I'm going to the Eagles v. Dolphins game tomorrow. Is it the most exciting game in the world? No. Is there any hype or interest in the game other than having the Eagles win? No. As a matter of fact, the only major area of interest is the hope that the Birds don't lose to an 0-9 team. Sure there's talk that if they win they'll be a game back of the Wild Card, but come on. Unless the Birds beat Pats next week, there is no chance of getting that Wild Card unless the Redskins, Giants, and Lions pull a collective New York Mets and vault the Birds into the playoffs. However, here is my point...I want to go to the game. I will enjoy going to the game. I want the Eagles to win that game. Why? Because I'm a fan.
People, especially in the Philadelphia area, often refer to themselves as fans, but that is not the case. For example, two years ago when the Eagles were an absolute mess I went to the last game of the season against the Redskins. There were probably more 'Skins fans in attendance than Eagles fans. Now, this was an especially disappointing season since there were high hopes for the Birds, but more and more often people only want to be a fan, for any team, when times are good. You don't become a fan by enjoying championships and celebrating wins. Those are your payoffs for being there for the heartbreaking losses and embarrassing defeats. Every time something horrible happens to your sports team you have to be there so you can fully enjoy those truly great moments.
And those moments aren't always championships, but can come anywhere at any time. It's being there and knowing that you truly wanted your team to win above all else.
That is really the ultimate litmus test for being a fan: Will you be there to suffer through the tough times? AND Do you want your team to win at all times?
There is an exception to the second part of the test. Rooting for your team to lose is acceptable when going for a higher draft pick for next year, but ONLY when that top pick is a life altering player, like Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were. Other than that, there really is no excuse to root against your team. Even if you just want them to rebuild or move on, when it comes down to it, can you be happy if they lost? Sure maybe from an outsider standpoint moving on and cutting your losses is the best option, but when that game is over, something just does not feel right about accepting defeat.
Being a true fan is really the most nonsensical thing a human can do. Think about it. From the time you first become a fan, you arbitrarily select a team based upon geographic location, your dad's favorite team, or maybe a team that had a big impact on you during your formative years. That's all that it takes. After that, you root for that team no matter what. You spend thousands of dollars on tickets, merchandise, apparel, travel, along with countless hours watching these teams throughout the year. Hours and hours spent all for little morsels of pleasure and, if you're lucky, a championship or two.
It would make more sense just to have a laid back approach to sports fandom and just enjoy sports as entertainment. Root for the best teams and check in every now and then to see what they're up to, changing your favorite team year to year so as not to be stuck with a loser.
That's not what being a fan is about though. Something inside you makes you adhere some kind of mythological loyalty, on the level of loyalty to your friends and family (maybe even a little more), for seemingly no good reason at all. It makes people take out second mortgages on their home to buy Super Bowl tickets or cry uncontrollably or maybe even act a little out of character.
What being a fan is, is just having a passion for something. Sports pushes those buttons and makes you root, cheer, live, and die with a team you've selected. It is a masochistic (go with the second definition, but I bet there are some people out there that go with the first) process that the more you think about it, the more odd of an entity it becomes. I guess that helps explain when you try to tell your girlfriend about why you like a certain team, she shoots back at you with an "Are you insane" look. And what it boils down to is yes. It is a completely insane approach to life, but it is oh so necessary.
I'll be at the Birds game, rooting for them on Sunday. Whatever team you like, I suggest you do the same. Go Birds!
Gotta support the team...