More tales from The MMQB’s readers of the joy and anguish of rooting for their team
This summer, seeking contributors for The MMQB’s new weekly fan-oriented column for the 2015 season, we asked readers to send in a short essay on why they love the teams they do. The responses flooded in from all over the country and the world, from men and women of all ages, representing all 32 NFL teams. To kick off this season’s Voice of the Fan column, we’re running selections from these submissions, capturing the joy—and all too often, the abject misery—of football fandom. These are the 16 teams of the NFC.
Despite being one of two charter members of the NFL still in existence, the Cardinals’ last championship was in 1947. They are the fastest team to reach 700 losses. In their first 20 seasons in the desert, they had 17 losing seasons. But stats only tell part of the story, as any longtime Cardinals fan can tell you. Who can forget walking up to the ticket window at Sun Devil Stadium a few minutes before kickoff and still being able to get good seats? Those seats, of course, being aluminum benches—in 105-degree heat … in September … in the middle of a sea of opposing fans. Who can forget free agents bypassing Arizona, except the ones looking for a warm place to retire? I sure don’t. But that was then. Now is the University of Phoenix Stadium, which has sold out every game since it opened in 2006. Now is Bruce Arians, Steve Keim and a nucleus of young stars. Now is about inducting Adrian Wilson into the Ring of Honor, one of the draft picks that made all of this possible. How can you not love this team?
* * *
My young son and I were part of the 25,000 or so season-ticket holders who went to Sun Devil Stadium—it is not even a nice college stadium—and lived through the Joe Bugel era, the Buddy Ryan “you’ve got a winner in town” era, the Vince Tobin era, the Dave McGinnis era, the Dennis Green “they are what we thought they were” era, on to the Ken Whisenhunt and, finally, the Bruce Arians era. Hell, at 64, I’ve lived through more eras than any sports fan should have to endure. Now I live in Maryland, but a Cardinals victory still makes or breaks my football Sundays.
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The Patriots are perennially great, inspiringly so. Other teams are predictably lousy (ask the guy wearing the paper bag). The Atlanta Falcons are periodically good—often mediocre, occasionally great, but throughout the years, they periodically contend for the postseason or even a home-field playoff game. In my experience (I’m a chaplain at an aerospace university), human beings are also periodically good—often struggling to get by, sometimes demonstrating the extraordinary, but for the most part working hard to do what good we can. This is why I love the Falcons—being a loyal, hometown fan of Steve Bartkowski (childhood lesson in hope: watching him duel Roger Staubach through the first half of a playoff game and daring to dream we could indeed beat the Cowboys); Michael Vick (defeating the Packers in January, at Lambeau! incarceration in disgrace, working hard at redemption); and Eugene Robinson (a Super Bowl lesson in stupidity and shame) helps me understand what it means to be a human being, warts, taped ankles and all. We cheer, or we cover our eyes, and deep down, discovering who we are, we are comforted, transformed and encouraged by the drama of being periodically good.
* * *
I declined pain meds just 10 hours after having all four wisdom teeth removed solely so that I could experience the Falcons’ excruciating 2010 loss to the Packers in the divisional playoffs with a clear head. This is a memory I wish was hazy. I just graduated college and I'm looking for marketing opportunities, with the hope that I can convince my dad that buying season tickets for the new Falcons stadium is not a poor 30-year investment.
* * *
At 10 years old I had a big decision to make. I had grown up liking Dan Marino, but the Dolphins were my dad’s team. I didn’t want to be a bandwagon fan; I wanted a new team all to my own. So when my mom held up a Jacksonville Jaguars shirt and a Carolina Panthers shirt in the mall that day in 1995 and told me to pick one, the Panthers’ colors and logo drew me in. It was something as simple and borderline silly as that. But ever since I’ve been a diehard Panthers fan. Sure, we had Rae Carruth and Greg Hardy, but we’ve also had Sam Mills, Muhsin Muhammad, Jordan Gross, Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen and now the NFL Man of the Year Thomas Davis. That’s why I love my team.
We’ve been 12-4, 1-15, and definitely everything in between. But we’ve always had players worth cheering for. People idolize Tom Brady and Joe Montana; I idolize Jake Delhomme for that amazing 2003 Super Bowl run. I’ve convinced myself that Chris Weinke and Jimmy Clausen were the answer, and also proudly celebrated a 7-8-1 division title. Keep Pounding isn’t just a phrase on the inside of our collar—it’s a way of life for the team and for myself.
* * *
I love the Bears because my father taught me to love them. He taught me that defense wins, Doug Flutie was a gamer, and that Walter Payton was the best who ever lived. Mostly, though, my dad taught me that loving a team so much is hard, and that they will break your heart if you let them. He taught me to embrace the heartbreak because nothing good comes easy, and gratification delayed is often the best kind.
I love the Bears because Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown. In my mind it was 1986 and I was eight years old, sitting on the couch next to my dad as the Bears won Super Bowl XX. God, I loved that team. They were more than men … more than players. They were a young boy’s heroes, perfect in every way. Most importantly, they were the motivation for a father and son to spend three hours together every Sunday watching something they both loved, with no place else either would rather be.
My dad is gone now and I miss him every day, though rarely more so than on game days. This season, like every season, I will be cheering for my team… our team. I hope that my young son chooses to join me, and I hope that he finds players worthy of his admiration. I also hope he learns, more quickly than I, that the true hero is often the guy on the other end of the couch.
Bears games are not about football. Bears games are about family.
* * *
I've been a Cowboys fan since I was five because my dad was. From Bartlett, Texas, he was a soldier, and we traveled all over the world. He took the family to Germany, Italy, Turkey and Thailand, and he left us home at Fort Hood for a couple tours in Vietnam. In some of those places we missed out on hearing or seeing games. As a teenager I listened to the Armed Forces Network broadcast on a transistor radio in Germany. Maybe I would hear a Cowboys game, or I'd hear whatever games were being broadcast, listening for a Cowboys score update. When I became a soldier, too, AFN allowed us to see and hear more football, sometimes Cowboys games. I've lived the glory years and 1-15. Landry to Garrett, Meredith to Romo, Howley and White, Ware and Lee, and all the “88s.”
My wife and kids became fans too, even though we live in Kansas now. My dad and wife have passed recently, but mom and the rest of us know we'll see another Cowboys Super Bowl.
—Bernd L. Ingram
* * *
One of the earliest pictures of me is from when I’m three months old, leaning against my father’s chest as he lies on his side. We have the same wide grin on our faces as I hold a tiny Dallas Cowboys football next to my head. When I was older, he liked to show me that photo to point out that, even at such a young age, I knew how to properly hold the pigskin—I even gripped the laces. It was coincidence, of course, but the love of the game, the team, and my father were anything but. When I was 5, my family and I were seated next to Tom Landry’s table at El Fenix, a Dallas institution. After a whispered conversation, my parents sent me to interrupt his meal and ask for an autograph. The napkin, made out to me, sits framed in my mother’s apartment today, some 33 years later.
A year later, my dad took me to my first game—the Dec. 26, 1983, divisional playoff against the Los Angeles Rams. The temperature never made it out of the 20s that day, and the Cowboys never got to the 20s at all, falling to the underdog Rams, 24-17. My only memories of the game, though, are my dad calling out to Drew Pearson during warmups and seeing him wave at us, and us later huddling under a blanket as we watched from our end-zone seats.
My father died on August 9, 2007. The hospital moved him into my childhood home for hospice care earlier that day. That evening I sat by his bed and watched the Cowboys play their first preseason game of the year against the Colts. Dad was seemingly unconscious by then, but the doctors said it was important to talk to him, to let him know we were there. I held his hand and did play-by-play of the game so he could hear my voice. Shortly after the game, he passed on.
Today, I’m not as ravenous a fan as I once was—that energy is the luxury of youth. But I still think of my father every time I watch the Cowboys, and I rarely miss a game. Whether they win or lose, I always come out ahead.
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“Did he just run out of the back of the end zone?” Come join me in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2008. It is 123 degrees outside, and about 150 in the porta-john I am sitting in. Exiting this plastic sauna will be one of the highlights of my day, the drastic temperature change allowing for a brief respite from the heat. I have a small portable DVD player sitting in my lap, and I am watching the winless Lions play the Vikings in a meaningless game. I had my dad record all the games and mail them to me, so I was like the guy who yelled at you in the coffee shop yesterday because they heard you discussing the ending of “Breaking Bad.”
I watched every game that season during bathroom breaks, or before I went to bed, or in the morning while I worked up the courage to leave the slightly-less-hellishly-hot sleeping area and walk to the shower. I didn't do it because I love the Lions. I hate them. They manage to ruin nearly every major holiday in the cold months every year. I do it because the Lions are a part of me. A part of where I live. I watch them for the same reason a person passing you on the street in Detroit with a “Need Help” sign would tell you they were on the up and up. "Ahh, that refreshing Midwestern hope!" You say. That isn't it. It's because people from Detroit are insane.
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Green Bay Packers
The week each of my four boys was born I mailed in their request for Green Bay Packers season tickets. As their mom, this was almost as important as applying for their birth certificate. The Packers are in our blood. They are more than a team to our state, and our family. What comes to mind when I think about the Packers? The chills you get when you first step into Lambeau. The strangers seated around you who become friends by the end of the first quarter. Going to church dressed in head-to-toe green and gold. The empty grocery stores on Packer Sundays. A loud house packed with screaming, high-fiving family and friends during the games. My two-year-old twins who can recite half the roster. The pride of cheering for a legendary, fan-owned, down-to-earth team. Our Green Bay Packers.
* * *
I’m a Packers fan exiled in Chicago. Born and raised in the Wisco-Disco rooting for the Green and Gold, Sundays were a ritual of breakfast with the family, church, followed by racing home to make the noon kickoff. During big games, my dad substituted foam cheeseheads to collect the church offering as a reminder to the pastor that the sermon should be short and sweet.
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I don’t remember how I became a Vikings fan over 30 years ago. There was no definitive moment of clarity. I live 26 hours away, in a completely different country. Back then, there was no Internet or social media available to keep me informed, and the Ottawa newspapers rarely focused any attention on the Vikings. But as fate would have it, I hung an Anthony Carter Nike poster over the bed in my childhood room, and I would stare at it for hours. It was a picture of AC stretched out in a Superman pose, making a circus-like catch. And I was hooked.
Loving the Vikings is hard. We have famously lost four Super Bowls, made arguably the worst trade in NFL history, and blew the 1998 NFC title game to the Falcons. But I do love the Vikings for the amazing fans I’ve met, who have made me laugh and taught me much. We have celebrated wins together, complained about Tice and Childress and groaned over the Love Boat saga. I recently lost one of these long-distance friends and I cried when I got the news.
I am a better person simply because I hung that poster. Who knew?
* * *
Anyone claiming to be a Vikings fan is clearly a glutton for punishment, and yet I am still here calling my self a Vikings fan. Maybe it's the tease that I love so much. The magic of the regular season and the tragic results in the playoffs. Yet here I am, still cheering for the Vikings, still engaged in a team that I have championship hopes for. I drink the purple Kool-Aid yet I'm still able to see my team for what it is.
* * *
Where would love, or a Vikings fan, be without optimism? There have been no championships here. The dearth of titles extends well beyond the confines of the recently (and mercifully) imploded Metrodome and its horned tenants, whose heartbreaking exploits and near misses are too excruciating to tally. But we are optimistic! We will blow the Gjallarhorn and fill our luminous new stadium with a clamor so magnificent that our gridiron heroes can’t help but ascend to the pinnacle of greatness! We will love. Skol Vikings.
* * *
New Orleans Saints
Everyone knows by now how much residents of New Orleans relied on the Saints for hope after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. But that was simply an event that strengthened the bond of the city and its fans, not christened it. The love this city has had for our boys was strong long before they gave us hope after the storm or Drew Brees was racking up record after record while leading the team to its first Super Bowl victory ever. Even when they were lovable losers, we related to them, we hoped with them, we identified with them.
* * *
My love for the New Orleans Saints is embedded in the organization’s rise from the Bourbon Street gutter to football’s Mecca. Simply put, I love our story. I love where we came from and where we currently reside, which is the greatest era of Saints football in the history of the organization. If given the opportunity to alter our cursed past, I’d leave every losing season as is, because the view from the mountaintop at the end of the 2009 season was that much more enjoyable for the long climb it took to get there.
It wasn’t easy growing up a Saints fan. While the losses hurt, the real torture was being on the wrong side of every highlight reel or new NFL record. You would’ve been hard-pressed to find any optimism amongst fans in the past, but this era isn’t our dad’s or grandfather’s Saints.
I was in love well before the return from Katrina, but Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against the hated Falcons sealed it. That moment was the greatest of my sports life and the start of something entirely new for Saints fans.
* * *
The Saints are home.
Gumbo. Bud’s Broiler. Crawfish boils on Easter Sunday. Green Christmases. No Mora Excuses. The heartbreak of a great defense and a Carl Smith offense. Pierre Thomas beating out a fourth-round pick. Hope. A relief from a bad economy. A reason to hate Goodell’s knee-jerk marketing-focused “protect the shield” BS. The last seven years of Drew Brees and offensive excellence.
And though I live 1300 miles away, they’re still a connection to my dad and my annual kiss-of-death (his opinion) text regarding the team we both love: Saints Superbowl.
* * *
New York Giants
I learned my first 13-letter word when Kerry Collins threw an interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11 of the 2001 season, destroying both the Giants’ chance to return to the playoffs and my mother’s resolve to keep my 6-year-old mind a cuss-free sanctuary. They say it takes a village, but I say it took the Meadowlands. As a child, I was taught to look both ways before crossing the street and to always kneel the ball to kill the clock or else Joe Pisarcik will throw an interception. At my Bar Mitzvah, on a live microphone in front of everybody I knew, I corrected the DJ that the best day of my life had actually been six weeks earlier when the Giants won Super Bowl XLII. (The cake was a Lombardi Trophy.)
The Giants taught me that sports can make a difference, with players going above and beyond for 9/11 firefighters, cancer research and the families of Sandy Hook victims, to name a few. The Giants taught me patience, exemplified discipline and proved that the David Tyrees of the world can hope to become entrenched in history. The Giants helped raise me.
* * *
When my grandfather passed away in April of 2010, we went to clean out his house and we found his wallet. In his wallet he had a picture of my grandma, a picture of his five grandkids, a couple 20s and the New York Giants roster taken from Newsday. While the reason he had the roster in his wallet was a failing memory, its place among the other most important things in his life was no mistake. My grandfather loved the Giants. And until his very last day, the Giants were always something we had together and always something he wanted to talk about. Some of my best memories growing up were being in my grandfather's basement and looking at the game-day magazines he had collected from his consecutive-games attendance streak that started at the Polo Grounds and took him through the last game at the old Giants Stadium. Others included being in the Giants Stadium parking lot and having my grandpa throw us passes and make sure we caught the ball with our hands like Homer Jones, a guy we had never heard of.
He was the most passionate fan I have ever been around. Sometimes you couldn’t tell if he loved or hated the team (he even credits himself with possibly starting the Goodbye Allie chants of 1966), but he was always passionate. The Giants were his main source of frustration but also his biggest source of happiness, and always something he wanted to talk about with his grandkids. I love the New York Giants because my grandfather loved the New York Giants.
* * *
I’m a New York kid, born and bred. I love the Yankees, the Knicks, and the… wait, I love the Eagles? I’ve been asked approximately a million times some derivative of the question, “How does a New Yorker become a Philadelphia Eagles fan?” Normally the words slip through their lips with equal parts curiosity and disdain, almost as if I’m a traitor. I rarely tell people why I bleed green; it’s personal. The truth is, it started when I was 6. My interest in sports was beginning to grow, and I knew I was supposed to take after my father and be a Jets fan. But that year my dad got a call. His brother, my uncle Freddie, was in the hospital. Freddie spent most of his adult life in Philly, and the only thing he loved more than his Iggles was his family. My family and I decided to visit Freddie. He wasn’t doing great. During my two days there I bonded with Freddie like I hadn’t before. On our drive home to New York, Freddie passed away in his sleep. That was when I decided to keep his spirit alive and be an Eagles fan. For Freddie.
* * *
November 6, 1966, against the hated Cowboys. Franklin Field with my dad, who at 85 is still a practicing physician—but was also a photographer who provided the game films for the Eagles. The Cowboys had pasted the Eagles 56-7 a few weeks earlier. But that glorious day Timmy Brown ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns and the Eagles won, 24-23. As a child nothing felt better than beating the Cowboys, and nothing tasted more bitter than losing to them, which was all too frequent. To this day I couldn’t care less about losing the 1980 Super Bowl because we beat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game that year. I can close my eyes and still see Wilbert Montgomery running free to the end zone.
Years later I had the pleasure of representing the Staubach Company and met Roger. He was my client, but I could not help telling him how much I hated him as a child. He took out an 8 x 10 photo of himself in his Cowboys uniform and wrote on it: “ Robb, sorry I ruined so many Sundays for you.” Despite his wit and class, I still bleed Eagles’ green and hate the Star.
* * *
St. Louis Rams
Sunday, October 19, 2014, the Seahawks are in St. Louis.
Let me start by saying I’m probably the only University of Wisconsin alum who CANNOT STAND Russell Wilson. I know he did a lot for the Badgers, and he’s basically the most likeable guy ever, but now he plays for the Seahawks and has some pretty ridiculous good luck. So no, Mom, I don’t think he’s “just so adorable.” I think he’s the worst.
Anyway, it’s midway through the second quarter, and Seattle has just punted. From my seat in the Dome, it looks like business as usual, Tavon Austin is waving fair catch from the right corner of the field. Before this moment, did you ever realize that no one actually looks at the ball while it’s in the air? Because all of a sudden we see Stedman Bailey racing up the opposite sideline with only the punter in his path to the end zone. He gets a huge block and is basically home free to score.
So then it’s fourth quarter and Seattle has been marching down the field, and it seems like they’ve taken over. We’re punting from way deep, and our lead is looking precarious. But Johnny Hekker fakes the punt and throws a BEAUTIFUL pass to Benny Cunningham for an 18-yard gain and a first down that would go on to seal the win. Yay. Are there any other teams with fans who love them because of their special teams play?
* * *
The Rams are in my blood. They have been since 1978. They have been since I was 8 and wrote Vince Ferragamo a letter of condolence after Super Bowl XIV and he wrote back with an autographed photo. I was crushed when he went to the CFL—and elated when he returned a year later. The Rams are Sundays in front of the TV in the 1980s with my Dad. They’re games high in the stands at Anaheim in the early ’90s during college. I’ve gone to see them play in L.A., Arizona, Foxboro (New Englanders love seeing a token Rams fan; it’s like I’m a unicorn), St. Louis, and more. I loved them in L.A. and in St. Louis and can honestly say I don’t care where they end up in in 2016. I can recite Rams statistics from memory, like Dickerson’s 6,968 yards in his first four seasons. I’m entering season 38 following and loving this team.
* * *
I’m 54 years old and I still have trouble sleeping the night before a game. I know, I should probably seek professional help. Just ask my wife.
* * *
San Francisco 49ers
I loved watching heroes like Montana, Rice, Craig, Young, Watters, Owens, Garcia, Gore, Willis, Smith and Bowman. The players fade but the torch is passed on to new men who give their all for the team colors. And I love those colors too; they bring back the little kid in me when I first saw them play—the metallic gold with red and white. I loved the look of Candlestick in the afternoon West Coast light. I loved the theater; a cross of nostalgic new age gladiatorial sportsmen. I still love turning on the TV (or internet now) and seeing that first shot of the arena. I loved Coach Harbaugh: truculent; demanding; a man who put his players and team first. I love Coach Tomsula and hope he can overcome the stigma of being a man with little pedigree. His enthusiasm is just as enthralling as Harbaugh’s yet expressed so differently. I love the desire to win—nothing else is good enough.
* * *
I remember visiting my grandparents, sitting in their smoke-filled house watching a football game with my grandma. She was sitting to my right, a kitchen timer in one hand and pointing to the screen with the other, saying, “Look at how he [Joe Montana] looks at all of his receivers before he throws the ball.” And moments later, Montana zipped a pass over the middle after surveying the field. “Now, look at how he throws the ball before the receiver even turns around.” Again, Montana and his receiver obliged. I was only 8 years old and barely understood the game, but I could tell my grandma knew what she was talking about, and I knew the 49ers were a great team. I was hooked on football, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I had forever aligned myself with the 49ers. My grandma passed away a few years later, but her observations on the game of football left a lasting impression on me. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t cheering on the 49ers, and my fandom and their success has always been a part of my life. My sons are 3 and 1 right now, but their football education has already started, thanks in large part to my grandma and the resurgence of the 49ers.
* * *
Should I write Joe Montana over and over? Or split the words between him and Steve Young? But that means Jerry Rice should get some love. John Taylor won them a Super Bowl. But Bill Walsh probably won them four? He needs at least a quarter of the words. Lest we forget Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner or Roger Craig and Tom Rathman. But are we going to live in the past or can we talk about Frank Gore and Patrick Willis? But I guess that’s the past now too. What does the future hold? Only management and its hand-picked coach know. The fans have faith, but the doubting Thomases are just as loud. The team needs a leader, always has. At this point our leader is mostly unproven, and our players are mostly untested. But that’s an amateur’s view. The coach has coached before and the players have played. I love this team because I believed in Joe’s arm but now I love them because I know it’s so much more than just Kap’s. I’m ready for the ride come hell or high water. I’m ready for the season that will reveal all.
* * *
During 49er telecasts, my friends—and, sadly, my wife and adult sons—pretty much know to avoid me and my frightening mood swings. Only Briley, my nearly 14-year-old golden retriever, sticks by me. And that's largely because he's lost his hearing.
* * *
Back in ’99 I was at a Sonics game. I didn’t own any Sonics garb, so I wore a Shawn Springs jersey. I had to use the bathroom before tipoff, and as I got to the urinal I hear someone loudly announce, “Shawn Springs? He’s pretty good!” The man decided to occupy the urinal next to mine, and I instinctively took a glance at him. My first thought was, Why is he next to me? There are 10 urinals. Isn’t there some kind of unspoken rule about this? After my initial thought, my brain recognized that this man with the horrible bathroom etiquette was none other than Shawn Springs.
So there I was, 14 years old and peeing next to my favorite Seahawk. What do I do? What do I say? So I turned my head toward him—making sure to look up at his face, again my bathroom etiquette was world class—and I proudly told him how many interceptions I got using him in Madden. He let out a hearty chuckle and gave me a friendly pat on my head. He never washed his hands. But here I am, 16 years later and still a fan. That’s devotion.
* * *
Three Reasons Why I love the Seahawks:
1. Shared Origins. The Hawks and I were born in the same year, 1976, in the Northwest. In our home, there wasn't money for many extras, but every couple of years my dad would get us out to a game at the Kingdome. One of my first pictures is wearing a Jim Zorn jersey; my little brother had the replica Curt Warner uniform—the real Curt Warner, not the Super Bowl-winning Kurt Warner. On the playground, I inevitably was Steve Largent, making up in route-running precision what I lacked in speed, quickness and, for that matter, skill.
2. Staffing for Steve Largent. When I ended up in D.C. as a staffer on Capitol Hill, Steve Largent did as well. Ultimately I served as a legislative assistant for him and found that my childhood idol was even cooler than I could have expected. In his congressional office he kept just one commemorative football. Another staffer and I "kidnapped" it and had friends around the world write letters to Steve as though they were his football. "Steve—Enjoying Paris. Here I am in front of the Eiffel Tower. Best, Your Football." He loved it.
3. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder. I moved away from the Northwest more than 20 years ago, serving as a speechwriter on Capitol Hill, a business consultant, a nonprofit head and now an advisor to philanthropists around the world. Throughout my travels, and through some very lean years, I've become a more adamant fan of the Seahawks. We may be the only family in D.C. that flies the 12th Man flag on game day. I try to get back to Seattle for a game a year and am now raising my four kids to love the Hawks.
* * *
My basement walls are covered in Seahawks signs, posters and memorabilia. My license plates read XLVIII (unfortunately I couldn't switch them to XLIX, but that's another story I'm still not fully prepared to talk about). I haven't painted the house blue and green yet because I value my marriage, but there's time. The past two Super Bowls have brought the local paper and the local NBC news affiliate to my house to see just how crazy I am about the Hawks. Go ahead, Google KTIV and Jamey LaFleur, I'll wait…Yeah, pretty good piece they did on me, right?!
* * *
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The strongest woman I've ever known, my mother, divorced my dad when I was very young, packed everything we could carry into one car and moved my sister and me from New England to a town I’d never heard of named Tampa. Because my dad had not been a positive influence in my life, my mother was always looking for male role models who could help mentor me. As a teacher, my mom befriended some wonderful men (and women of course). One of these men invited me to my first football game, at the old Sombrero in Tampa, an event that changed my life forever.
The year was 1977, I was 9 years old, and we were playing the St. Louis Cardinals. I still vividly recall the fan frenzy as the Bucs won their first home game in franchise history, and I became a fan for life. Two years later I sat in a torrential rainstorm, never even thinking of leaving my seat, and marveled as the Bucs clinched their first playoff berth with a 3-0 win over the Chiefs. I cried with joy that night as we left the stadium to the “Hey Hey Tampa Bay…” song—still one of my all-time favorites.
My mom, a three-time cancer survivor, is the reason I love the Buccaneers. A season-ticket holder from the time I could afford it in 1993, I raise a glass for her every football game I attend, thanking her for having the courage to leave everything behind and to start over and build a new, wonderful life for her family. For me, that life will always include the Buccaneers.
* * *
… I’ve watched people change the channel from the Redskins game to the ending of “Marley & Me” to keep themselves from crying.
* * *
To be a fan of the Washington Redskins Football Club is to live backward while stumbling forward. I cheer for an outdated, offensive logo that I have grown uncomfortable to claim. I tepidly defend a reviled owner. I start to use the phrase “wait till next year” in mid-September.
But, oh, how I love my team. Loving the Burgundy and Gold is an exercise in being optimistically embarrassed. We are not a bandwagon fandom. Our stadium is not hosting Super Bowls, our players aren’t featured in national commercials, our last Lombardi trophy came with the first Gulf War. A Washington fan is a devoted masochist in a traded player’s jersey. But hey, it’s better than being an Eagles fan.
Every year, every game, every draft, every score:
—Sarah S. Spooner
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