I recently shared a meme I found on social media that got some traction.
The person that posted it basically asked why as men (and women) do we choose a favorite sports team during our childhood and let it ruin the rest of our lives? Of course, it was posted in jest but, as with any good joke, there lies some truth within.
I think that’s a fair point, so I took it to the shop and asked a number of our customers their thoughts. The caveat is that if your favorite teams (or at least one of your teams) is a winner, then its not hard to stick with the squad but if your team is a basement dweller, what makes you stick around?
My actual questions to this follow-up meme are 1) Why do we stick with our teams as if it’s a lifetime commitment and 2) What would it take for you to cut ties from your team?
One of our long time customers, Todd, comes in and buys a lot (a lot) of football product from boxes, packs and and singles. We’ve had countless conversations over the years about sports, our favorite players and teams, our kids involvement in sports and a million other topics. I asked him about how he became a fan of the teams he did and if he would ever jump ship. He said when he was little he was a New York Giants fan because of our close proximity to the team and the fact that he played for the Giants in pee wee football. Then Vincent Edward Jackson burst onto the scene and that changed everything for Todd, me and a lot of others of our generation.
Todd started to bleed silver and black and quickly realized that Bo knew….everything. He was also a big fan of other Raiders greats including Marcus Allen, Tim Brown and another one of my personal favorites, Rocket Ismail. He said then along came Jeff Hostetler who is somewhat of a local legend in our part of the country and the rest is history. He told me that even his room was painted silver and black. The Raiders have moved a couple of times since then but he said that the only way he would ever switch allegiances or root for another team is if his son made it to the NFL. That’s fair.
Another close friend and customer of the shop, Neil, said that we pick teams as a young kid based on the players we are drawn to. His thought was that it leads us to getting our foot in the door and learning more and more about the sport. He said we don’t leave our team once we pick a favorite because we don’t want to be considered frontrunners or bandwagon jumpers or even, on a deeper level, we don’t want to be unfaithful to our team. I think there really is something to that faithfulness fact and that ties right back into the original thought that we choose a team when we’re young and we stick with them no matter what through thick and thin and any deviation from that appears to be a flaw in our character or a lack of loyalty. That’s powerful stuff.
Neil said the only way he would switch teams is if the front office was failing but not in the sense of transactions, being movers and shakers, drafting smart, securing the right free agents and surrounding the people in the front office with talent but moreso in the sense that if he felt the front office didn’t hold basic core beliefs and values that mirrored his beliefs. I think that’s another great point and a direction that more and more people are going in, as athletes become more involved in social issues and building their own brands away from the court or field. There are a lot of fans that want to see their teams in athletes mirror their ideals.
Jeff, who I featured in this series before, is in his 60s now and a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan (yes, even here in Pennsylvania). When asked what it would take for him to jump ship he said, in theory, a decade or so of absolute dysfunction, losing and disarray. He said if the Cowboys lost their way, he would turn his eyes to the Raiders as they were a secondary team he always enjoyed watching and collecting.
I think that brings up a key factor in all of this favorite team talk. I would say the vast majority of fans do have a second team or heck maybe even a third team in some instances that they may collect, root for or at least admire. For fans whose team is wretched year after year maybe that brings some joy and solace as well. Having an almost secret second favorite team that they find enjoyment in watching or cheering for. I’ve been a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, so our Super Bowl drought is nearly 30 years on but my wife and her family are from Western Pennsylvania so I’ve gone to more Pittsburgh Steelers games than I have Bears games in my life and I always find myself, in a sense, rooting for the Steelers (unless they’re playing the Bears).
It’s a lifestyle and depending where you live it can be a huge part of the community in general and your little community, too. The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t won a championship since I was a year old and lost to the Cubs on Saturday by 21-0 (insert football joke here), but I’m still a fan.
When your heart or your collecting passion surrounds a certain team, it does in a sense, become like a family– good, bad or indifferent. You celebrate the highs and you stick together and suffer through the lows and in the case of the Pirates there have been a lot of lows over the last 25 or 30 years.
Cincinnati Reds management is putting their fans to the test this season as a franchise with a long, proud and historic history hasn’t been remotely competitive. Yet there is a legion of Reds collectors large enough to where an online group has an annual Reds-only memorabilia show. You can bet none of them are abandoning ship.
If you did indeed choose a favorite team when you were a kid you have those very strong emotional ties to something as simple as a logo, team colors, your favorite players and even their cards and memorabilia. When you were eight years old, all of those things can’t be overlooked and they are very powerful images, memories, and emotions even years later as an adult. After all, fan is short for fanatic, so it may not make a lot of sense to someone who’s not a sports fan but to those who do what makes perfect sense.
Collecting can make sticking with a team easier, too. After all, if your team isn’t having a lot of current success, chasing down cards or other items from their moments of greatness can take away some of the sting.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t loathe my favorite team at times and even joke aloud about disowning them but guess what? I never do. I’ll still find myself sitting down at night and turning on the Pirates game. As I write this my wife and I are in the middle of planning a week in June in Pittsburgh and that will involve making a stop or two at PNC Park to cheer on our lowly Buccos for a few home games.
Some of my fondest memories from childhood were summers where my dad would take us to the western part of the state and catch some Pirates games at Three Rivers Stadium.
I remember unsuccessfully chasing Andy Van Slyke through the corridors for an autograph. One of my favorite memories was when my dad caught a foul ball off the bat of then Atlanta Braves infielder Jim Presley in the second deck down the first base line. It all came full circle a bit just a few years ago when Pirates All Star outfielder Starling Marte tossed my son a ball between innings. That moment got my son into collecting cards and me back in the game, too.
Our love of sport, team and attempting to be closer to the game by collecting is an incredibly powerful collection of emotions. Many of us can’t give up on our teams because it would mean giving up on our history, our love and passion and ourselves.
Back to the original question. When do we cut ties with our teams? The answer, for most of us, is never.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. You can get in touch via the info below.