard: a broken husk of dust and bone, resigned by the whims of fate to ride out his days in the stark, sullen comfort of the bleachers. Which certainly suggests that there's more than just a little empathy in order—but the problem with empathy is that it'll drag you down, if you're not careful, and frankly the best approach with the Has-Been/Never-Was is no approach at all. The bottom line: Leave him be, Meat, and keep your distance. You can be sorry for him, sure, but there's a razor-fine line between being sorry for him and being sorry for yourself, and, well—
Let's just enjoy the game, huh? No sense staring too hard in the mirror when you can lose yourself in the hubbub on the field...