Archive for September, 2011

My journey from fandom to ownership

September 4, 2011

Since you have arrived at this site, I can assume a few things about you. 1. You have Internet access. 2. You don’t mind reading subpar writing by an overly opinionated “author” 3. You have at least a passing interest in sports. Beyond that, I don’t know a thing. Are you male or female? Black, Caucasian, Indian or something else? And finally, do you have a team (or multiple teams) that are “yours”? Or are you just a fan? I know what you’re thinking, what’s the difference between the two? On the surface, there’s no difference at all, but when you dig a little bit deeper…. that’s where things get a little trickier.

Since the invention of the Internet and satellite TV, it’s become ridiculously easy to be a sports fan. You watch a few games, refer to teams as “we”(my biggest pet peeve) ,  learn something about the top two or three players and maybe buy a jersey. (If you’re a girl, it’s probably one of those cute pink jerseys that make me throw up in my mouth everytime I see them.) In some cases, a fan may be able to masquerade as something more than that. For example, my friend Shakes is a soccer fan, specifically a Manchester United fan. He could go on and on about a few of the players and what they’ve done recently and maybe even impress you with some stories, but that’s as deep as it goes. But the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo transferred from Manchester to Madrid hardly bothered him. Why? At the heart of things, he doesn’t care that much, they’re not HIS TEAM. His team is the Green Bay Packers, and I’ve never seen an angrier than when we first saw Brett Favre in Viking purple.  (This led to my favorite joke, “Hey Zach, you know he faked all those celebrations right?” Classic.)

With a few exceptions,  ownership of a team is something you’re either born with, or pick up very early in life.  The best example I can think of has to be the Boston Red Sox. If you’re born either into a Red Sox family, or in the greater Boston area, you have no choice. You will be a Sawx fan. It’s become much easier in the last five years, you know, since they morphed into a mirror image of the Yankees, but for a long time, it was near impossible to find a reason for the Red Sox to be your team. You know what? It didn’t matter. The entire city of Boston lived and died with that team every year from April through October, and when they finally won, we were all surprised that Boston didn’t just disappear in a ball of fire. If you don’t have a team, you don’t understand. In my case,   I grew up with ownership of three teams and parents who were more than okay with my sports obsession. I am hopelessly devoted to the Bears, Bulls and White Sox, and through all the lean years (and in Chicago, there are always lean years) I followed every game I could, pored over prospect lists and cheated in Madden Franchise mode enough to make Bill Belichick blush. (Rex Grossman once won seven straight MVP awards. ‘Nuff said) I cried when MJ retired, cried again when he came back and was nearly catatonic when he left for good. I willingly sabotaged a relationship by choosing White Sox playoffs games over spending time with my girlfriend at the time, and I would do it the same way again. For better or for worse, I was attached.

As good (or pathetic) as all that sounds, that’s not what makes them “my team. No, it’s something more than rooting, hoping, bargaining and oftentimes praying for a winner. If it’s “your team” you feel a connection to a franchise, the players, other fans and in some cases even the stadium. One of my grandfather in-law’s most prized possessions is a freeze dried chunk of the outfield grass from old Yankee Stadium. He keeps a seventy dollar piece of grass next to him on the coffee table at all times just for the memories that it can trigger.  I despise the Yankees, but it’s impossible not to feel jealous when just glancing at a piece of sod in a glass case transports a man back to the days when he watched men like Mantle, DiMaggio, Maris, Mays and even Hank Aaron play on that very slice of his own personal Mecca. Even at 89 years old, he still gets a twinkle in his eye when the subject of the Bronx Bombers comes up. Without a doubt, the Yankees are His Team.

Unfortunately, most of use aren’t lucky enough to have witnessed an entire team of iconic players in their primes. We have to establish our ownership based on a memory or two here or there, and ultimately, it’s those memories, and not necessarily the results that you remember the most. For Colts’ fans, it’s Joseph Addai breaking through the Patriots secondary to finally vault past them into the Super Bowl. Red Sox fans can all tell you where they were when Dave Roberts stole second base or Big Papi walked off against the Yankees. Any IU fan remembers A.J. Moye out rebounding Elton Brand down the stretch to push past the Blue Devils into the championships game. Heck, even soccer fans have Landon Donovan’s 90 minute miracle against Algeria from 2010. For me, it’s Paxson’s three pointer in 1993 to beat the Suns. It’s “I’m Back”, the 72 win season in 1996 and it’s Ozzie Guillen calling for the big tall right hander in 2005. I can still remember the look on his teammate’s faces as Devin Hester took the opening kickoff to the house against the Colts in the Super Bowl. While nothing can ever top MJ’s strip/steal and jumper to effectively silence the entire state of Utah, that came pretty darn close.  When it’s “your team” it doesn’t matter if they went on to win the championship after (although it is nice) it’s the moment that lives on in your mind that really sticks with you.
Now, you’re probably asking why I’m going through this much trouble to define two things that in all actuality are fairly similar. In recent weeks, I’ve made it very clear that I don’t care much for college football. The early season games are typically cupcake affairs, big games tend to be more lopsided than Kitty was in season two of Arrested Development and aside from the occasional Texas/USC classic, the National Championship game is a joke. With all that said, I do envy college football supporters. There is a glut of games to choose from throughout the week that is unrivaled in any other sport, there are great traditions at nearly every school, and best of all: rivalries are so intense that they can actually temporarily divide families and break up old friendships. I needed to get in on this! A close friend of mine has also been looking for a team to follow, and after heavy debate and scientific breakdowns (Rock,Paper, Scissors anyone?) we decided to become die-hard Michigan Wolverine fans. (For a full breakdown of the process, click here.) This decision has already brought reaction from both ends of the spectrum. Some people find the whole thing amusing and others think the very idea of just choosing a team is preposterous. Why? It’s exactly what I’ve been talking about this whole time. In their eyes, we may be on our way to being fans or even loyalists, but it’s not OUR TEAM. We haven’t earned the right to call it that. That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between fandom and ownership.
As I stated earlier, my love for my teams goes a little deeper than mere fandom (Note: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being “just a fan”, some people actually have lives.) but it’s going to take some time to get there with the Wolverines. All in all, it’s exciting. It’s a little like starting a new relationship: I have to learn all the history and subtleties and idiosynchrasies that go along with backing Big Blue. Will I ever really get to the point of ownership? I’m not sure. For right now, I’m just a new fan, but maybe someday I can say, “Oh, Michigan? Yeah, they’re my team.”

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