By: Chris Dagonas
Do you often find that you support all the best teams, while your pals stupidly and stubbornly cheer for those same teams who “never win”?
Then you, dear reader, are a front-runner. And I fucking hate you for it.
Bandwagonning, or front-running, is a despicable practice, abhorred by true fans of athletic competition, embraced by brain-dead, soulless social pariahs.
Perhaps I sound a tad harsh. Allow me to elucidate.
In the infancy of professional sports leagues, residents of various cities represented their cities. Toronto hockey players were all Toronto residents, the local butcher, baker or candlestick-maker. Torontonians supported them precisely because these were your neighbours, your fellow citizens, sacrificing their bodies, not to mention their time, to carry the flag for your city against another. But this quickly dissipated, and soon Toronto teams, and others, were full of residents of other cities, then other countries. The allure of the local team was gone, replaced by the dollar-driven, slimy world of professional sports we know today.
When I was ten years old, the wider world of sports began to be opened to me through the magic of cable TV and the internet. Long having been a fan of baseball (the Toronto Blue Jays) and hockey (The Maple Leafs, of course) I began to catch glimpses of a variety of other intriguing sports. The NBA came to my town, with the Toronto Raptors immediately earning my love and undying devotion. Basketball was interesting, and having a hometown team to support made it much easier to watch.
I also began to watch NFL Football, and ten-year-old me came to thoroughly enjoy this violent, aggressive, action-packed sport. However, with no Toronto team to cheer for, I was left to choose from a selection of American cities, or states, to which I had no allegiance, geographical or otherwise. Watching those games, spending those Sunday afternoons on my sofa with a bag of chips and a 2 litre bottle of Coke (I was ten, c’mon) held little value without being happy about one team winning (or sad about said team losing). So I decided, one Sunday morning while at church, to choose a team to support that day, and to stick with them. I rummaged through the teams in my head, thinking about their star players during the first reading, their stats during the priest’s homily, and their team colours during communion. When I left church that October morning, I had reached a revelation; I was officially a fan of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.
(Yeah, I know.)
Their unique colours interested me, their hard-nosed defence (it was 1996, remember) earned my respect, but Dan Marino’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective won me over. This was the kind of team I could get behind.
Little did I know that Dan Marino would retire so soon afterwards.
I will spare you the list of “quarterbacks” that Miami has used in the 13 years since Marino’s retirement, but suffice it to say that the best one in that time (Jay Fiedler) is now a financial advisor, co-owner of a CBA franchise and a member of the National Jewish Museum Sports Hall of Fame. So, yeah.
The Miami Dolphins, currently, are among the NFL’s worst teams. They lost 15 games a couple of years ago (out of 16, for those of you unfamiliar with the NFL). They just traded their best wide receiver, and their best defensive player just retired, so prospects for this upcoming season are not exactly looking gleaming. Whenever I meet a fellow NFL fan, I just hold my breath and endure the agonizing wait for that inevitable question, “So who do you like?”
The Dolphins! The Dolphins back in 1996, and the Dolphins in 2012, and the Dolphins over the next 50 years too! As long as the franchise is in existence, the answer will be: The Dolphins. Yes, they stink right now, yes they’ve stunk for a long time, but NO, I will not jump ship! Why not? Because you just don’t do that. Because sports are the domain of the faithful, loyal fan, who through months, years and sometimes even decades of disappointment and frustration, is rewarded with a phenomenal rookie draft pick, a magical playoff run, perhaps, even, a championship. Even though I have no geographic allegiance, no cultural connection, to the Miami Dolphins, they remain my team simply because I would never think to change teams. And having endured over a decade of, at best, mediocre football, if I switch now, I may just be missing out on the best part of watching sports.
The Boston Red Sox in 2004 were coming off one of the most heart-breaking playoff losses in recent history. They had been in the lead in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees. Then, manager Grady Little opted to keep shaky veteran pitcher Pedro Martinez in the game in the eighth inning, rather than replace him with a relief pitcher. Martinez gave up three runs, the Red Sox lost game 7, and remained without a World Series win since 1918. Their fans were crushed, but these are some of the most loyal fans in baseball. And in 2004, the team bounced back, finally overcame all obstacles, and won the World Series. Imagine the sheer joy, the mad exhilaration, at your team, YOUR TEAM, winning the championship.
In 1994, the Greek National Soccer Team qualified for the World Cup Tournament in the United States. They flew to New York, their home base for the tournament, but rather than fall into a routine of practice, and studying their opponents, the Greek players went out partying in Astoria, even on the nights before their matches. As a result, unsurprisingly, they lost three straight games and went home without scoring a goal. I was eight years old, and my hopes of seeing my Greek father dance a Zorba (and I with him) were dashed. He was crushed. I turned to baseball.
Ten years later, in 2004, you may remember a little soccer tournament known as the Euro Championship (or Euro Cup). This tournament took place in Portugal over the month of June. The casual soccer fan may be thinking, “OK, so who won? Germany? Italy? France? Spain?” You’d be wrong on all counts. “OK, then Portugal, the hosts, right?” Wrong again, hypothetical friend. Though Portugal did reach the final, they were defeated by a hard-nosed, stubborn Greece team. This was a country that had never won a game in a tournament before 2004. NEVER WON A GAME! But in the month of June, 2004, magic happened. They scored one goal per game. They allowed, on average, 0.5 goals per game. They played boring, slow soccer. But they won the tournament. And the Greek blood inside me was awakened for the first time since 1994. I whooped and yelled and cheered. I rushed to learn Greek, I yearned to travel to Greece after high school. In ten short years, I had reached the darkest depths of fandom, and had risen to its peaks. The agony, the thrill.
Now imagine you’re a front-runner. You change teams like most people change their bed sheets. You’re always experiencing the joy of watching your team win, because your team is always the team MOST LIKELY TO WIN. How cheap and hollow are those victories? To experience the thrill of victory, without the agony of defeat, devalues the whole thing altogether. Think of your favourite sports movies: “The Mighty Ducks”, “Little Giants”, “Cool Runnings.” Did they make movies about Jack Reilly’s Hawks? How about Kevin O’Shea’s Cowboys? Or Josef Grull’s East Germany bobsled team? No, because at the heart of those sports movies, and dozens of others, is the knowledge that you’re supporting a rag-tag bunch of rejects who have come together and made a magical run to victory. And you LOVE it.
So whether you support a team because they’re from your hometown, or because they represent a part of your heritage, or just because you like their uniform colours, choose one, and stick with them. Through the hard times, all the shame and frustration. The reward, when it comes, will be well worth the wait.