It's Bobblehead Night
It’s funny how you can get caught up in the game.
It feels like you’re winning, or losing, or getting lucky, or getting screwed by bad calls. You’re not, though – not usually. Usually you’re just caught up in the moment, the fiction that you’re involved.
Sometimes people are surprised at the team you support. There’s usually a story, and it rarely involves an objective look at the players, the strategies, the values, the records. Maybe you grew up somewhere they were popular, or you inherited the devotion from family or your circle of friends. Maybe there were individuals who caught your attention back in the day, who you could really look up to and enjoy – maybe even admire.
They’re long gone, of course. So are the rest of the team you used to know. There’ve been several coaching changes, two new general managers, an updated mascot, and some really unfortunate choices in some of the aesthetics, but you still think of them as “your team.” They don’t play the game anywhere close to the way they used to that you loved so well, but you figure times have changed and they have to change, too.
So you buy the merchandise, you watch them on cable, you cheer and boo and talk about what they are or aren’t doing with anyone who’ll listen. Sometimes you even go see them play live on special occasions. Their name might be the only thing they still have in common with the team you first fell in love with, but for some reason you stick with them. Maybe it’s just that the changes came so gradually you could never quite pin down when it all became so... different.
We’re such a tribal people, aren’t we? Put any group of five or six in a room and within a few hours there will be “teams” of some sort. There will be “us” and “them,” however structured or un, hostile or subconscious. Teachers vs. administration, my department and those “other” departments, the capable and those perceived as, well… iffy. Girls vs. boys, black vs. white, religious vs. rational, pro vs. con. It’s neither good nor bad, I suppose – it’s just human nature.
In the wrong circumstances, of course, things do get out of hand. The visiting fan is harassed in the stands; the couple from out-of-town is assaulted at the sports bar. Why, exactly? What harm are they doing in wearing their colors? Cheering for the wrong goals? Stepping out of their place and into our consciousness?
Honestly, half the time my support has as much to do with how much I despise their opponents as it does anything else. It’s certainly usually easier to explain why I want the other team to lose than what I expect from mine if they win.
We tell ourselves it’s team loyalty, but that’s one-sided at best. No one on “the team” even knows who we are, let alone cares about our actual lives, even if we do have such vivid recollections of that night we ran into someone at Target or we stood in line for hours to get that autograph and they said that thing.
And we don’t actually win or lose based on their successes or failures – other than vicariously, that is. When they win, they gain – more glory, more influence, probably more money and choice over time. Even when they lose, they usually personally win – they still make tons of money, have tons of influence, and seem to live as they please.
We’re excited just to get a cap or a bobblehead. Just to rent a seat for a few hours to cheer. They may wave or otherwise acknowledge us, but it’s generic courtesy at best – and show business at its worst.
Sometimes our guys get hurt, and we wince. Other times they hurt someone, and while we may not express it openly, we’re relieved it’s not one of ours. Occasionally one of our team does something really bad, and we have to find ways to be OK with that and still love the team. If the entire team descends into dirty play, we’ll probably end up cheering and finding ways to rationalize it away. The alternative is to abandon our team, and start fresh – and honestly, we don’t really have the energy to go back to the beginning like that. Besides, the illusion would be lost – that we were inevitably part of the club, that we had that… connection.
And besides, although we hate to admit it, sometimes we like the dirty plays – especially when they get away with it. Sometimes we thirst for a little cathartic release, a little vengeance, and little validation by proxy. The emotional dynamics probably make for some fascinating study by folks who are into that sort of thing, but we don’t like to overthink it – the emotional release is just too good. In the same way we’ve always kinda loved an outlaw, a mobster, a dirty old man who can’t or won’t censor himself in a crowd, we like it when our guys get away with stuff. Especially when they win. That makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?
If challenged, we can always come up with things to genuinely praise about our team. It’s a big group, and these are some talented, ambitious folks. There are always some positives on which we can focus. If the nastiness becomes too glaring to justify, just dismiss it as part of the game, then shift focus to something more defensible. Something less, you know… discouraging. Less complicated. Less horrifying.
Because this is our team. It doesn’t matter what others say about them. What do they know? They’re losers anyway, right? Probably just bitter over last year’s semi-finals. Heh… those were good times. Felt like all that hard work (that we didn’t do) finally paid off (although not, you know… for us). Felt like the ‘good guys’ had finally won, and we couldn’t wait for the new season to start.
Can anyone blame us for wanting to hang on to that feeling for a little bit longer? Not that we don’t have doubts about the direction things are going – sure, there are some concerns. But this was such a great team, weren’t they? Back in the day? And there are some good things…
What’s that? What sport am I specifically talking about?
Oh… no, I’m not…
I mean, I’m not really into sports. I can see why you thought so, though – I guess the same things would be true about those as well. I’m sorry, I should have been more clear.
In any case, we'd love to have you in our section for a bit. We have better hot dogs, and I’m pretty sure it’s Bobblehead Night. Let me know. You can always go back to your side once they're playing the right way again. And wouldn't it be nice if they at least noticed you were gone? If enough of you were to move to this side, even temporarily, I'll bet they would. I'll bet they'd rethink a few things.
They might even want your thoughts on how to make it a better team. You certainly seem to have a few. It's just a thought.
Either way, sit down. The next period is starting.