So, you want to be a sports fan, do you?
Well, you should know that it isn't going to be easy; you can't just sit down and turn on the television and start watching whatever game happens to be on.
Being a sports fan is a tough business, particularly in the 21st Century. This is an enlightened time for sports fans.
To get you on your way, here is a list of the Top 50 things any sports fan should have.
It all starts here.
Pop quiz, potential sports fans: What is the most important button on the remote control?
Answer: The "back" button. When watching a game, there is no excuse for not having whatever other sporting event is also on set as the alternate channel, so you can toggle between the two.
Sure, you could rely upon the network's replays of whatever they want to replay.
Or you can make your own replays and watch them over and over again.
As strange as it may sound, even in today's world in which we have all the television technology–between HD, surround sound, big screen TVs, TiVo, and 3D (coming soon)–to make it feel like you're actually at the game, sometimes there is no substitute for the way the radio guys paint the picture of a big league ball game.
Truth be told, it doesn't need to be a couch.
It could be a futon, recliner, a hassock, a bar stool, or a spot on the floor.
Just as long as it is comfortable.
Like being at a sporting event with buddies from around the country all at once?
I don't know exactly what "Gonna miss him next year!" in my text message inbox from two weeks ago meant, but I think it had something to do with Jayson Werth.
Chips, pretzels, beer, soda . . . or an enormous food football stadium made out of Twinkies.
Are your team's colors your favorite colors? Does seeing your team on the field give you goosebumps, regardless of who the players are, who the coaches are, or whether or not you win or lose?
A sports fan has to have a favorite team because he has to have a reason to achieve sheer elation when his team wins, and to get red-eyed and have chest pains when his team loses.
Anyone can turn on a television and watch a game and have fun.
Watching one's favorite team can be incredibly fulfilling.
But it doesn't become an intense love, and you aren't a real sports fan, until you find a team that you hate more than Nazis and Brussels sprouts.
Every team has good players, and some teams have great players. These are the players whose faces appear in magazines and whose names are in the record books.
But that isn't what a favorite player is all about. A favorite player is like a favorite uncle, or a best friend, or a close cousin. You carry a lifetime of fond memories together, you mourn their failures, and you celebrate their successes.
And while to everyone else that player is just another player, to you he is something special.
Every sports fan should have the ability to view his or her favorite team or player with a blindingly loyal bias that will allow them to forsake all contrary evidence.
Can you tell me why the Boston Red Sox were actually the best team in the American League this season?
If so, you've got it.
Frankly, I'm not sure the whole thing is worth it without buddies.
Your buddies are the ones you watch the games with. They're the ones you celebrate with in victory, and commiserate with in defeat.
Without buddies, the sports fan would just be some dude on a couch.
Anybody can put on a LeBron James jersey.
Wearing a Jackie Robinson jersey makes you a real sports fan.
You don't have to shoot it.
You don't have to dribble it.
You don't even have to learn to spin it on your finger.
But if you're a sports fan, shouldn't you have one of the only two things you need to play a basketball game?
Is it the world's sport, the simplest and most beautiful example of human achievement and international harmony available?
Or is it the biggest and most boring waste of time available on television today.
In order to be a true sports fan, you have to take a side.
From Steve Bartman, Donnie Moore, and Bill Buckner to O.J. Simpson, Ron Artest, and Barry Bonds to Dale Earnhardt, Thurmon Munson, and Roberto Clemente, every sports fan has to have at least one singular sports moment in his or her life that was so momentuous that they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened.
Michael Vick is a polarizing guy.
Vick haters have a greater love for animals than they do for their own children.
Vick supporters have an unabashed faith in the ability of the criminal justice system to more thoroughly cleanse a criminal of his sins than baptism itself.
With all the sex, violence, profanity, and testosterone that goes into NFL football–to say nothing of the wasted Sunday–the nagging of the gentler sex is inevitable.
In fact, I'm not completely convinced that I could enjoy football if I didn't have a mother, girlfriend, wife, or child to sit there making me feel like I should be doing something more enriching on my day off.
A sports fan will root for his or her team and their players, and root against his or her team's nemesis and their players.
But a real sports fan will appreciate once-in-a-lifetime greatness when it comes around, and, at the end of the game, will remember not that "we played the Cardinals," but that "we got to see Albert Pujols in person."
We live in a world in which we are used to see our favorite players in the sports page or on the television screen.
Somehow, putting ourselves into the picture makes us feel like a part of the game.
Sports fans laugh when good things happen, and sports fans laugh when bad things happen.
And sometimes sports fans laugh just because funny things happen.
Seriously, sports fans, if you can't cry because of sports, you just aren't invested enough.
Is there anything in the United States that brings us together as a people more than the NCAA Tournament?
Even if you haven't watched a single college basketball game all season, you gotta fill out a bracket.
And the bracket is the great equalizer—just ask my wife, my mother-in-law, and my six-year-old nephew, who couldn't care less about college basketball and yet have each won our NCAA pools.
A true sports fan will have one eye on his home team's score, and another eye scouring the out-of-town scores to see how his fantasy team is doing.
Perhaps because he played for the rather innocuous Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals teams of the late 1980s, most people could enjoy Bo Jackson in a bubble without having had to root for him or against him.
Or maybe Bo was just so incredible that everyone who saw him loved him.
Nevertheless, every sports fan who was alive in the 1980s has a story about Bo.
For me, it was the game in which, against the Bengals, he ran left, reversed field and ran right, hurdled Jay Schroeder, and took off down the sideline, only to be caught at the 1-yard line.
Despite not getting the touchdown, it was an amazing moment.
Is the NBA filled with thugs?
Does the rim need to be raised?
Are all NBA players philandering weed smokers?
Does the collective bargaining agreement make player movement too volatile?
Has the league over-expanded into bad markets?
Everyone has a theory on what's wrong with the NBA.
To some, the league is dead.
But to the seemingly dying breed of fans who enjoy basketball, NBA action has never been more fantastic.
Because when you have once in a lifetime athlete, every sports fan has a story to tell about something they saw him do.
Both players have claims to being the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, and how a sports fan feels about this debate reflects how he feels about sports.
On the one hand, you have Tom Brady, a consummate professional who successfully guided the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl championships without putting up superhuman numbers.
On the other hand, you have Peyton Manning, who has had some of the greatest quarterback seasons of all time in addition to some of the greatest career numbers of all time, and yet has largely failed to guide the Indianapolis Colts to consistent greatness as a team.
So who is the greater quarterback?
Because it makes you look like a player, but also because holding a baseball bat during a baseball game makes a true sports fan feel like he can affect the outcome of the game.
Sports can be so dramatic and so magical, and Hollywood has a flair for drama and magic.
If you are a sports fan and you don't have a favorite sports movie, you have no heart.
Being a sports fan isn't just about watching games and rooting for teams.
Being a sports fan is about letting the performance of a bunch of guys whom you've never met and will never meet make you physically ill and consider offing yourself.
It's the 21st Century, people. We don't wait for announcers to give us the out-of-town scores, we don't wait for updates at 20 minutes after the hour, and we don't watch the ticker at the bottom of the screen.
Real sports fans are never far from a computer, and we get the information whenever we want it.
Because sometimes at halftime you're gonna be so charged up you need to get out there and throw a few yourself.
Because the smell of the pigskin can take you to the game.
And because you shouldn't need a reason to own a football.
Because they're big, they're plastic, you got them at a game you don't remember being at, and they hold lots of whatever you're drinkin'.
If you're wearing your favorite cap and your girl sits next to you with a look on her face, good for you.
If you're wearing your favorite cap, and your girl gets up and moves across the room until you take it off, better.
If you're wearing your favorite cap, and your girl not only won't get near you, but continues to stay away until you take off the cap, take a shower, and wash your head twice . . .
Then you're a real Sports Fan.
I don't know if every sports fan must have a bobblehead, but I know every sports fan does have a bobblehead.
Only once I moved north did someone explain icing to me.
And only then did hockey make sense.
If you've mastered the birdie, the goal, the home run, the touchdown, or the three-point shot, you can watch sports.
Only once you've mastered the infield fly rule can you consider yourself a sports fan.
It's really easy, and really fun.
Once you get the voice even half-right, all you have to say is incredibly inane things like:
"So, at the end of the day, one team is gonna have more points, and that's the team that's gonna win."
Once you've made your way through high school and college, 95 percent of you will stop playing sports in any sort of competitive sense.
By the time you're in your mid-40s, golf will be the only sport available to you that will allow you to perform at a competent level.
Trust me: get the lessons.
Derek Jeter is an incredibly good baseball player, one of the all-time greats.
He is one of the top 10 or 15 shortstops to ever play the game, and has been a fabulous clutch hitter during his career.
Jeter's contributions to the Yankees have been tremendous, and he has played an important role in five World Championships.
Though his defense has been spotty, he has made many tremendous plays, some of which have come in crucial moments.
If you are a Yankees fan, I just disrespected a legend. If you are not a Yankees fan, I have bought into the myth of one of the most overrated players ever.
Regardless of which side of the line they fall on, every sports fan either vastly overrates or vastly underrates the man.
Steve Lyons and Barry Lyons both played baseball in the 1980s.
Though unrelated, they were both born on June 3, 1960.
Wanna know how I know that?
Because I had baseball cards.
This is more of a Utopian vision than a practical reality:
Not every sports fan can have season tickets, but every sports fan should.
A sports fan doesn't necessarily need to have a grill, but a sports fan should definitely know someone who does.
On the outside, you should make sure that everyone around you knows you only watch the Super Bowl for the Super Bowl.
And anyone who dares utter the phrase "I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials" is banished from the house until next season's Hall of Fame game.
But at the end of the day, a true sports fan loves the Super Bowl commercials.
We just don't admit it.
Because every sport other than basketball uses them. The above pictured Air Jordan cleats notwithstanding.
Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but all sports fans should have grandkids.
Because whenever a sports fan sees something great happen, he or she should say:"Oh, that's something I'll be telling my grandkids about."
Sure, you can watch New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston hoard championships, and root for them vicariously.
But it won't be until your team gets a trophy that you'll be able to own it.
Every sports fan should have a championship.
In some cases, it will add years to your life.
Sadly, though, at the end of the day, most of the sports fans in the world will come away without a championship.
Year in and year out, only one team in a sport can win it all. And the rest of us sit at home and wait until next year.
And if you can do that, if you can root for your team and watch them come up short year after year and perpetually have faith that next year will be the year that things will turn around, that fortunes will change, that your team will finally do the thing they haven't done in your lifetime, well then . . .
You are a true sports fan.