Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bandwagons

The fact that Luke always wants to root for the winning team made me think about sports allegiances. But first, a quick kid story. This morning, Luke and Max were putting on their coats. They were getting ready to do a zipper race. After Max got his zipper started, Luke asked him to wait. When Luke took too long to get his coat zipper started, Max just zipped up his coat and gave Luke a "that's right" stare. Luke collapsed on the floor, crying and babbling. It took a few minutes to sort that out.

Because I moved around from state to state, never living more than three years in the same city, the local team wasn't as important to me as it would be to someone who lives his whole life in, say, Seattle. Mariners, Sonics, Seahawks, end of discussion. I picked my teams for different reasons, usually when a team I was rooting for lost a heartbreaker.

The Baltimore Orioles - 1971

I was sitting in a Riverside movie theater when there were technical difficulties. While technicians in white hats repaired the feature film, they showed a 30-minute recap of the 1971 World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. During that time, I established a bond with the Orioles, who lost the 7th game. For the next ten years, I waited up late at night during baseball season to see the news score of the Baltimore game flash. I learned to hate news anchors, especially weathermen. If the Orioles won, I went to bed happy. If they lost, I went to bed sad. If the game was undecided, I thrilled myself or tortured myself with come-from-behind scenarios. In the morning, I analyzed the box score to figure out how the game went down. I should write a whole blog entry on the art of reading a box score.

The Green Bay Packers - 1968?

At some point, back when the Packers were winning NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls, I fell in love with them, though I have no memory of watching Bart Starr play in any games. I jumped on the bandwagon. I had Packers pennants and a John Brockington poster on my wall, and I had a Green Bay Packers trash can that looked way better than Mark's Los Angeles Rams trash can. There is a family photo in which my parents, brothers, and sisters are all dressed up, while I was wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey. Number 42.

To this day, some family members still ask me if I'm sad about Favre's retirement. No, I don't root for the Packers anymore.

Trojans, No Gophers, Trojans! - 1973

I was living in an Omaha suburb at the time. A bunch of friends and I went to Rosenblatt stadium to watch the College World Series, which is still held every summer in the same place. Back then, it was easy to get tickets. My friend Paul and I went with Paul's older brother and his friend, a frumpy guy's guy named Bob. Bob took an immediate liking to me when I told him I was rooting for USC (my grandfather went to dental school there). He was a loud fan of the Trojans.

Then I watched Dave Winfield take over the game. He was so dominant that I abandoned my grandfather and started cheering him on, almost against my will. When someone masters a sport like that -- whether it's Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Dave Winfield on that day -- a sense of hero worship compels you to root for someone almost against your will. Winfield smacked a homer and a double and was throwing a one-hit shutout through eight innings, with 15 strikeouts. Ahead 7-0 in the ninth, Winfield finally wore out. When the reliever came in, he ran out to left field to a huge ovation. USC scored 8 runs in the bottom of the 9th to win the game and move on to the championship game. (For any of you older sports fans out there, the only USC batter to make an out that inning was Anthony Davis, USC's great tailback.)

After the game, Bob came up to me all excited! "We won! We won!" I acted excited too. "What a comeback!" Then Paul ratted me out. He announced that I had been rooting for the Gophers. Despite my best attempts to explain the hero worship theory, Bob was still disgusted.

"You've got to stand by your team, kid."

The Boston Red Sox - 1976

I watched every inning of every game of this famous World Series between the Red Sox and the Reds. Even though I was still an avid Baltimore fan, I hated the Big Red Machine. There was old Luis Tiant doing his crazy windup, a Reds batter interfering with Pudge, Carbo tying up the game with a three-run homer, and Pudge waving the ball fair. And then the Reds came back in game 7, continuing the Red Sox nightmare. Years later, after having given up on the sport for more than a decade, I became interested again when the snakebitten Red Sox battled the hated Yankees. When I heard their mocking chants of "1918," I became a member of Red Sox Nation.

The San Francisco 49ers - 1987

My affection for the Packers had waned by this time. I was into college sports. BYU, to be specific. I rooted for any team with an ex-BYU quarterback. I even like the Raiders for the only time in my life when Marc Wilson was their quarterback. But the 49ers with Steve Young were my favorite sports team ever. Young choked under pressure in big games. Playoff losses made me so sad I would go in a funk for days. When the Niners beat the hated Cowboys and then the Chargers in the 95 Super Bowl, God was in heaven and all was right with the world.

The Colts - January 16, 2005

I liked the Colts just fine at the time. In fact, I liked them about as much as I liked the New England Patriots. I was living in Indiana and I enjoyed watching Peyton Manning. I wasn't a huge fan. Something happened at the end of the AFC championship game that just set me off. I don't remember exactly what happened, but there were a couple of cheap shots and some grandstanding mockery. No, it wasn't all good. I don't know whether I hated the Patriots more than I liked the Colts.

So there you have it. I like to keep my allegiances to sports teams flexible.