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The Rules of the Bandwagon

By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | December 1, 2010 | Comments ()

By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | December 1, 2010 |


yankee_fan.jpg

Perhaps it is wise to avoid directly responding to those anonymous denizens of the internet that aim to rankle you in the comments section of a column that you wrote. Perhaps the word "perhaps" does not even apply to that statement. Perhaps the word "perhaps" should not apply to that second statement either. And perhaps ... never mind. New rule: Never begin a column with a thought that can send your mind spiraling into an infinite loop.

Despite that prescribed caution, I must admit that this column was directly inspired by just such a comment. It was suggested that if I am a Dallas Cowboys fan that was neither born in Dallas nor lived a significant portion of his life in that city, then I am a person of significantly low repute. (The verbiage that this commenter chose to assign to Cowboys fans that are not from Dallas was considerably coarser.) I answered that I felt fully justified in my Cowboys fandom, for although I have never lived in Dallas, I did spend the vast majority of my youth in a nearby Texas town that had no more proximate NFL team.

Thus, the insult did not apply to me in this particular case, but I did ponder a question that I have considered several times before. What makes a fan? How do we choose our teams? Is one method empirically more valid than any other? In many cases (not solely in the world of sports) we consider the fierceness of our loyalty a virtue, but certainly loyalty must have a limit.

I told you about my woeful college friend who is a Cleveland fan in the last column. That first year at the university I gained another friend who was a 49ers fan. He was from Houston. When we skeptically asked him how and why he became a 49ers fan, he replied that he had liked them many years - since the mid 80s to be precise. Given that the 49ers won four Super Bowls over the course of the 80s, it probably comes as no surprise to you that we immediately assigned him the derisive nickname of "Bandwagon," which is still referenced in our circle to this day. To my amusement, I would find out that the first time I went to San Francisco seven years later on a road trip up the California coast was also his first time in San Francisco.

We were yanking his chain, of course, but some sports fans do take this extremely seriously. I intend my weekly signoff on this column to be humorous, but there is something inherently repellant about fair weather fans. That said, could you truly blame a child for being inspired by the success of Joe Montana and his teams of that decade? I myself had sympathies for the Dolphins when I was extremely young, and I am not certain my justification went much further than the fact that I have always thought dolphins were just about the coolest animal there is. I have never been to Miami in my life.

I invite you to perform a thought exercise. Suppose someone you know has a favorite team. Now suppose one of the following items is true. Which is the most forgivable? Which is the least forgivable?

  • This person has no direct geographic ties to the team, but for whatever reason this team was the favorite of a parent, and this person would like to continue that support out of loyalty or honor.

  • The team was on television frequently when this person was a kid, and the kid acquired a liking for them. Perhaps the team was particularly successful, and it was fun to watch a winner. Again, there are no geographic ties.

  • This person might only have a passing interest in sports and might usually root for his or her original hometown. Suddenly, the local team achieves success. He or she would now seem to be the biggest fan around and speaks with the fervor of someone who suffered in watching the team through all the years of losing.

  • A team becomes successful, and this person with no geographic ties whatsoever adopts the team and cheers for them with near immeasurable enthusiasm.


    Perhaps your opinion differs, but by my own personal assessment only with the information given, those were written from least to most obnoxious.

    Consider this, however. What if the person described in D) adopted the New Orleans Saints during the 2009 season? What if the primary reason was that a Super Bowl victory would be a wonderful boon to the city in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina four years prior? Does that soften the extent of this bandwagon violation?

    In that spirit, it might not be my primary factor in choosing which team I prefer in any given game, but in the past I have based that decision on wanting to see the team win that would make someone I like happy. I also have been known to root against teams because I would like to see certain people unhappy. In the world of sports where the stakes for the fans are usually ultimately trivial, we can comfortably wish ill will upon those who are not our friends and not feel guilty about that very petty impulse.

    I find it difficult to believe that I am typing this, but just over the past couple months I have come to the realization that I would not be completely opposed to the prospect of the Philadelphia Eagles as Super Bowl winners. I should rephrase that: I am opposed to a championship for the Eagles, but a small part of me could be happy for the satisfaction that it would bestow to some of my newfound internet friends. That might be blasphemy against Cowboys nation, but in my old age I do find that enjoying and appreciating sports is about much more than exclusionary dichotomies.

    I have no plans to ever hop on the Los Angeles Lakers bandwagon, but by society's unwritten bandwagon rules, at what point am I allowed to cheer for them? I have lived in Los Angeles for over five years. When can I back the Dodgers? Is that more permissible given their longer championship drought? What if I did not live in Los Angeles but wanted to cheer for the Dodgers simply because they were the team of Jackie Robinson over 50 years ago? What if I wanted to cheer against the Dodgers because they broke fictional Terence Mann's (Field Of Dreams) heart when they moved away from Brooklyn? What if I told you that the real reason I am Cowboys fan was that I thought that James Caan was super cool in his Cowboys t-shirt in the movie Alien Nation?

    The Miami Heat probably gained several bandwagon fans this offseason when they signed their big three free agents. What if the Heat stumble into the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference, though? Is someone then allowed to root for them as an underdog with empathy for their failed expectations?

    By the unwritten bandwagon rules, are we even allowed to root for underdogs? Isn't that a form of bandwagon as well? Can someone become a Lions or a Browns fan in the name of masochism and a gloomy outlook on life? If I became a Cubs fan solely because I feel sorry for them, would I be allowed to enjoy it if they won a World Series? Full disclosure: the year that most solidified my Cowboys fandom was their 1-15 season. I have always considered watching those games a badge that earned me the right to enjoy their subsequent Super Bowl wins, but in a sense was I taking advantage of the system?

    Suppose Lord Voldemort purchases your favorite team, signs Hannibal Lecter as head coach, and puts Emperor Palpatine at quarterback. The halftime show consists of ritual puppy and kitten sacrifices and improvised entertainment courtesy of the reality television stars du jour. Meanwhile, Santa Claus (he's real after all!) purchases your archrival team, hires Atticus Finch as the head coach, and assigns Batman to play the slot receiver. All of the team's players speak only in the most humble, selfless sound bites and donate their free time and money to your favorite charities.

    Are you allowed to switch sides, or must you stick with those colors and that mascot that now represent pure evil out of the supposedly noble loyalty that bandwagon rules might demand?

    What if you do not want to root for the local team because you consider those who blindly follow the conventions of geographical proximity to be the ones who are joining the bandwagon? Have they ever stopped to consider the interconnectedness of our world in their sports fandom?

    What if you love to watch the NFL but live in Tokyo, Vancouver, or Timbuktu? How do you choose your favorite team in a valid way?

    I suppose if I have a serious point in all this, it is simply this. To paraphrase High Fidelity, we are not talking about Israel versus Palestine, folks. We are only talking about the diversion of cheering for a sports team. That can be an inspiring and fun endeavor, but we need not scrutinize our motivations behind it too intensely.

    My friend the 49ers fan now lives in New York and has taken advantage of his locality by adopting the worst imaginable team for this topic. He recently posited that I could be godfather to his future son. In the tragic happenstance that would see me taking up the mantle of raising that kid, my friend wanted to know what team would be most objectionable to encourage the kid to like. He was giving me one (and only one) out; whatever teams I did not name were fair game. Out of respect for my friend, I would be compelled to pass on all his other rooting interests to his son. That is a tough task, but a hypothetical dying wish by one of my best friends is not something that I would deny.

    Thinking about it further, perhaps I do not even need that out. Maybe I could stomach teaching his son to be a Yankees fan. In return for that concession, I would only ask that he allow me to share all my thoughts about bandwagons.

    C. Robert Dimitri is nothing more than your average American sports fan that has spent far too many hours in front of the television and has absolutely no further credentials. He reserves the right to change any opinions expressed here; unlike the practice of bandwagon sports loyalty, there is virtue in shifting a position when given new information.



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