>By Nick Gallaudet
Ok, I’m about to go to a deep, dark place with this article. I will be reliving some of the most upsetting and traumatic moments of my life in these next few paragraphs; but I feel that this needs to be addressed. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve questioned your love of sports from time to time. It seems like it’s been happening to me more and more, recently, and I’m worried that my love of sports is doing more harm than good. The tipping point was the Cal/Oregon football game a couple weeks ago, but before I get into that, some other things need to be addressed. I feel an obligation to clarify my fandom before going any deeper into this article. I love sports. I have since I can remember. Playing, watching, it doesn’t matter, I can’t get enough. I remember going to A’s games with my dad, watching Braves games on TV, and my earliest memory is getting hit in the face with a waffle ball when I was two. Sports are simply a huge part of my life.
My teams are the Indianapolis Colts, Oregon State Beavers, and Oakland A’s. When I was young, I always liked the Tennessee Volunteers. Their orange and white checkerboard end zones reminded me of orange sherbet, so I rooted for them. When I was eight the Tennessee quarterback was Peyton Manning, and I loved watching him play. When he was drafted by Indianapolis in 1998, I was in the thick of my baseball and football card collecting days, and I came across a Peyton Manning rookie card, and it, along with my Mark McGwire rookie card, was one of my prized possessions, and since that year, I’ve been hooked on the Colts. My fandom for Oregon State is pretty simple: I went to school there, and loved every second of it, and my love of the A’s is a little less complicated. I grew up watching the A’s, my favorite players were Mark McGwire, Geronimo Berroa
, and Rafael Bournigal. My dad took me to games every chance he got, and I just couldn’t get enough. I didn’t care that they were terrible in the late 90’s. They were my team, and they could do no wrong in my eyes. Lest you be mistaken, the A’s are my first love; I would trade both of Oregon State’s College World Series titles and the Colts 2006 Super Bowl for an A’s World Series run in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Now that you know where I stand on my teams, let’s get to the issue at hand.
I have a bad habit of letting my love for my teams turn into hatred for their rivals, or anyone who has done them wrong. My teenage years were riddled with sports disappointment. The Colts, despite consistently posting one of the best records year in and year out, were unable to translate that success to the playoffs, getting knocked out all six times they made the playoffs (in a seven year span). My frustration was mainly directed at the teams that had beaten my boys, and it usually helped, as those teams tended to lose soon after. It really became a problem, when, in 2003, the Colts lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. I was rooting against the Patriots with every fiber of my being. Some people say they prefer to lose to the eventual champion, but I don’t believe them. I don’t know if I’m super bitter, or if they just don’t care as much as I do, but when my team loses, the last thing I want is for the team that beat me to have any success. Anyway, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. To make matters worse, the Patriots beat the Colts in the playoffs again the next year, en route to another Super Bowl victory. I was despondent. I was angry, sad, frustrated, annoyed. I hated the Patriots, and here they were beating my team and winning consecutive Super Bowls, and there was nothing I could do about it. My hopelessness only worsened, as the Colts were again poised for playoff glory, only to fall. In 2005, the Colts reeled off 14 wins, and were the best team in the NFL, but after a heartbreaking (and I mean DEVASTATING) loss to the Steelers, I couldn’t even watch the Super Bowl. I remember sitting in my dorm room watching movies while everyone else was watching the Steelers win the Super Bowl because I couldn’t bear to look at the Black and Gold. Three years in a row, the team that knocked the Colts out of the playoffs went on to win the Super Bowl.
The football heartbreak was nothing compared to what the A’s did to me during that same stretch, though. Prior to 2000, I had never seen the A’s make any sort of postseason run. The last time they made the playoffs was in 1992, and I was too young to appreciate occasion. In 2000, though, the Moneyball A’s began their resurgence. The A’s won the AL West and made the playoffs, and I was beside myself. My dad got us tickets to the Division Series against the Yankees and I could not have been more excited. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. The A’s managed to win game four after falling down in the series 2-1 to force a decisive game five which they promptly lost, giving up six runs in the 1st inning. My pain was only worsened over the next three years, as the A’s made it to the playoffs all three years, only to blow 2-0, 2-1, and 2-0 series leads to the Yankees, Twins, and Red Sox, respectively, and I still am not over the game three “Jeter flip” against the Yankees (I still think Jeremy Giambi was safe, and I’ve never forgiven him for not sliding) or Eric Byrnes and Miguel Tejada forgetting how to run the bases in game three against the Red Sox*. All told, the A’s lost nine straight series-clinching games. Nine straight. I’m going to let you sit with that for a moment…nine straight…I truly thought I was over it, but writing this paragraph made my stomach hurt. Deeeeep breeeeeath…okay. Luckily, in 2006, the A’s avoided losing their tenth straight when they swept the Minnesota Twins, only to get swept by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series. But hey, a series win is a series win, right?
*On a side note, the 2003 loss to the Red Sox coupled with the 2003 Colts loss to the Patriots led to a completely irrational, but all encompassing hatred of everything to do with Boston. I hate the Celtics, and I don’t even care about basketball. I’ve never had a Sam Adams because it’s brewed in Boston, and I’ve also made a conscious choice to not eat Boston cream pie more than once, simply because it has Boston in its name. I wish I was joking.
The reason I told you all of that was to show you how I came to my current sports mindset. I truly feel that that era from 2000-2005 completely and irreversibly impacted the way I watch sports. The only two professional teams that I root for broke my heart every year for those five years, and I think that led to a cynicism and bitterness towards sports I’ll never get over. I find myself always bracing for the worst, and afraid of what is going to happen. In 2006, I wasn’t excited for game three of the Division Series against the Twins, because I was almost certain the A’s were going to lose. I couldn’t help but think of the nine straight losses to clinch a series, and I didn’t let myself celebrate until they recorded that last out. When I watch games, I know no lead is safe, I don’t relax for a minute, because I saw my teams beaten in every way they could be beaten, and now I find myself feeling relief instead of jubilation when my teams win. This brings me to my next point. The fact that I watched the Yankees, Steelers, Patriots, and Red Sox all go on to win championships the year (or in the Red Sox case, the year after) they beat my teams made it hard to feel good for their fan bases. I hated those teams (and still do) largely because I was mad at them and didn’t want them and took it personally that they went on to win. I didn’t want them to be happy, as selfish as that sounds. I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but my bitterness caused me to root against them for good. I don’t hate the Dolphins, Chiefs, Jets, or Twins the way I hate those other four teams, and I think that has to do with the fact that they didn’t win after beating my teams. They were in the same boat I was. They felt the same jealousy I did.
Now, back to that Cal/Oregon game I mentioned. I can’t stand Oregon. Their uniforms, their logo, their fans (even though a couple of my good friends went to U of O) all make me mad, so naturally, I never want them to win another game as long as I’m alive, but as we all know, that will never happen. But the way they’re playing, they look like they may never lose again, so add that to the list of things that make me mad. After Oregon barely pulled out a victory in the Cal game, I just knew they were going to win the national title. The only team standing between them and the BCS title game was my Oregon State Beavers, and the way they’ve been playing this season, I’m scared to even watch that game. It annoys me that I can’t be happy for my friends that are U of O fans, but at the same time, I’m disgusted with myself for wanting to be happy for them. After the last twp seasons in which Oregon has knocked Oregon State out of Rose Bowl contention, my hatred for the Ducks has never been worse; this is why I simply can’t bear to watch them play for the national title. I was rooting harder for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl against Oregon last year than I have ever rooted for a college team not named the Beavers, but I know, no matter how hard I root, Oregon is too good. They’re going to roll Oregon State this year, and I’ve become an Auburn fan simply because I think they’re the only team that can hand with Oregon for 60 minutes and they are the last team that gives me hope.
It is because of teams like Oregon that I question my love of sports. My bitterness has led me to root against some of the most successful teams in their respective sports, and this became disgustingly apparent this year during the MLB playoffs. The eight teams in the playoffs were the Rangers, Twins, Rays, Yankees, Phillies, Giants, Braves, and Reds. You know my feelings toward the Yankees and Twins, the Rangers are the A’s AL West rival, so obviously I can’t root for them, so the Rays were the only team in the AL I didn’t hate. As far as the National League is concerned, my father is a lifelong die-hard Braves fan, so since the A’s weren’t in it, I adopted them as my postseason team. This coupled with the fact that I have been raised to hate the Giants and Phillies, left me three out of the eight teams in the playoffs that I didn’t thoroughly dislike, and all three teams were eliminated in the first round. I had to sit and watch as the Giants, a team I have been groomed to hate since the infamous 1993 NL West race, win the whole thing, and worst of all, I had to listen to all of my friends throughout the whole thing. Living in NorCal, the Giants bandwagon was unbearable, and if there’s anything I hate more than Boston, it’s bandwagoners. The complete and utter disappointment I get from my teams losing and teams I don’t like winning is only compounded by the know-nothing bandwagon fans that sport their pink Red Sox hats and have no idea what ERA is.
As a fan, I feel as though I’ve earned the right to root for my team in the playoffs. I watch every game I possibly can; I constantly check box scores and news when I can’t. I check my teams’ websites every day during the off season looking for anything I can to get excited about next season. I put a lot of time and effort into rooting for my team, whether its game 16 or 162, I’m all about the A’s and my allegiance never wavers, so I guess I’m slightly insulted by bandwagon fans. They don’t put the time in that I do, so part of me feels like they don’t deserve it. This feeling of jealousy, bitterness, frustration, and hopelessness is not a good one, and while some of you out there may read this and think I take sports way too personally (and I’m pretty sure I do) I know some of you will read this and nod your head, because being a sports fan is a tough job, and it’s not always fun.
I’ve spent a lot of time examining my fandom during the MLB playoffs and this football season, especially as the Colts have limped to 6-5, literally, I’ve asked myself many times, “is it worth it? Is it worth being a fan when I know that there will only be one team that ends the season happy? Knowing that since I don’t like 90% of the teams out there that there is a good chance one of them will win, why do I put myself through this?” The answer is simple. The 2006 Super Bowl. The 2006 and 2007 College World Series. The 2006 and 2007 Civil War. The 2006 ALDS. The joy I felt watching these events is why I watch sports. After the Colts won the 2006 Super Bowl, I felt like I won it. I was elated, I watched every sports show I could, just to see Peyton Manning hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy. I remember Marco Scutaro’s bases clearing double in game three of the ALDS to blow the game open, and I remember hiding behind the couch as Jonathan Stewart was stopped on 4th and 1 in double overtime of the 2007 Civil War. That is why I am a fan, because despite the fact that for every Mark Kotsay inside-the-park homerun, there seem to be ten Tracy Porter pick-sixes (which still rattles me, by the way), but that’s okay, because I saw how happy my diehard Giants fan friends were when they won the World Series (bandwagon fans clearly don’t count) and I know that I still have a lot of years left on this planet, and with the A’s pitching rotation, it’s only a matter of time until I get to see my team win. Good thing I’m not a Cubs fan…