Who Do You Love: A Fan by Birthright or by Choice?
Who Do You Love
I bleed green. No, I‘m not a scientist with anger issues who’s been exposed to radiation. Just a Philadelphia Eagles fan. But this isn’t about being an Eagles fan. It’s a question about fandom as a whole. Specifically, can you choose the team you root for or are you born into it? So, who do you love?
Pro Life-er: My Tribe
My father was a lifetime Eagles fan. Logical, since Philadelphia is less than an hour away and the closest professional football team. I don’t remember there being a choice for what NFL team I’d root for. Because it was expected. Because I didn’t know otherwise. Because I was born into the tribe.
The topic sprung from a discussion with a couple buddies. Just some knuckleheads talking sports. After some adult beverages, a lively discussion ensued over scars we collectively hold as Eagles fans. Scars like the Marion ‘Swamp Fox’ Campbell era, the Fog Bowl, Bryce Paup ruining the 1991 season. And Donovan McNabb vomiting during the Super Bowl. The discussion evolved to include our mutual disgust for local Cowboys fans. Because they’re frontrunners. Because they’re turncoats.
“Guys, I gotta get something off my chest.” My friend has 4 sons. That wasn’t his confession. His 3rd son is a Cowboys fan. Another buddy dropped his longneck and ran out of the garage screaming, “I don’t know who you are anymore!” Bottles shattered. Chairs overturned. Card table akimbo.
Ok, so maybe it didn’t end that way. But it spurred us on—can you choose your team? I root for all Philly teams—I am a ‘four for four’ guy. Because I am part of the tribe. Because I bleed green and don’t understand how anyone born here doesn’t. I am a life-er.
But also, because I am a closet fan of the Boston Red Sox.
Pro-Choice: The Curious Case of Cheering for the Red Sox
I moved to Boston in 1990. For college. I grew to love Boston. As a Philly sports guy, I hated the Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots. But, I grew to love the Red Sox.
Growing up, going to a Phillies game was a major affair. An hour’s drive down the PA Turnpike. Parking in a huge lot and a long walk to the big cement bowl—Veteran’s Stadium. We’d go to a game or two a year.
Living in Boston was different. Living in Boston heaven for a baseball fan. Fenway was a short ‘T’ (the Boston subway) ride—or long-ish walk—from my front door. Bleacher seats cost $9.00. I could catch a game in Baseball’s Cathedral with short notice. On a whim. When I wanted.
There were no seats on the Green Monster then. I cheered for Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Mo Vaughn, Mike Greenwell, et al. I drank at the Cask & Flagon before games. I owned a Yankees Suck t-shirt. But I felt like an imposter.
A degree of Fan?
Of course, anyone can adopt any team. But there’s a difference. There’s a difference between being born into and choosing your tribe.
I loved the Red Sox. When I moved back to Bethlehem, PA, I remained a fan. There was a shared ethos between long-suffering Red Sox nation and me—pain, heartbreak, misery.
But I don’t hate Bucky ‘bleepin’ Dent. I remember watching the ’86 World Series and it didn’t scar me. I didn’t suffer through the ‘Curse of the Bambino.’ I didn’t continue a family legacy of being a Red Sox fan. I didn’t bear the burden of decades of heartbreak. I loved the Sox, but I felt like an imposter.
Then the Sox won the World Series. I didn’t cry. No demons were purged. I didn’t cherish the memory with any long-suffering family members or friends. I didn’t wish anyone lived long enough to see the day. I was happy. No more, no less.
And then they won again. And then something changed. The shared ethos evaporated into the ether.
Perhaps that’s the difference.
The Verdict: It Doesn’t Matter
My best friend, who’ll remain nameless, is a Redskins fan. He was born and raised 10 minutes from me. What happened? Where did it go wrong?
His parents were Israeli immigrants. They were more interested in opera than athletics. He had no family ties to any sports. He picked the ‘Skins because of John Riggins. And he liked maroon.
He lives outside DC now with his wife and kids. He still roots for the Flyers, Phillies, and Sixers. His son loves the Redskins too. But, his son loves the Nationals. And Bryce Harper. And hates the ‘Phils.
He called me wondering what happened. Where it went wrong.