To this day, I can be captivated by all sorts of different athletic competitions, which is part of why I enjoy the Olympics so much, even though I may be watching sports I only see once every, oh… four years or so. I have, though, refined my interests somewhat. For example, I have only a very limited interest in boxing anymore. I’m not here to make any speeches criticizing the sport; I will merely cite it as an example of a sport I’ve mostly drifted away from and I’ll save any further discussion of boxing for another day.
So my viewing tastes in televised sports have primarily coalesced around several major options: pro baseball, college and pro football, college basketball (limited interest in the pro game), and hockey. Yes, I may still occasionally be found watching golf, tennis, or even pro basketball; please view these as aberrations. But for just a moment, I want to focus on the timely topic of hockey.
The first thing you might notice is that, while I specified “college” or “pro” with regard to the other sports, I listed hockey without any such qualifiers. That’s because I have yet to see a hockey contest at any level that I didn’t find engaging. For the last couple years, my cable system has carried the Big Ten Network, which televises college hockey, and I’ve found it to be extremely competitive and entertaining. In addition, I’ve attended games played by teams from the AHL, the now-defunct IHL, and some minor league that has a team in Flint, Michigan.
Hockey is probably my favorite sport to view live. I think it’s the sport that has the greatest contrast between the televised viewing experience and the live viewing experience. I think that’s because TV, of necessity, decreases the sense of motion and flow to the game. The camera follows the action, whereas in person, the fan must follow the action. The fast pace of the game, particularly at the highest level, forces the viewer to physically move in order to keep up. I think this may contribute to the elevated passions hockey seems to engender in its fans – all this movement causes one to become physically energized and involved.
As I write these words, the Chicago Blackhawks are duking it out with the Vancouver Canucks to see which of them will face the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final of the NHL playoffs. Or to put it more simply, they’re trying to make it to hockey’s Final Four. If the Hawks make it to that point, I will have tickets to game 4 of their series against the Sharks. This is a pretty big deal to me – I’ve never attended an NHL playoff game, much less a game in a conference final, much less a game that could be the deciding contest in sending a team to the finals in the event of a sweep!
Up until Saturday night, my hope was that I might be seeing the Blackhawks play the Detroit Red Wings, but alas, the Wings were knocked out of the playoffs by the afore-mentioned Sharks. And granted, my tickets are merely for a spot in the standing room area in the upper reaches of the United Center, but it would certainly be a thrill to be a part of such a spectacle even from the rafters of the building.
This leads me to another point about my sports fandom, which is that it’s mostly been a solitary pursuit for me. Yes, while growing up, I had a few other family members, particularly brother D, to share it with. But even then, my viewing of televised sports was mostly on my own, and this trend has only become more pronounced since I moved out of my parents’ house. There have been some happy exceptions: CC and I have attended many baseball games together, particularly at Tiger Stadium. My late friend Jim was quite the sports nut himself, and we attended various baseball, football, and hockey games together, including a memorable driving trip several years ago when we saw baseball games in Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee on successive days! More recently, my friend Mery has had her long-time love of hockey set ablaze by the success of the Blackhawks.
Still, my viewing and enjoyment of sports has remained a mostly solitary pursuit. Not that I’m complaining, for there is a price to be paid for sharing some of these experiences, particularly for a Chicagoan transplanted from Detroit who still holds some strong allegiances to his hometown teams. And this brings me to the other half of this essay’s title: The Fan I’m Not.
I’m not a fan who revels in telling fans of the opposition how much they suck, or how much their team sucks, or how much their city sucks. The short answer for why I’m not that kind of fan would be this: I’m not a moron. The long answer would communicate the same idea with fancier words. Frankly, I don’t want the other team to suck; I want them to be a terrific team playing at the top of their game… and my team beats them! Where’s the glory in beating a team that sucks?
As an aside – I always find it amusing when I’ll see a team – in any sport – eke out a narrow victory, and their fans respond by chanting that their opponents suck. I always want to say to them, “OK, so the other team sucks, yet you could only beat them by the slimmest of margins? What are you saying about your own team? That you suck only slightly less than the other guys?”
Closely related to that concept is this – I’m not a fan who wants to rub the noses of the losing team’s fans in their defeat. When I see this sort of conduct, either in person or in print, I feel as if I’m seeing the person lower themselves into the muck right before my eyes. Such people do not appear to be receptive or vulnerable to discussion or rebuke; they are only to be avoided and, at most, pitied for their lack of social skills.
I’m not a fan who thinks all the control is in the hands of my team. In other words, if my team loses, I’m not going to automatically say, “My team didn’t play up to their potential,” or “We let them win by playing a stupid game,” or “They just got lucky.” Now understand this – in the case of a specific game, I might very well have these opinions, but it isn’t my blanket, default position for analyzing all losses. I’m also willing to entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, the other team is better than my team, or that they had players come through big time who took control of the game with an inspired performance. When I encounter fans who are utterly unable to credit an outcome to the Other Team playing a fabulous game, I feel as if it has become impossible to have an intelligent conversation with them about the game, because they’ve just willfully turned off half of their brains.
I want to close by summing up the kind of fan I AM: I’m the kind of fan who can become engrossed in a contest to the point of shutting out almost all other stimuli. I’m the kind of fan who can live and die with the success of my teams and my heroes. I’m the kind of fan whose emotions can be very close to the surface, resulting in unbridled joy when my teams reach the summit, and utter despondency when their season comes to an abrupt, premature end. Still, I bounce back quickly; give me a day or two at most and I’m ready to move on to the next diversion. After all, even the most successful franchises in all of sports usually walk away empty-handed. In that way, being a real sports fan is far more often a matter of losing with grace than winning in ecstasy.