On Fandom Part 1

A few weeks ago, I had a deep and enlightening conversation at 3:45am in South Philly over re-runs of “How I Met Your Mother.”  I was barely coherent, fighting off the “I’m about to fall asleep, you guys”-type of intoxication that is completely unproductive yet necessary when you sleep as unevenly as I do.  The conversation centered around the idea of what a sports fan is, or should be, or could be.

Most sports fans I’ve dealt with fall into 2 categories: knowledgeable/opinionated/loyal/well-informed or drunken/obnoxious/illiterate/supposed experts because they watch Sports Center every day.  Living in Philadelphia my entire life, I’ve met an equal amount of both, though all bets are off during Eagles home games. 

Sports fans of Philadelphia are not as elitist as New York fans, nor are we as fackin grating as our brothers in New England.  We are like the Russian police–stern.  Stern, but fair.  We demand excellence but applaud failure as long as every ounce of effort is given.  We badly want championships but it’s the losing teams we talk about the most (’93 Phillies, ’04 Eagles, ’01 Sixers, Flyers ’87-present).  Like most religions, the mentality here is that you are born into this and unless you blindly adhere to the pathos of the governing body of the Sixers/Flyers/Phillies/Eagles, you are not a serious follower.  That’s how it is now, that’s how it always be. 

Meet Leah.  Leah does not care about Philadelphia’s sports rules.  She is not from Philadelphia.  She lives in Philadelphia.  She likes sports just fine.  Loves baseball.  Roots for the Orioles and the Washington Nationals.  She could give a crap less if the Orioles extended their streak of losing seasons to eleven in a row.  The Washington Nationals could lose a game to the Washington Generals and she’d be back for Dmitri Young Bobblehead Night.  For Leah, sports are not about competition/records/strategy/birthrights.  Sports are about going to a game and willing your team to victory.

Men like to argue about everything.  We like to measure things logically.  We like statistics because they help us evaluate something against something else.  Women like relationships.  They like feelings.  They like Oprah.  It was no shock to me to find out Leah does not care about the Baltimore Orioles sheer lack of competitiveness since 1997, how many managers they’ve fired, why Peter Angelos will burn in the Fifth Ring of General Manager Hell one day, or how big of an egofreak Cal Ripken really was.  In her eyes, championships aren’t even all that important.  It’s about having fun, being outdoors, and watching players develop and mature in front of her eyes.  It’s about being down 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth and getting everyone to stand up and clap and cheer and wear their hat inside out because you just KNOW this time your team is going to pull it out.  Sadly, this is the kind of fan the owners of the Clippers, Pirates, Arizona Cardinals, and Hartford Whalers dream of.  It’s also the kind of fan Disney dreams of.

Last night, I was listening to a podcast interview between ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite writers.  Simmons is an unabashed homer for all teams Boston.  His book “Now I Can Die in Peace” collects all of his writings about the Red Sox from 1997-2004 from his old webpage all the way through his column on ESPN.com, The Sports Guy.  Chuck Klosterman is an existential music writer and pop culture critic who’s written books called “Killing Yourself to Live,” “Fargp Rock City, ” and “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” 

For some odd reason, these 2 guys get along great, mainly due to their love of basketball and writing.  But whereas Simmons subscribes to the NY/NE/PHI Ultra Fan idea of lifelong devotion to the hometown team, through sickness and in health, till death do you part, Klosterman does not believe in following ANY team.   Klosterman explains that during a given game in any sport, he will pick a team to root for, but his allegiance to that team ends once the game is over.  Simmons jokingly calls him a “sports athiest.”  Klosterman definitely likes individual players, and he even wrote a great chapter in his book “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” on the Lakers/Celtics rivalry of the 80s and how each time symbolized the generational identities clashing at the time.  But you won’t see a LeBron jerseys or Yankees bumper stickers in his collection for any reason.

Klosterman’s rationale for having no affiliation to a team is that the team itself gives you nothing.  You give them your time, your money, your energy, your emotion, your loyalty.   They give you a bunch of guys in matching shirts.  It’s a one-sided relationship, and ultimately you are never fully satisfied.  Klosterman doesn’t root for a team based on a defensive mechanism to save him from heartbreak and failure–it’s just simple line of logic.  You care more about them than they could ever care about you.  It’s like being in love with Jim Morrison.

With that said, Klosterman is a fan of sports.  An actual sport couldn’t possibly care about fans–it’s big and varied and run by too many people to worry about the people in Charlotte, NC and their love of ice hockey.  His needs are met because at any time he can watch any team and any player at any given time compete in the sport of his interest.  I don’t know if any Miami Dolphins fans are crazy about watching the entirety of Lions vs. 49ers at 4pm on Fox in Week 12.

 My philosophy on sports fandom falls somewhere in the middle.  I like to go to games and cheer.  I like to watch highly touted rookies evolved into playmakers or see a 7th round pick come out of nowhere and become sensational.  I like watching my hometown team lose to a superior squad while leaving it all on the court.  I understand that a singular team could never match the love and passion dished out by its fans, and that most sports franchises are run by lazy millionaires who need a new hobby and can make money simply by putting out a mediocre product in a fairly big market.   

Where do you stand on fandom?

Check back next week for the longest blog of my life, On Fandom Part 2, where I discuss my love of the Chicago Bears, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers while empty cans of Coors Light are thrown at me down in South Philly.



  1. Until recently, I would have fallen into the Bill Simmons category of fan, at least as far as the Nets were concerned. I stuck with them through a lot, too – highlights included Larry Brown’s ego and Michael Ray Richardson’s coke habit destroying what would have been the greatest years in franchise history, replacing Mookie Blaylock with Rumeal Robinson, the powder blue tie dye uniforms, drafting Yinka Dare (RIP), having an entire season blacked out on tv because of a dispute the owners had with cablevision, Jayson Williams twirling his fully-loaded shotgun around like it was a nerf gun etc., etc.

    But after ownership announced that they were moving the franchise to Brooklyn, an announcement that occurred shortly after their first ever trip to the Finals, the whole purpose of rooting for a specific franchise seemed pointless to me. Most owners these days treat their team just as a commodity, rather than as something they have an emotional investment in, and they’re far more interested in winning over a few politicians who can get them the state funding for a new arena than they are in catering to the local/loyal fanbase. Not that I’m bitter, of course.

    So now I just choose a team on a per-game basis, based on whoever happens to be playing the most appealing brand of basketball (which has made it virtually impossible to find a team to support in the Celtics-Pistons series). Individual matchups can sway my allegiance, too, as when Chris Paul was tearing up Kidd earlier in the playoffs.

  2. Right now, fans of the Seattle Supersonics are going through the same thing. I wouldn’t blame them if they never rooted for another team again.

    Mookie Blaylock is probably the most slept-on great point guard of the 90s. And I remember reading a story where Yinka Dare thought the “C” on a player’s jersey, which stands for captain, stood for “caucasian.”

  3. I’m a diehard Philly sports fan. I even root for the Wings. I’m also a fan of Bill Simmons (just read his latest article at espn.com) because he rides for Boston like I ride for Philly whether the teams are good or bad. You have to stick by them and you just can’t switch up teams like some rat. I’m STILL mad about the Sixers losing the ’80 and ’82 NBA Finals to the Lakers which is why I hate them so much. And I remember my friends leaving me at school to go to the ’83 Sixers parade. I ended up meeting Dr. J the very next year at school by sheer accident so that made up for it. Anyway, you have to ride for your teams. What the heck would sports be if I couldn’t call up my boy Chris (who lives in Las Vegas but is from North Jersey) and let him have it about his horrible Knicks and Yankees?


  4. I’m a Bostonian and as you already know I bleed green and when I was born in Boston City Hospital in 1975 my wrist tag had my name on it on one side and the other side had the phrase “Yankees Suck!” printed on it. This was before they even got Reggie Jackson!

    I used to root for the Patriots back when they were so godawful that they didn’t air their games on TV because they couldn’t sell out Foxboro Stadium. We’d listen to the radio and HEAR them lose…then they’d air the game after it was over so we could WATCH ’em lose 31-9 to the New York Jets LIVE!

    I still remember the day Len Bias died I remember the epic fail that was the Red Sox World Series in ’86. I can’t forget Super Bowl XX.. I still remember how I felt the day the Lakers won in the Garden in ’87.

    I still remember how I felt the day Reggie Lewis collapsed on that court in ’93 in Game 1 of the 1st round vs. the Charlotte Hornets. I still remember being late to go to the gym to see Reggie play pickup just to hear that he died on the news…I was handwriting out a tracklisting to a new tape I recorded from the radio or I could’ve been there, too.

    Without all that collective pain of the lean years this current era of Boston sports dominance wouldn’t be so sweet. We used to think we were cursed at one point…then we realized that you just need excellent ownership and management, front office and personnel people and a commitment to excellence across the board to succeed.


    UBUNTU! © Boston Celtics


  5. I remember that heated conversation you had with Leah about what makes a fan and what not as i was slowly falling asleep on her couch at 4 a.m. I wish I had something to say about this subject but I’m not a huge sports fan. If i happen to be watching a sporting event I’m more along Klosterman’s level where I will just pick a team and say I want them to win for whatever reason. The only team I have a small space in my heart for are the Nittany Lions and that’s cause I’ve been watching them since I was like 3 but again I’m not a big sports person so I can’t really speak much on the matter.

  6. Vincent:

    To root for the Wings…WOW. I bow to you as Supreme Philadelphia Sports Fan.


    I’ve watched almost every Celtics game this postseason and I enjoy reading your wrap-ups. As much as it hurts me to say this, your boys are gonna be slammed by the Lakers. I want Shuttlesworth and The Kid to get rings but I honestly can’t see them beating Kobe and crew. Maybe if Sam Cassell doesn’t play one minute, they can surprise me though.

  7. Hard to be a Cardinals fan these days … but the future is very bright.

    Raiders & Eagles are the best though their sights are always set high

  8. The Raiders aim for the sky and hit the sunroof year in and year out…

    Cardinals are smart keeping Boldin and Fitzgerald. If only people didn’t bring camera phones into Leinart’s mansion.

    Thanks for reading!!

  9. whoah this blog is magnificent i love reading your articles.
    Keep up the good work! You know, many persons are hunting round
    for this info, you can help them greatly.

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