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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What makes a fan?


With the Ravens/Steelers AFC Championship game looming on the horizon, I've been spending more time than I should at the Baltimore Sun's Ravens message board. To say it's been infested with Steeler fans would be the understatement of the year.

Dozens of them signed up for their Sun forums account on Sunday night or Monday morning (depending on when their local library opens so they can use the 'puter), so now their accounts are being activated after the mandatory 3-day waiting period and they are coming out of the woodwork like termites from hell.

Anyhow, most of them are fair-tempered, talking honest X's and O's while having confidence in their team. But many of these Steeler fans are trolls. They come to opposing team's message boards to run their mouths, talk trash that is mostly made up of bad grammar, and insult the city of Baltimore in general, as if Pittsburgh somehow transformed into Malibu over the last 20 years.

But the fact remains. The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most successful NFL franchise since the NFL-AFL merger. They've got 5 Super Bowl rings, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most by any franchise.

So it comes as no surprise that these 2 teams have fans stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific.

And to me, this is where it gets complicated.

What does it say about people who don't live in Pittsburgh or Dallas -- and even worse, fans of those teams who do live in cities with NFL teams -- and are fans of the Steelers and Cowboys?

It's simple. People like to win. Why root for the Cardinals or the Browns when you could just as easily adopt the Steelers or Cowboys as your team? OK, if people want to do it, fine by me. But live with the consequences.

And boy are there consequences.

The way I see it, there are different levels of fandom. I am sure many people will have problems with it, especially those who find themselves living in an NFL city and rooting for another team. Especially a winning team. But that's on them.

So here we go.

NATIVE FANS

These are people who are born and raised in a city with an NFL team and are fans of that team. To them it wasn't a choice. Like they didn't have a choice to be male or female, black or white, smart or stupid when they were born, they didn't have a choice in what team they would root for. These are the fans who should never catch grief for being a fan of the team they root for, good or bad. From New York Yankee fan to Detroit Lions fan, if you're from either city, you are A-OK in my book.

I also find it common that these are the nicest fans, the ones who can admit defeat when they lose and be humble when they win.

DISPLACED FANS

These are people who once lived in the city their team plays in and moved, whether it be by force or by choice. No one can blame a Steelers fan who grew up in Pittsburgh and was forced to move when the steel mills closed and the local economy went into the toilet. And no one can blame the fan who went to college somewhere outside their home town and never returned. It happens. It's called life.

These fans are usually just as respectable and courteous as the native fans, but with more edginess. They feel the need to represent their team more because they are surrounded by fans of another team. They go on the defensive faster than a native fan because they feel cornered.

But displaced fans are usually good natured. They hang a team flag from their porch to show their loyalty to their team. They display a license plate frame on their car. They wear their team's jersey on game day when they go to the supermarket before the game. At work they might laugh at you when their team beats yours, but promptly thereafter, they slap you on the back and say "honestly, it was a good game" and move on quickly, letting you deal with the loss alone.

FAN BY RELATION

This is where it gets tricky. When a fan says he roots for his team because "his family is from there", you never know whether to believe him. Either it's true, which is fine in teamless cities, or the fan knows he's full of shit and only roots for the Steelers or Yankees because they are perennial winners and doesn't want to get called out for it.

But, in places where there is no team, it is usually acceptable to use this reasoning for being a fan, after all you didn't choose your family, and they didn't choose their team. So by proxy, you're a fan of your family's team. No harm, no foul.

However, if you live in a city with a perfectly good franchise, you can expect your fair share of shit thrown your way if you use this excuse, especially if your team is a good team, and you have to deal with it. It was your choice. You made the bed, now lie in it.

I LIKED THE COLORS WHEN I WAS A KID

OK, kids are dumb. They just are. They usually can't tie their shoes right and have pudding mustaches after they eat their lunch. They can't help what uniforms look "neat" or "cool" to them when they are kids. For me it was the Bengals. The stripes on the helmet were just as cool as the red and blue colors on Optimus Prime. So I rooted for the Bengals. I couldn't help it.

However, when that "cool looking uniformed" team happens to be the Steelers or Yankees or Duke or UNC, an instant bullshit flag should be thrown. And it is the responsibility of a native fan to throw that bullshit flag.

For you are a real fan, a native fan, and this guy is using his former-child self as a human shield. Who is going to call a kid stupid? He should admit that he "is a loser and wants to feel good about himself by rooting for a winning team", but never will that happen. These guys just refuse to accept that fact that they are posers and will go to any lengths to deny it. They'll say "I am as much a fan of my team as you are of yours." Wrong.

These are also the same fans who say "well because they were winning, they were on TV the most when I was a child, so I had no choice but to root for them". Also bullshit, since there was another team playing too. Why didn't they root for them? Everyone loves an underdog.

These are also the fans who are most likely to be assholes.

They feel the need to justify their fanship so they celebrate victories by rubbing salt in the wound, e-mailing you video of the winning play with "LOL" at the bottom. These are the fans who troll opposing team message boards, running lame smack without using proper grammar. These are the fans who go to their team's games when they come to town and act a fool because it is the only time they get to say in front of a thousand people "Hey. HEY!!! Look at MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! I am a STEEEEEEEEELERS fan!"

Since these people know deep down that they themselves are not real fans, they have to make up for it every second of their lives, usually in an aggressive and asshole-y way. In the end they lead a hollow existence.

And if they have a football team playing in the city they grew up in, and never root for that team, it's a tragedy on the scale of Hamlet or MacBeth. If Shakespeare was still around, you can bet he'd write a play about it.

So that's it. It can't be debated.

People will say "fans are fans" and "no fan is more a fan than someone else" but they are wrong.

Real fans don't have a choice just like people don't have a choice when they are born. I was born looking like me. If I could, I would make myself look like Brad Pitt. But I can't. And that essentially is what fake fans do. They choose what they want to look like. Some are brave and decide to look like Paul Giamatti by rooting for the Bears when they live in Philadelphia. Others may decide to look like Sylvestor Stallone by rooting for the Redskins when they live in Tacoma. But fans who decide to make themselves look like Brad Pitt essentially choose how they want to feel on most Sunday nights -- because they decide to root for a team that wins more than they lose.

So to all the fans of the Steelers, Cowboys, Yankees, Duke, UNC or any other perennial winning team who never lived in the city in which their team lives in, I just have one message:

You're not as much a fan as me.

Deal with it.

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