Metro Area Mystery: Childhood Team Selection

David FinkelsteinContributor IMay 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 23:  Domenik Hixon #87 of the New York Giants runs past Eric Smith #33 of the New York Jets during a preseason NFL game at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands August 23, 2008 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

4. What turned you into a fan of the team you’d like to cover?

Each and every year, hundreds of thousands of very young children across the nation quietly make decisions that unbeknownst to them will impact their schedules, wardrobes, and happiness each fall quite possibly for the rest of their lives: favorite team selection.

Considering that parents make many decisions for young children: where to go to school, what meals you eat, what clothes you wear, etc. The children who are not indoctrinated by parents into rooting for certain teams often make this long-lasting decision of whom to root for because of nothing more than dumb luck or an innocent childhood whim.

Nowhere in America is the childhood team selection process more important than the New York metropolitan area. Following the defections of the Rams and Raiders out of Los Angeles in the mid 1990's, New York became America's only city with multiple teams in the four major professional sports.

Hence, other than some imaginary young lad growing up on a farm in southern Illinois that, for argument's sake, we'll say is two hours from St. Louis and two hours from Chicago who has to pick a city to root for as well as teams, the choices made by children in northern New Jersey, southeast New York state, including New York City and Long Island, and eastern Connecticut are quite unique. 

Personally, I was born into a Giants family. My father, although not a die hard fan who would scream at the television, certainly was a Giants loyalist, as was my uncle. Born in 1981, I attended my first Giants game in 1986.

Pretty cool that my first game ever came in a season that ended a 30-year championship drought. All I remember about the Giants Week Four, 20-17 victory over the Saints was thinking the Saints had ugly uniforms, and some guy behind me spilling a beer on my father and I.

Fortunately, I've been going to games for 20 years since and I've never had another beer spilled me.

While I was born into Giants fandom, let's imagine a kid with a father who just wasn't into football very much. We'll call our imaginary fan Rex, in honor of the new Jet coach, and pretend he's 28 years old like I am. When I was at the Giants-Saints game, a 1:00 start, Rex was out shopping with his mother.

Tired from a miserable day in some department store, Rex returns home at 4:00, sits down in his living room, and flips on the television. Frustrated by a lack of cartoons on at four in the afternoon, Rex stops on the Jet game, an unforgettable 26-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at what was then known as the Hoosier Dome.

Rex, whose favorite color is kelly green (remember the '80s Jets here), and whose kindergarten teacher is named Ms. O'Brien, becomes fascinated by the Jets green uniforms and quarterback Ken O'Brien and vows that he is now a Jet fan for life!

Now let's fast forward 23 years and analyze the differences between my trip to Giants Stadium and Rex's day at the mall and on the couch. Before that, one sidebar. In case you forgot how the '86 season ended, the Giants went on win Super Bowl XXI, and the Jets imploded after a 10-1 start.

After losing their last five regular-season games, the Jets rebounded to beat the Chiefs in the wild card round, and then proceeded to squander a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead at Cleveland in the divisional round in an excruciating defeat for the Jets and fans pulling for an all New York Super Bowl.

Since 1986, here's how the franchises stack up:

Championships: Giants-3, Jets-0

Super Bowl appearances: Giants-4, Jets-0

Playoff Appearances: Giants-11, Jets-7

Playoff Victories: Giants-13, Jets-4

Playoff Games Hosted: Giants-10, Jets-3

Division Championships: Giants-7, Jets-2

Head to Head victories: Giants-5, Jets-2

So there you have a sports fan's dumb luck in a nutshell. I'm born into being a Giants fan right when the team emerges from it's dark ages (no playoff appearances from 1964-1980) and becomes one of the NFL's premier franchises.

The Jet fan on the other hand grows up watching a team that is wildly inconsistent, filled with a lack of stability at the all-important positions of head coach and quarterback, and suffers several heartbreaking losses when it does manage to qualify for the playoffs.

An interesting case can be made that team selection provides an excellent microcosm with many of America's and life's random realities. For example, as we all know, some children are born into filthy rich families and others grow up dirt poor, while teams like the Lakers always seem to win and the Clippers always lose, at least until further notice.

Look further and both sports and society are filled with both rags to riches stories like Barack Obama and the Tamba Bay Rays and penthouse to prison tales like Bernie Madoff and O.J. Simpson. So, for the fans of perennial losers, hope springs eternal, just like an underprivileged kid can dream of a bright future.

Those fans currently mired in championship droughts can cite the 1994 New York Rangers, 2004 Boston Red Sox, and the 2005 Chicago White Sox as proof that their day in the sun, or the champagne bath, will indeed come.

As for us Giant fans, hopefully we can stay on top for the foreseeable future! Just like General Motors! Oh yeah. I mean, Citigroup. Or...uh...forget the metaphors, let's just keep winning and count our blessings.


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