Living in Philadelphia is awesome because people care. We care about our sidewalk being swept. We care about Sunday dinner at grandmom’s. We care about our neighborhood, our car, our bakery and dive bar, our high school. Most of all, we seem to care about our sports teams.
What’s strikes me as odd…about myself, really…is that it was never unusual for me to accept people rooting for teams other than the Blessed Cuatro (Birds/Sixers/Phils/Flyboys). If you listen to sports talk radio as much as I do, or hang out in enough parking lots before games, this is generally seen as a mortal sin to have a deep interest in ANY team outside of the Cuatro. The groundrules which I’ve heard a few million times are as follows:
1. It is never ok to root for the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, or any New York team unless you are a transplant from said cities.
2. If you are born here, you must root for the Blessed Cuatro at all times. No exceptions.
3. If you have spent more than half your life here, you must root for the Blessed Cuatro. No exceptions.
4. If you do not follow rules 1-3, you are not a True Philadelphia Sports Fan.
I’ve had friends who rooted for the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Whitesox, the Boston Redsox, the Ottawa Senators, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cleveland Indians, the San Fransisco Giants and 49ers, the Washington Redskins, the New York Mets and Yankees, etc. None of these people had lived in any of these forgein cities. None of their parents had any roots in these towns. I’m sure my friend Rod Iannello at 7 years old had pretty much spent his entire life in Philadelphia even though he was and is still a diehard Cincinnati Bengals fan.
To be honest, I don’t think talk show hosts or wasted bricklayers have the authority to deem what is or is not a True Philadelphia Sports Fan. The term “bangwagon jumper” or “front runner” have been thrown out a lot. Both are just lazy blanket statements drawing a line between us and them; us being the long-suffering Philadelphia Sports Fan, and them being everyone else who might’ve enjoyed a title rooting for their favorite non-Philly team the past 25 years. Because we care so much, it hurts to see other cities with sideways fans enjoy a title. Have you ever met a passionate Carolina Hurricanes or Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan? What Chicagoan would put the White Sox at the top of their rooting list? Were Marlins fans pissed when Ugueth Urbina tried to machete that guy?
The resentment and hatred is understandable. We as a city of deranged sports fans have won dillznik since 1983. I say “we” because although I only passionately follow the 76ers (one-fourth of the Blessed Cuatro), I am still a huge Philadlephia sports fan. I listen and watch and digest Phillies and Eagles games. Playoff hockey with the Flyers is pretty amazing. Temple basketball is a clinic in team defense. I love this city, I love the people, I love the history and I love the freedom to say “Yo cuz” sixty-one times a day. But I do not subsrcribe to the shock jock/Miller Lite parking lot philosophy that I since I live here, I must root for the Phillies….or else!
If you are a sports fan, it’s most likely that you started as a kid. When picking a team to follow, most kids are drawn to one of four things: how recently that team won a title, how cool their uniforms/colors are, how many great superstars play for that team, and does your dad/older brother root for them.
Kids don’t care about preserving legacies or wearing scars from big games lost–they want to root for a winner, wear a cool jersey or draw a cool helmet on their notebook covers, say that All-Star Player X is their favorite player and his team is cool, or be like their dads and big brothers. I’ve fallen victim to all four…because I was friggin kid! I used to feverishly collect baseball cards and pick my nose and think that the clown from Stephen King’s “It” was real and was going to kill me at bedtime.
In my pre-adult life, I’ve rooted for the Cleveland Indians, the Texas Rangers, the Golden State Warriors, the Duke Bluedevils, the Houston Rockets, the Detroit Tigers, the Florida Marlins, the Oakland A’s, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Dallas Stars. With the exception of the Indians and Warriors, I wasn’t fanatical about any of those teams (still got my autographs from Kenny Lofton/Carlos Baerga/Omar Vizquel and my Tim Hardaway/Joe Smith/Sprewell blue and gold jerseys–eBay, holla!).
But times and interests change. Tastes evolve. Priorities are shifted. That does not make you less of a fan–that makes you a person having an actual life. There is nothing wrong with painting your face or tattooing your team’s logo or being the girl who loved Tom Goron just like there is nothing wrong with developing an interest in a player/team/coach/event outside of your hometown. It’s like marrying your high school sweetheart vs. tying the knot when you’re in your 30s–as long as you’re happy, what difference does it make as to when you make the commitment?
I root for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bears, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I love all three teams because my dad loves them. I love all three teams because they have awesome uniforms and team colors. I love all three teams because at some point they’ve drafted or signed some of my favorite players (Jerald Honeycutt whattup!).
I’ve been a diehard Bears fan since birth.
I’ve been a diehard Sixers fan since 1994.
And I’ve been a diehard Dodgers fan since this year.
I’ve got a team like the Bears that I can rest my hat on year after year, regardless if they go to the Super Bowl or let Kyle Orton’s Neckhair lead them to the lottery. I can buy jerseys of legends like Walter Payton to show my longstanding history with the team as well as yacht-driving drunks like Cedric Benson to show my current fandom. I can hate Brett Favre and the entire state of Wisconsin because they hate me just the same. I can bitch and moan about our lack of quarterbacks because I’ve spent years watching the likes of Moses Moreno, Chad Hutchinson, and Dave Kreig “lead my team.” In short, the Bears are my first love.
I became an NBA junkie in 1994, taking in styles and history and information from all over the league. I’d run through issues of SLAM and Athlon Magazines and damnnear wear out those NBA highlight videos that showcase emerging young talents such as Kenny Anderson, Shawn Kemp, Derek Coleman, and Steve Smith. I will still whip anybody’s ass in NBA Live ’95 .
During this time the Sixers absolutely SUCKED. But I couldn’t escape Clarence Weatherspoon’s endless headfakes that would always get blocked or Jeff Malone’s beard or the back of Sharone Wright’s neck, which resembled two potatoes. I flirted with the GS Warriors and Timmy’s UTEP Two-Step for many years, but for some reason a Sixers team featuring cast-offs like Richard Dumas, Vernon Maxwell, Trevor Ruffin, and Rex Walters became my squad. The Sixers are my adolesence.
Baseball’s my favorite sport and yet I grew out of the Cleveland Indians when they traded all of my favorite players (Thome, Belle, Baerga, Lofton, Vizquel, Brian Giles) by 2000. I spent the next 8 years searching for an identity all the while tuning into Phillies games and going to the Vet and now Citizens Bank Park as a baseball junkie looking for a fix. Even during the Francona/Bowa Eras when they trotted out overmatched and underpaid scrappers, I never felt like this was my squad. Sure I knew plenty of Phillies players going back to the 80s, and the ’93 team was so much fun to get behind. But fundamentally, the Phillies really, truly, consistently pissed me off.
I didn’t have fun watching a team with such laughable starting pitching year in and year out. I couldn’t fathom giving my heart and soul to an organization who passed off third and fourth-tier free agents as a step towards winning a championship. In a sport with no salary cap, in the 5th biggest US market, from the losingest franchise in sports history, their message to me was: screw you. They’ve since developed 4 potential Hall of Famers and built a beautiful ballpark. But winning has never been what the Phillies desired.
My dad had been beating me over the head about the Dodgers since I can remember. And for some odd reason, I never wanted to take him up on the offer. He had me with the Bears, and the Sixers, and Temple University. But I was stubborn about the trolley’s.
And then, just last year, I watched this HBO Documentary on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
And then I watched this DVD on the Dodgers’ championship teams.
Not to get all Disney on you, but they felt like my team. They had a long history of doing any and everything to win. They were progressive. They broke the color barrier. They were the first team to move out West. They developed talent from all over the world. They treated their fans like royalty. And they sure as hell gave you plenty of reasons to be excited.
Jackie. Pee Wee. Duke. Podres. Campanella. Sandy. Drysdale. Lasorda. Cey. Garvey. Lopes. Fernando. Orel. Gibson. Scioscia. Piazza. Karros. Nomo. Mondesi. Sheffield. Gagne.
I went into this baseball season for the first time really in this decade having a clear favorite team to follow day in, day out. And it’s been awesome. I like caring about James Loney and Matt Kemp’s hitting troubles this past month. I like hating Andruw Jones’ godawful contract and his bum knee. I like wondering what Joe Torre is thinking while managing a team that couldn’t score 5 runs if you spotted them 3. And I like following a team that isn’t so accessible–I can’t watch them everyday nor grab a paper and read extensively on how Clayton Kershaw looked in his last start. I have to make an effort everyday to catch up on the boys. The Dodgers are my conscious adulthood.
My feeling is that as a fan, it is YOUR decision as to who you follow. If you want to spend time and money getting acquainted with the Minnesota Wild, go for it. If you want to be a long-suffering Cubs fans, that train is never late. And if you want to be a “sports athiest” like Chuck Klosterman, I’m sure the Yankees won’t be mad. Realize it’s always your choice because regardless of the sport, the fan comes first. Sportswriter Bat Masterson said it best, “Everybody in life gets the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summer; the poor get it in the winter.”