The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

Sports are an institution in America today. If you are a male, you are almost required to be a sports fan. I’ve seen numerous males attempt to escape this fact of life in America, but I’ve seen very few pull it off. Those who are able to escape this super sport fan requirement deserve a hat-tip, in some ways, because they don’t have to endure the pain and sorrow watching sports can inflict on a person. It’s too late for me. I’ve had too many teams disappoint me to ever enjoy it in the manner we all should when watching sports. We super sports fans are now at a point where we almost hate sports as much as we love it, but we’ve found no cure for our ailment other than more sports and other disappointments that help us forget the past ones.

In 2012, The Atlanta Falcons won their first playoff game in four years of unsuccessful attempts. As a fanatic Falcons fan, I’m prepared for the discussions that will follow. I know that the discussions will involve attacks that I’ll deem personal, as a result of my life-long affiliation with this team. If they lose in the next three weeks, I will be guilty by association. If they win, I will be permitted a temporary amount of basking, but I will soon have to reconfigure my psychology in preparation for the next game, and the next season. A super fan’s job is never over.

Falcon fan face painterImmersing one’s self in the world of sports’ super fandom can be stressful, for a super fan is required to be unsatisfied with their team’s progress, regardless how well they do. A super fan is never happy. A casual sports fan can enjoy a good tussle between two opponents, measuring one another’s physical abilities, but a super fan doesn’t enjoy a good game that involves their team, unless their team blows the other team out. Close games are stressful, and they suggest an obvious deficiency in their team that must be rectified before the next game. Unadulterated blowouts confirm superiority.

A coach says they’re not satisfied with their team’s accomplishments, and the team’s players echo this sentiment. The two factions echo this sentiment so many times that super fans have now incorporated it into their lexicon. I can understand a player, or a coach, issuing such statements, for they are always on trial, they are always pushing themselves to be better today than they were yesterday. It’s the very essence of sports for the participants to be unsatisfied. Why does this mentality also have to exist for those who aren’t participants, but spectators? A super sports fan doesn’t question why they have this mentality, they just have it.

Most normal people regard watching sports as a frivolity, a conversation piece to engage in with friends and family. To them, sporting events provide a simple event, or an excuse, to get together with friends and family. And for these people, sports is little more than background noise that cover the lulls that may occur at get-togethers. They may keep up on some sport’s headlines, but they often do so to engage in superficial, meaningless conversations. They also use what little knowledge they have to needle the obnoxious diehards on their team’s loss.

There’s nothing wrong with this needling on the surface. Needling is what super sports fans do to one another, but in the world of super sports fans everyone has something on the line. When you mock a super sports fan’s team, you had better be ready to take as well as you give for a super sports fan will often come back ten times as hard. It’s as much a part of the super sports fan culture as watching the sport itself. For the non-sports fan, for whom sports is but a casual conversation piece, needling a super sports fan is revenge for all the years that super sports fans have ridiculed them for being non-sports fans, or if they haven’t been ridiculed, they have at least been ostracized from the all the conversations that revolve around sports, and they’ve built up some resentment for sports fans that comes out in these needling sessions. It also gives them great joy, when the conversation turns back on them, and the super fan says, “Who’s your favorite team?” that they don’t have one. The fact that they don’t have one gives them an immunity card against reprisals. It’s what they’ve dreamed of dating back to their pre-pubescent days when their peers ridiculed them for preferring Star Wars and Legos to sports.

In the world of the super fan, it is seen as a testament to their character that they remain unsatisfied with their team’s performance? Even a fan of a traditional doormat, such as the Atlanta Falcons, is informed that the best record in the regular season should mean nothing to them, and their first playoff victory in almost a decade should mean nothing to them. You want that ring. If we’re in any way happy with the progress they’ve made, we’re satisfied, and being satisfied equates to being weak, and soft, and everyone around us knows this, and they won’t have much time for us if we don’t demand perfection of your team.

I once heard that the reason the Chicago Cubs are perennial losers is that their fan base will turn out regardless how they perform. I’ve heard it said that they’re more concerned with beer than baseball, and that they enjoy the confines of Wrigley Field more than they do a winner. There is a certain amount of sense in this when one considers the actual attendance figures in Wrigley Field, of course, but are they saying that a Cubs’ General Manager is apt to forego a prized free agent signing, because he knows that the fans will show up anyway? Is a manager going to inform the organization that he is not going to call up a star prospect, because he knows that the fans will show up regardless if the team is better or not? Their job is on the line every year. Get in the playoffs or get out is the motto in most of professional sports, and I dare say this is no different in Chicago regardless of their team’s ‘lovable loser’ tradition.

The radio show host who said this about the Cubs was making a general point that there isn’t the sense of urgency in the Cubs organization that there is in the Yankee organization. Yankee fans are adamant that their team win the World Series every year, and they’re quite vocal with their displeasure when the organization puts anything less than a championship team on the field. I can’t say that this is without merit, but should this same requirement be made of the fan sitting in a bar discussing sports with a fellow super fan? Why is it elemental to the respect of his peers that the super fan maintain an unsatisfied persona to maintain the respect of his super fan friends?

Super fans who have listened to sports talk radio for far too long, have had it pounded into our head that there’s no glory in meaningless victories … if you don’t have that ring. If you were a Buffalo Bills fan, in the 90’s, and you were happy with an appearance in the Super Bowl for four straight years, you were soft, because those teams lost all of those Super Bowls. The super fan would’ve preferred that the Bills failed to make it to the playoffs in the face of all that losing. That was embarrassing. The Bills proved to be historic choke artists. Nothing more. It didn’t matter to the superfan that they were able to do something unprecedented when they made it to the Super Bowl after three consecutive losses. They lost the fourth one too! Bunch of choke artists is what they were.

Did it matter to anyone that the Atlanta Braves made it to the playoffs fourteen consecutive years in a span that stretched from the 90’s to the 00’s? It didn’t to the super fan. They grew tired of all that losing. Did it matter to the super fan that they made the NLCS nine out of ten years? It did not. Did it matter that they made it to the World Series in five of those years? If you’re a loser it did. They won one World Series throughout this stretch, and the super fan remained unsatisfied throughout.

“No one remembers the team that lost in the championship.” “One team wins, and the other team chokes.” These are some of the most common tropes of the language of the super fan that you’ll have to adopt, if you ever hope to garner the type of respect necessary to sit with super fans in bars discussing sports.

If our team loses, but we’re satisfied just to be there, that says something about our character. In these conversations, we are our team, and our team is us. If such conversations make us uncomfortable, the best way for us to retain our identity will be to distance yourself from our team by informing our friends that we disagreed with a move or a decision that they made, but often times this is not enough to leave us unscathed. Regardless what we say, we cannot avoid having them consider us a choke artist based on the fact that our team “choked” in the championship. We could switch teams, of course, but that is what super fans call a fair weather fan, and a fair weather fan is the lowest form of life in the world of super fandom, save for the needling non-fan. Our best bet is to just sit there and take it. Our friends will enjoy that a lot less than our struggle to stick up for our team.

Even if our team wins it all, we super fans will have no glory. We’re never satisfied, and winning it all for one year, just means that our concentration flips to next year. We don’t just want a championship, we want a dynasty. The true fan is the superfan, always seeking definition of their character through constant calls for perfection. Even if their team wins a championship, they didn’t win by much. Our team should’ve slaughtered that bunch. There is room for improvement, and we’ll scour the draft pool and the free agent list, to find that perfect component for next year’s run. If our team doesn’t do what we think they should do, we gain some distance by proclaiming that the team doesn’t know what they’re doing. We know this because we’re super fans, but most of us have never played the game, or had to deal with team play, salary caps, or prima donnas who generate excellent stats with no regard for the team.

The one thing that every fan, and every super fan, should be required to recite before every game is “You’re just a fan”. I don’t care if you wear your hat inside out and backwards, you sit on half a cheek for a week, and you don’t speak of your team’s progress for fear of jinxing them, you’re just a fan. I don’t care if you have seven different jerseys for the seven days of the week, that you paint your face, or brave the cold and go shirtless. You’re just a fan. You’re no more instrumental in the way they play the game than the guy at the end of the bar who doesn’t care for sports. So, does this line of thought make it any easier to be a super fan? It does not, because as a super fan, we know that our reputation is on the line every time your team takes the field, court, diamond, or rink. We know that our friends are just dying to call our team (i.e. you) a loser, a choke-artist, and that can make it super stressful to be a super fan.

NFL Week 1: The changing of the guard

The New England Patriots may be the most glaring example of the relatively new NFL. Just last week they had to say goodbye to one of their stalwarts Richard Seymour. I don’t think that the NE coach Bill Belicheck wanted to let another star from his defense loose when one considers that he has already lost three (two to retirement and one to a trade). Welcome to the new NFL. I know it’s been going on awhile, but it seemed like some managed to remain immune to the yearly depletion of talent that occurs due primarily to free agency. Bill Parcells once said: “If you want to remain successful in this league, you often have to say goodbye to good friends.” I don’t think Parcells knew how prophetic he was. Former Commissioner Paul Taglibue designed a salary cap system combined with the free agency system to establish some parity in the league. Taglibue thought it would add to the excitement of the league if every team believed they would have a shot at some point in their tenure. He thought that the old 70’s and 80’s systems were antiquated, and they needed to be adjusted for fans of smaller market teams to become competitive. It’s hard to argue with the model Taglibue created, a model that led to the NFL to be far and away the most popular sport, but did it really need tweaking?

The Steelers dynasty, one of the most important elements to the league’s popularity, was born through the draft. When those players got old, the Steelers left the championship picture. As a counter to that argument, the Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw once said that there were only about four to five teams that finished in the final four teams year after year. Me, I think it’s good to have a big bad monster to defeat. I think it’s good to be accountable to your draft picks. I think it’s good to have long term plans for success for your franchise, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in the NFL anymore. It’s all about parity now. So, take heart people from Detroit, it may not be as long as you think before your team is competitive again.