Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rooting

I'm mostly a Washington sports fan. I root my ass off for the Capitals, I'm lamentably a Redskins fan, and the first sports ticket I ever bought was to a Bullets game. We didn't have a baseball team in the DC area when I was younger, so I took on the Baltimore Orioles, and I was totally stoked for this postseason.

That said, being a fan of my teams has been trying over the years. I became an official baseball fan in 1988, the year the Orioles set the all-time AL record for losing streaks when they opened the season 0-21. The game I went to, they actually won, which I didn't realize was a rarity that season. After the Jeffrey Maier bullcrap in 1997, my O's suffered 14 straight losing seasons. This season has already been a success, but things aren't looking great for a title run.

When the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, I was too young to realize it wasn't the kind of thing that happens all the time. And I don't remember watching any football games in between that Super Bowl and the previous Super Bowl, so obviously I wasn't much into sports. I think I was all about Nintendo at that point in my life (and 90% of all moments in my life since then). Since then, and particularly since Daniel Snyder purchased the team, Washington has been a black hole for football.

As I said, I liked the Bullets a lot when I was younger. I went to a few games, and was stoked when they acquired Chris Webber. I figured the combination of he and Juwan Howard was so successful in college, how could it not bring them deep into the NBA playoffs? Of course, I was wrong, but I've kept tuned in, and I'm hoping to reap the benefits of some solid seasons with John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the lot. I watch almost every NBA draft, even though I don't really know anything about college basketball anymore, just because it's a tightly packed blast of offseason roster updates.

The Capitals were a regular participant in the wide-open NHL playoffs by the time I started paying attention to hockey at all. I remember my friends Mike and Sergio assigning me teams every few days, usually in the form of, "Joe Joe Joe, what happened to your Nordiques last night?" It was enough to encourage me to catch a few games here and there. I watched each game of the Stanley Cup in 1998, which is to say I watched the Caps get pummeled by a team that was insanely, insanely better than them.

I've enjoyed their recent moments of marginal success, but the Caps' limited success seems to have brought every Penguins fan out of the woodwork. I can't wear a Caps shirt or watch a Caps game without some jag off Pens fan making some sideways (or sometimes straight-up-and-down) comment about how the Penguins are so much better. Like I'm unaware of how these teams have performed recently.

Which brings us to the meat of what I actually wanted to talk about in this post. People are fans of teams for a million different reasons. The majority of people just pick their home teams, presumably due to some combination of convenience and inborn patriotism, that desire to be proud of where you're from, and to share that feeling with friends and family. Others choose their favorite teams because of that team's success in their childhood, or a favorite player, or something as simple as an attractive uniform.

Are any of these "wrong" reasons to root for a team? Nope. Are any of these "more right" than others?

Yes.

It is more right to root for your hometown team than another team. Not insofar as you live a better life or you deserve praise, but because you're not abandoning a problem. Enduring the hardships together as a fan base gives you something to talk about with other people from your home town, and a sense of community is a good thing, even if you're a community with an experience mostly riddled with failure.

In my sports-watching adult life, I've endured as much disappointment as a fan of any city's teams, save perhaps Cleveland. While Cleveland has only three professional teams, they manage to pack a lot of despair into those three teams. And if you happen to like the Ohio hockey team (the Columbus Blue Jackets), you're not making up any ground.

Cleveland has sported a poorly run and poorly performing football team in the Browns, and since the mid-90s, the Cleveland Indians have wallowed in and around mediocrity. The Cavaliers have been to the NBA Finals, but The Decision, the departure, and the Heat winning a pair of titles have made that Finals trip ancient history. Cleveland is also noteworthy as the sporting home of "other Joe," my former partner in crime in the radio world. He's a guy who's known my pain for years and years, and while LeBron James' return means he's likely closer to ending his drought, we're mostly in the same boat.

Between Cleveland and Washington, we've got disappointment covered.

So why endure it? Obviously it's easier to pick individual teams with amazing players like the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Green Bay Packers, or a city with gobs of money and history like Boston or Chicago. You've got a better shot at a title, which means you won't have to deal with the shit that everyone else seems to enjoy throwing at people who choose to remain hometown fans. As a Capitals fan, I've not met a single Penguin fan in the DMV who resists the urge to twist the knife. And good luck finding a Cowboys fan in Maryland who doesn't exude glee whenever the Redskins falter.

Which brings us back to the question: why endure such pain? Wouldn't it be easier to just switch over to a better team, or a better city? Wouldn't you feel less disappointment?

Maybe.

But the whole idea of sticking with your team is that one day, it'll be worth it. I've ridden the Bullets/Wizards since I was a little kid. If they're ever able to win the NBA title, I'll celebrate my butt off. If the Caps are ever able to overcome history and raise the Stanley Cup, I can't even begin to imagine the relief and joy I'll feel. We stick with our teams because we have faith and hope that one day, they'll win. And we want to be around for it.

We see all these cities hosting parades and we think, "God, that would be amazing." We watch other teams raise banners and we think, "Someday that'll be us." We see guys like Trent Dilfer and Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady talk about their trips to Disney World, and we think, "There's no reason Robert Griffin or Kirk Cousins couldn't take that trip, right?" Some of it is delusion (the 'Skins may never win another game). Some of it is playing the odds (hockey has a great deal of parity in its playoffs; almost any team has a shot). And some of it is wishful thinking (Kevin Durant hasn't said he wouldn't come to the Wiz). And part of it is simple stubbornness. But at this point, no way am I changing sides.

The O's are still just four wins from the World Series!



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