Who knew a game could be such a powerful thing. It can unite a nation and create hatred amongst towns and nations alike. It can make people do crazy things in the name of fandom and incites a passion that Nike has been attempting to capture in its terrible ads for decades.
No matter the sport or the level of play, watching sports and being a sports fan feeds an internal fire. It always fascinates me how there was always a schism between “geek and jocks” because they are essentially the same thing; fandom. Wearing a team jersey is sports cosplay, player stats are no different than D&D stats and meeting players makes jocks go as squirrely as any geek would be when meeting Joss Whedon. The only difference is geeks admit that their stuff is fantasy but jocks think that because the game is real, so is everything they think about their team.
So when someone turned to me recently as I sat with my head down, heartbroken that my team had lost a game and said to me “I just don’t understand why you like sports”; I didn’t know how to reply except by saying “I don’t understand why you don’t”.
I love sports for the same reason I love Marvel comics and Harry Potter, for the same reason I love hitting the pub and seeing my family at Christmas; because it feels like home.
Becoming a new fan of a team or a sport can be intimidating because it is unfamiliar, you have no emotional investment yet. Interest in a team usually comes from something specific and personal; an experience or a connection; very few people look at a list of teams and blindly pick one to follow. I began following the Toronto Maple Leafs because my friend in high school got into them and she got me interested by watching games together; I was hooked in no time. My interest expanded as I met other fans, of the same and of opposing teams, my love for the game grew as my knowledge and my community grew. It took me a while to feel comfortable talking to others about the team, because I was afraid I did not know enough and was too easily identifiable as a new fan. Veteran fans can be a bit hard on new fans, speaking as one now, I can assure you it comes from more of our own bitterness than of malice. I kept watching, learning, asking questions and meeting new people as the season went on. I began to see the games less as guys on skates poking at a rubber disc and now saw personalities and stats at play, a game of skill, math, physicality and strategy. Spending the time to learn the small details of the game made me appreciate and like the overall game more, which made everything more fun, more intense and more addictive.
I realized just how much I loved the team during the first offseason when I felt as though something was missing. I missed watching the game and missed the highs and lows, the goals, the fights, the wins and even the losses. I missed the familiar voices of the announcers and talking with other fans about the previous night’s game. I felt like a kid who had to go back to school after the best summer of their life.
So I had “my team”. I have stuck with them ever since, through the highs and the numerous, seemingly never-ending lows. I have bought the jerseys, I have changed plans to accommodate games, I have spent a lot of time and money on a group of grown men who have no idea I exist and beat each other up on skates. I love it. I am happy. I whine about my team losing, the fact we haven’t won a championship since Elvis was still cool and that our defense has more holes in it than a Donald Trump tax return; but I still love it.
It started out as an interest in a fast paced event with people and numbers that were all foreign to me but made others around me excited. Now, over time, I have made an investment into this team; my time, my money, my interest, my loyalty. It’s what makes those goals extra sweet, those losses cut extra deep and it’s what keeps me coming back season after season, no matter how many times I yell “That’s it!” I have built a relationship with a sport.
So when the playoffs are on and the fans are spending ridiculous amounts of money on tickets, that’s why. When you see a grown man cry after his team loses, that’s why. When “real” fans get annoyed at people who have no relationship with the sport and only support during good times, that is why. We aren’t just fans, we are members of a community and we have a deeply rooted relationship. We take it very personally, because, it is personal. We’ve given a lot to the sport and we feel we get a lot out of it; enjoyment, entertainment, friendship, etc. Think of it as a dysfunctional marriage if you will.
In conclusion, I, Andrea, take you, Toronto Maple Leafs, to be my team. In injury and in healthy seasons, for better and for worse and still even worse, in richness and in more richness because you guys are loaded, ’til death do us part…..by which time you better have won.