The best sports fans are Bandwagon Fans. I am a Bandwagon Fan. I hop on and off the wagon like a 12-step veteran. Let the good times roll, because when they don't, I roll outta here.
BFs don't consider loyalty a virtue. Bandwagon Fans don't especially care. If you win, we watch. If you don't, we pick our teeth. I was a huge Washington Redskins fan. My family had season tickets at RFK Stadium. I spent my 13th birthday in Section 527, watching The Men beat the hated Cowboys in the 1972 NFC title game.
I retained my fanship throughout the first Joe Gibbs Era. I ditched it as soon as times got bad. When Dan Snyder took over and hired Steve Spurrier, I started picking my teeth. I'm still picking. Life's too short to support bad football.
Loyal fans are sheep in men's clothing. They pride themselves on their wasted affections. They're Romeo, without the pretty words. We wagon-hoppers don't do unrequited love. A bad sports love affair is no different from marrying Liz Taylor twice. Both endeavors are stupid and painful, so why bother?
We BFs might paint our bodies, but only in water colors. We always bring the other team's paint, too, in case it's 35-0 at halftime.
Sports teams depend on loyalists. Suckers are born every minute. Pro sports organizations are living proof. How else do you explain Cincinnati Bengals fans?
"There is a fine line between being a diehard and a moron. I crossed it,'' says Jeff Wagner, a Bengals fan and buddy of mine. But Wags could be anyone who views his sports loyalty as a badge of honor instead of a dunce cap. You know who you are.
Wags has a fine, furnished, multi-room basement jammed with cool memorabilia. (Raise you hand if you've got a lock of Secretariat's hair.) His best stuff is also his most pathetic: Half a wall lined with framed, handwritten letters from Bengals president Mike Brown. Brown's letters are polite responses to the 15-page harangues he gets from Wags on a semi-annual basis.
Brown pledges improvement. Ha-ha. Wags is Charlie Brown.
The Bengals dance on the bottom line because in Cincinnati, there are tens of thousands of Jeff Wagners. They are the reason Cincinnati has been bad for most of two decades. They are the cause of $10 beers and $40 parking spaces and $70 seats in the Vertigo Section.
They expect their team's presence at the agreed-upon hour, and that's it.
Here we are now. Entertain us.
"The Bengals are a very bizarre type of terminal illness'' is what Wags says about that.
Does this happen in any other corner of commerce in this country?
Would the Pittsburgh Pirates be allowed to survive if they made cars?
Twelve years ago, I bought a box of Wheaties, because it had Ken Griffey Jr.'s face on it, and a passage I wrote commemorating Junior's return to Cincinnati. I actually ate the Wheaties and saved the box. I don't happen to like Wheaties. I'm a Life man.
Should I have kept buying Wheaties and forsaken Life, because 12 years ago, Griffey was on the box?
I knew a guy in college who started his Datsun B-210 with a screwdriver. When the car died, he never bought another Datsun. Think of loyalists supporting bad sports teams as card-carrying screwdriver wielders. Thank you, sir. May I have another?
You don't get what you expect, SportsFan. You get what you put up with.
People who claim to be "loyal'' fans are merely enablers. Their unquestioning support of a lousy product ensures the continued existence of said lousy product. Consider the money they spend condoning incompetence in Cincinnati:
• $700 a year for one cheap season ticket, not including the initial investment in a seat license
• $200 a year to park anywhere within sight of Paul Brown Stadium;
• $200 more, conservatively, to eat a hot dog and drink a couple beers at every game.
Want an Ochocinco jersey? That's $85 more.
That's close to $1,200 a year. Name me one other, non-essential item you buy that costs $1,200 a year. Would you keep buying it if kept disappointing you?
Bandwagon Fans don't tolerate. We do what loyalists wish they could. We simply stop our love. We view sports through the same objective lens we view everything else. Be good or be gone. Teams owe us, not vice versa.
Disgusted Bengals loyalists, a few of them, anyway, are beginning to walk toward the light of BF understanding. One just sold his loyalty on eBay, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is absolutely true.
Instead of simply walking away holding his heart and his charcoal grill with the team logo on it, Brett Kostoff copped $510 in cash, by offering his devotion to the highest bidder. Kostoff is a true BF, and a fine entrepreneur.
"A business owner from Pittsburgh bought me,'' Kostoff said in an e-mail to me. "My duties are to support the Pittsburgh Steelers and be the best fan to them as I can be. I will study everything I can on the history of the organization. I know quite a bit about them already, being in the Bengals' division.
"It will be fun and as a sports fan; I'm not sure I could have done a bigger 180 than go from the basement to the penthouse. It will be nice to know if the Steelers coach goes 6-10 he will be on the hot seat, not getting an extension. It feels good to be wanted, something I haven't felt in my lifetime as a Bungals fan.''
There is room on the Bandwagon for any fan willing to strip off the sheep suit and the hair shirt and decide it's better to be fickle and get what you pay for than be loyal and get abused. Fans who live and die with their teams usually do a whole lot more of the latter.