The NFL conference championship games will be played this weekend with the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers. Most people who know me know that I hail from New Jersey so I’ve had more than a handful of people say to me during the playoffs that I must be rooting for the Jets. I usually reply that I am a Bears fan which generally inspires quizzical looks. “How can you be a Bears fan if you’re from New Jersey?” they ask. To this, my only answer is that I’ve rooted for them since I was a child who didn’t know any better, but more importantly, I know why I am not a Jets fan, or a New York Giants fan for that matter. Both the Jets and Giants play their games in New Jersey, yet they carry the New York moniker in their names. I’ve always considered this a big insult and would never support either team. A much deeper question arises from this situation. How does one select the team he or she roots for and can/should this ever change?
Anyone who’s been to a Tampa Bay Rays game (not too many this year) can tell you that when the Red Sox or the Yankees are in town, Tropicana Field becomes almost a home game for these northeast rivals. There are several theories on how this phenomenon occurs…
Location, Location, Location
The first, best and most predominant reason for anyone to root for a team, be it professional or college, is proximity. People who live closer to Gainesville than Tallahassee will generally root for the Florida Gators over the Florida State Seminoles. People who live in Queens will generally root for the Mets over the Yankees. People who live in South Jersey will generally root for anything Philadelphia over everything somewhere else. At one time, professional and college teams’ rosters where made up of the local gentry. Before radio and television, someone could go see the Cincinnati Red Stockings play baseball against the Brooklyn Excelsiors and both teams would be chock full of local talent. We still see this on a very small level in smaller local colleges, but recruiting has changed the landscape of sport forever. People went to root for the home team because it was not only their home, but the players' home too. With national TV coverage of almost anything sport, the necessity to stick with the home team has lost its grip for some…but, I’ll dive into that later.
Know your roots
Living somewhere is not always a good enough reason for giving allegiance to a team. A person could come from a family where there’s a legacy of Syracuse graduates and through the bloodline, that person becomes a Syracuse fan. Sometimes there is no local team, as Tampa experienced until 1998. This is where television comes into play. I have a friend who is a die-hard Cubs fan. He’s never been to Chicago and for as much as I can tell, probably couldn’t point out Chicago on a map. He grew up in Fort Myers where the only baseball on TV was on WGN based out of Chicago that broadcast Cubs games. The Cubs were all he had and that is where his fandom stayed. When I was a child there were a bunch of Superstations that broadcast local games to millions of sports fans with no one to root for. In addition to WGN there were WWOR (Mets), WPIX (Yankees) and TBS (Braves). Other factors can weigh into not rooting for the home team or rooting for a team not in the vicinity like, terrible ownership or players who are morally bereft. But in these cases, many times the damaged relationship can be healed with new ownership and/or new players.
Sometimes the local team just isn’t any good. I find this a terrible reason to abandon a team, but some people can’t bear to root for a losing team. We call those people…
Have you ever met someone who could care less about sports, but the second the Yankees win the World Series they’re wearing Yankees’ gear like they’ve been a lifelong fan. These people are called frontrunners. They don’t have an allegiance to a team, just a wining team. They pick and choose which team is the team of the hour and will go on and on about how their team is the best. You can see this now with all the Miami Heat jerseys popping up due to the arrival of LeBron James. This shouldn’t matter to anyone else, but to a true fan of a team, it is highly offensive. Part of the joy of rooting for a team is that the team will have bad years. These bad years are where fans stick with their teams and pray for a day they can laugh about how bad the bad days were. As a New Jersey Nets fan, I am experiencing this situation right now. When a group of people celebrate a team winning, they aren’t only celebrating the glory of victory, but they are celebrating an end to the agony. When someone just jumps into a team who wasn’t there for all the suffering, it’s a cheap way to associate themselves with a winner. Of course everyone has a right to root for whichever team they like, but they should stick with it and not flip-flop.
Imagine falling for a girl who’s not yet blossomed yet, an ugly duckling if you will. You are in the relationship because you love her, and even though she might not be that easy on the eyes, you know there’s something on the inside that far supersedes any physical beauty. No one else gives her the time of day, but because you love her, it doesn’t matter, because she has you and the rest be damned. Through the years, she starts to blossom into a beautiful swan, but now she’s getting the attention of all the other jerks out there that could have cared less about her. In the long run, she knows you were there from the beginning, but now instead of private nights out, it’s a big happening when you and your girlfriend are out because she’s the life of the party. It cheapens it a little bit, but it’s nice to see her confident and out of her shell.
This is one of the reasons why fans of some of the more well liked teams can get a bad rap. I personally don’t like the Yankees, but not because I hate the team. It’s all the people who root for them just because they’re good and have no connection to the city or the team. Tampa gets a pass on this distinction temporarily. It will be interesting to see if the Bay Area starts moving towards the Rays or if the Yankees’ faithful keeps their pinstripes.
Relocation, relocation, relocation
Many sports fans move away from their hometowns and adopt whichever team is in their new area. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something that seems to be dying out. About 20 years ago, if you were a Milwaukee Brewers fan and moved to San Diego, you could either become a Padres fan or go through the angst of combing box scores in the newspaper to see how the Brewers were doing. Today, with the advent of DirecTV and digital cable, for a few hundred dollars, you can watch any game at home and never miss any of the action. I can attest to this because about two years ago, I literally watched about 158 of the 162 games the New York Mets played. A sickness? Maybe. Because of the internet, we are no longer out of touch with local beat writers and apart from actually going to the home games, it’s like we never left. Some people say that if you live in a community, you should support the local team. I say this is hooey. Being a fan of a team generally costs money and I haven’t invested a small fortune into the teams I’ve rooted for over the years to change my allegiance to a new team just because I moved. Sports are like a long distance relationship that actually works.
Rooting for the teams I grew up rooting for is now as easy (or as hard in the Nets’ case) as it would be if I still lived in the Garden State. But remember this, in 2028 when the New Jersey Nets are good again and you see all the frontrunners wearing their Nets’ hats, I was here first.