Last Sunday, I was watching the Atlanta Falcons lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and, as a Falcons fan, I was suffering with every poor play I witnessed. After viewing Sunday’s performance, I concluded that suffering may be a common feeling among Falcons fans this season. As the curtain closed on another Falcons loss, I was asking myself, “why do I put myself through this? Why do I care about the outcome of a game?”
Of course, I am not alone. Many sports fans experience frequent mood swings that tightly coincide with the fortunes of the teams they follow. This phenomenon begs another question. Are we all nuts?
It is common knowledge among sports fans that the word “fan” is derived from the word “fanatic.” Is that really what we are? All signs seem to point to the affirmative. The first sign of our fanaticism is that we care so deeply about something we cannot control. In my three plus decades of being a sports fan, I can never truly say that I personally have impacted the outcome of a sporting event in which I did not play. Of course, this knowledge does not keep me from trying. I have been known to select my game apparel based upon how my team performed the last time I wore it. Don’t laugh! I have seen many of you do the same thing with your rally caps, thunder sticks and intricate pre-game rituals. Some of you believe to this day that a supreme being, a Sports God, is watching and waiting to reward the most fervent believers. Some folks may call that a cult.
Then there is dealing with the loss. Nothing stinks more than that moment, the moment you know the competitive portion of the game is over and your team will not win. You spend the entire game dreading that moment, doing more intricate math than Einstein trying to find a way to believe. Only six run to score with six outs to go. Down 23 with 8:00 minutes left? No problem, it’s still a three possession game if we, oops they, can make two two-point conversions. Losing hurts and yet it’s all but guaranteed. In the NFL, for example, every year 31 of 32 teams either fail to make the playoffs or end the season with a loss. Only one team and one fan base can be completely happy with how it all turns out. Only a fanatic would subject himself or herself to such disappointment. Maybe we do it for the enormous benefit that comes to the fans of winning teams.
What benefit? My father always used to correct me for referring to my favorite teams as “we.” “We who,” he would say. “Are you on the payroll? What do you get if they win?” It was an irrefutable point. I am not aware of any team that sends its fans a playoff share when it wins a championship. In fact, the better your team fares, the more money it will cost you. What self-respecting season ticket holder would pass up the chance to purchase playoff tickets if his or her team was lucky enough to qualify? Even if you don’t attend the games, you get your “fan card” revoked if you don’t buy at least one piece of gear that says “Division Champ,” "Conference Champ,” or “World Champ.” A championship season does get you a heaping pile of bragging rights for at least one season, but you can only redeem them by mocking someone else. That hardly seems neighborly. So if fandom is mostly pain with some very occasional pleasure mixed in, why do any of us do the “fan thing?”
Why? It is our calling… an avoidable human need. We need to connect with other human beings. Bonding is simply in our DNA. Those who do not bond with others eventually wither and die. And there is no experience more bonding than a 90 yard touchdown run or a three-run home run when your squad is down by two. Each will have you high-fiving and hugging people that you may not even greet on the streets in other circumstances. Each will make you forget for a minute that there is evil in the world. Each will have you believing in the inherent goodness of mankind.
So, the next time someone calls you a fanatic due to your apparent excessive allegiance to your team, simply say “I wear the eye black for the good of humanity!”