May 3, 2010

Drinking Haterade

The other day a brilliant and insightful person posted a statement on Twitter.  "You aren't a real sports fan until you hate someone."  While Bill Simmons has addressed this before, he was not the one who wrote that.  Yeah, okay, I wrote it.  But it was pretty good, right?  Think about it, can you really root for a team without also rooting AGAINST other teams.  And it helps to have a villain as a foil for your hero.  Joker makes Batman a better character.

Sports is one arena where this is so clearly demonstrated.  Players and teams are measured against other players and teams.  Greatness is assigned when one entity is demonstrably better than another.  When there are two teams/players so much better than every other, their greatness is even more amplified.  Larry Bird is considered one of the all-time greats because he excelled against other epic players - Magic, Dr. J, Dominique.  For him to still be so good with such powerful opponents showed how good he really was.  I think that is one reason a player like Allen Iverson is so undervalued - he didn't have any dominent competition.

Also, in sports, there are divisions and conferences that lend themselves to this villains/heroes mindset.  Teams play teams in their division multiple times a year.  They have to beat each other to get to the playoffs.  In baseball, division teams play each other like 21 times each year.  In the NFL, you play your division rival twice - and may only play out of conference teams every few years.  So you learn to hate the other teams in your grouping.  It's one of the few cases where hatred is acceptable - actually encouraged.

I have heard people try to tell me that they like multiple teams within a conference or something like that.  How?!?  I have a friend from college who says she likes the Detroit Red Wings AND Nashville Predators. They are in the same division!  The Red Wings are the reason the Preds had to play the Blackhawks in the playoffs.  How can you like both?  It's not possible. (Sorry Carol)  It is like being a fan of the Eagles AND Giants.  Or the Red Sox AND Yankees.  That is NOT possible.  It's like Jesus said, "Fresh water and salt water cannot come out of the same spring."  [What?!?  He said that.  I'm sure in modern times it would have been, "You can not wear orange and blue AND garnet and gold."]

I bring all of this up because I have documented my recent transition to hockey fan.  I feel that I have done an admirable job adopting the sport.  I actually watch the games several times a week on Versus Channel.  (A channel I had never once watched before.)  I watched part of five of the six Nashville playoff games.  I was severely bummed out over the Preds choking away TWO games in that series - and subsequently the series itself.  They only converted on one power play the whole series, for Molsen's sake!  I feel like I'm doing well.  But this weekend I found myself jumping to a different level of fandom - something that truly gave me credibility.  I turned on Game One of the Chicago/Vancouver series TO ROOT AGAINST THE BLACKHAWKS.  Yes, I have crossed the line from casual observer - who would have found on something different to watch - to fan.  I intentionally watched a game to throw mental barbs at a team I hated.  And I laughed when they got whipped.  I also took great pleasure in watching Detroit lose both games to San Jose.

Don't get me wrong - I have no affection for either Vancouver or San Jose.  I am purely ambivalent to those teams.  But when they drop the puck against Chicago or Detroit - well then I might as well have the Canucks or Sharks as my Twitter wallpaper.  That's the way sports go.  My enemy's enemy is my friend.  It is pretty sad, I guess, but I was actually proud of myself that I have so quickly grown to detest those teams.  It shows true loyalty, as well as some pain from losing.

As a parent, I am still trying to get my kids into watching sports with me.  They are kind of resistent to it.  They would prefer reading books and using their imagination and other bologna.  How are they supposed to become a couch potato if they won't watch sports?  My best hope is Gabe, I think.  But he like soccer - which will be useful this summer with the World Cup.  I keep trying to get them to understand that we are a UCF family.  They kind of have that down.  And they know we all cheer for the Jaguars.  But, it is just as important to teach who they should DISlike.  Like they say, hatred is learned.   If you don't teach your kids which teams and players to root against, they may get distracted by stuff like stats and looks and logos and helmet design.  Next thing you know, they will be cheering for the Colts because "that Manning guy is funny."  If no one teaches them, how will they know?

There are some very natural and well-known love/hate team pairings.  They are the ones I mentioned earlier.  But it is hard to find a team to loathe when you are a fan of one of those mid-level teams like I am.  How do you come up with a villain when your team is the equivalent of superheroes like Namor or
Booster Gold?  I mean, you cheer for Michigan, your body just automatically turns against Ohio State like it was a virus.  But when you root for the Kansas City Royals, it isn't so easy to decide who to hate.  You know, besides the universe, for making you a Royals fan.

To help with this process, allow me to spell out some of my personal affiliations and defiliations (I made that up).  I have mentioned some of this in previous posts, but for the sake of condensing the hatred, here we go.  I think that all sports fans have four emotions when dealing with sports teams.  There is LOVE - that is for their favorite team (or teams, if you believe in sports bigamy).  Next is SYMPATHY.  These are teams you may have flirted with over the years.  Or it could have a good story, players worth rooting for, geographical advantages.  But SYMPATHY teams are never cheered for over LOVE teams.  Then there is AMBIVALENCE.  This the biggest category, comprised of most of a league.  You don't really care what they do - as long as they do two things.  They need to lose to your LOVE/SYMPATHY teams and beat the HATRED teams.  And then there is the HATRED teams.  You never cheer for these teams.  They are loathed.  Fans of these teams have some sort of mental illness, obviously.  If two teams in this category play each other, you root for the team that will cause the most widespread damage to the other HATRED teams by winning.  Or you root for a chasm to open up under the stadium and devour the teams.  The final rule is that you root for all games not involving your LOVE team so that the outcome helps your LOVE team.  If you have a SYMPATHY team playing a HATRED team, but a victory by the HATRED team will put your LOVE into the playoffs and a loss will send them home?  You cheer for that HATRED team with everything you have - and then go cleanse yourself.  That all being said, here's my lineups.

LOVE:  Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South)
SYMPATHY: Tampa Bay Bucs, New Orleans Saints
AMBIVALENCE:  Bills, Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Titans, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Vikings, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals.  And the Colts, Jets, and Patriots are awfully close to dropping down a level.
HATRED: Miami Dolphins, SF 49ers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, NY Giants, Baltimore Ravens

LOVE: Orlando Magic (Southeast Division)
SYMPATHY: Atlanta Hawks (precarious)
AMBIVALENCE: Raptors, Sixers, Nets, Bucks, Bulls, Pacers, Bobcats, Wizards, Nuggets, Jazz, Blazers, Thunder, T'Wolves, Suns, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, Mavs, Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies, Hornets.  With the Cavs sliding down in the bottom soon, probably.
HATRED:  Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat

LOVE: UCF Knights (Conference USA)
SYMPATHY: Georgia Bulldogs, FSU Seminoles (begrudgingly due to Heather), USF Bulls (drifting down fast). underdogs and cinderellas
AMBIVALENCE: Everyone else
HATRED: Florida Gators, Miami Hurricanes, Notre Dame Irish (The unholy trinity).  Then USC Trojans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Texas Longhorns, Duke Blue Devils

LOVE: Nashville Predators (Central Division)
SYMPATHY: Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadians
AMBIVALENCE: Flyers, Senators, Bruins, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Thrashers, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers, Blues, Blue Jackets, Canucks, Avalanche, Flames, Wild, Oilers, Sharks, Coyotes, Kings, Ducks, Stars.  With the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils on the edge of hatred - just due to their location)
HATRED: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks

LOVE: No one
SYMPATHY: Tampa Bay Rays, NY Yankees, St Louis Cardinals (due to Pujols)
AMBIVALENCE: Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Indians, Rangers, A's, Mariners, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres
HATRED: Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, LA Dodgers, LA Angels, NY Mets, Florida Marlins

So, there is a handy guide based on my opinions.  I hope it helps you to develop the hatred and loathing that is so necessary to become a true sports fan.  Finding someone to hate will make your sports viewing such a richer experience.  You need your Darth Vader, your Joker, your Red Sox.  Spread the hate.

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