In July, 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. Here, the 16 teams of the AFC.
Michelangelo. Mozart. Shakespeare. Ozzie Newsome.
That’s why I love the Ravens.
Many GMs have the grace of Hulk when handling modern-day NFL nuances such as the salary cap and draft management; but Newsome is Baryshnikov, artistically moving as he assembles a competitive roster year after year after year. Steve Smith and sixth-rounder Adalius Thomas are just two of Ozzie’s many masterpieces. It’s why we Ravens fans say, “In Ozzie we trust.” We have 10 playoff trips this millennium, along with two Super Bowl trophies, but even in years when I don’t feel confident, it’s always: “You never know; Ozzie’s got something up his sleeve.”
* * *
To put it simply, Baltimore has a serious inferiority complex driven by years of industrial decline and a crime/crack wave that has persisted since the 1980s (not to mention the theft of the beloved Colts in 1983). The riots after Freddie Gray's death at the hands of the BPD reminded the world that Baltimore is a dirty, unsafe place, not ready for the reurbanization that has turned other American cities around.
Yet we have the Ravens, a respectable organization that has been on top of the league for almost all of its 19 years in the NFL. The Ravens unify the city: black, white, men, women, old, young, wealthy, poor. Everyone wears purple and black. Almost everyone wears purple camouflage. Everyone is proud of the upstart franchise that carries the city on its back every season, giving everyone in the Baltimore area a taste of hope and an escape from reality.
—J.D. from Baltimore
* * *
I love the Bills because they’ve instilled in me, as a fan, resiliency. Now, that sounds ridiculous, but we don’t care. It’s a Buffalo thing.
Go back to Wide Right and watch the throngs of Buffalonians assure Scott Norwood that we forgive him. I haven’t seen a Bills playoff game since Frank Wycheck out-forward-passed Rob Johnson. (Stephen Hawking could pick me up in a time machine, put me on the field in Tennessee and illustrate all the ways he thinks it was a lateral. He would be wrong.)
I’ve gone into all 16 (SIXTEEN!) seasons since then with a Billy Mumphrey-esque cockeyed optimism that this is our year.
I was exposed to four straight losing Super Bowls. And I’m glad I was. Because when we win the big one—oh man. Don’t get me going on what Canalside will look like.
I saw our franchise’s greatest player get diagnosed with a ravaging form of cancer in the same breath as our owner (see: anchor) passed away. And I never imagined a Buffalo without the Bills. The Mayflowers would’ve had a better chance of boating over Lake Erie than of driving out of town. I love the Bills because they aren’t an NFL team, they’re Buffalo’s Team.
I have been proverbially punched in the mouth as a fan more times than I should care to recall. But I love recalling it. In life, I’ve lost. A lot. Just like anyone else in my city. But I love recalling those moments, too. Because the Bills have taught me that, just like this team, just like this city, I can get absolutely walloped, stand up, dust off and press on. And as a Bills fan, believe me, I can do this for another 16 years.
* * *
Quick, name the NFL franchises that represent New York.
“The New York Jets and the New York Giants.”
“Oh, and the Bills.”
Oh, and the Bills. Much like the sprawling hills and soft fields of the Upstate it calls home, the Bills are relegated to an afterthought when the outside world considers the concrete jungle of the five boroughs—the only “New York” there is. To trek beyond the Bills’ immediate region is to endure blank stares when you discuss your team and to abandon all hope of securing new gear adorned with the red-streaked charging buffalo.
Yes, I’m looking for a Buffalo Bills hat. Yes, I realize I’m in Dallas. No, we’re not moving to Toronto. Probably not, anyway. The stadium? It’s called The Ralph. Yes, exactly like the slang term for vomit. No, it is nothing like that cavernous space ship Mr. Jones landed in a parking lot for you guys here. No, Giants stuff won’t do.
And therein lies the beauty of the Buffalo Bills. There are no bandwagon fans; only an intimate community of those driving their own wagons, constantly circling to protect our own, always on the cusp of being seen through the dust.
* * *
Since the last time my team made the playoffs, I got my driver’s license, graduated high school, started college, graduated college, moved to NYC and got a job, moved to Singapore and got a new job, moved to Denver and got a new job, and got married. I haven’t lived in Buffalo in 13 years, but my heart unquestionably resides there and will continue to do so until… well, until forever thanks to Uncle/Saint/whatever-you-want-to-call-him Terry [Pegula]. In my painful years of Bills fandom, so many great things have happened in my life, and the one thing that I still long for is a chance to watch my team in the postseason. Not to say that winning a Super Bowl would be better than marrying my husband—but… well…he’s a Seahawks fan, and I think he’d be OK if I said, “It’d sure be close.” Since I left Buffalo 13 years ago, I’ve watched at local bars, at 2 a.m. in Singapore before work on Monday mornings, even raced out of a wedding to a bar nearby to catch the end of the first time the Bills beat the Pats in eight years. Like all Bills fans, I’m hopelessly in love and passionately devoted until… forever. Why? Call me crazy (you won’t be the first).
* * *
I'm a 43-year-old autoworker from South Buffalo, and I've been a Bills fan since I was able to walk. During the mid ’80s my love for the team grew, even as they were going through some lean years. But it was because of those lean years that I was able to purchase game tickets on a paperboy's salary. My goal every year was to make it to the Miami game, our most heated rival at the time. I'd always say, "If you win one game a year, please let it be Miami!" As the ’80s turned to ’90s, the town was abuzz with what the Bills were doing. On Sunday afternoons, streets were desolate, and the only sounds you heard were fans cheering from inside their house parties.
My life memories are ones many people have: my wedding day, the birth of my children, and the birth of my grandchild. The rest of my memories were made from my bench seat in the tunnel end zone, section 123: 51-3 over the Raiders, 10-7 over John Elway and the Broncos, The Greatest Comeback, Doug Flutie bootleg to beat the Jags. The Bills will always be a major part of my life, and like always, we're about to start a new season, with a new regime and new hope!
* * *
In high school, I remember a class where we discussed the power of the phrase “I am.” Even now, as an adult, it’s a concept I still consider from time to time. I wonder who I am today, who I was, who I will be. And though my life is ever-changing, there’s been one constant: I am a Browns fan.
It’s hard to fully express what that means to someone who hasn’t felt the frigid sting of Lake Erie’s December breath on his tear-stained cheeks. At times it’s almost like being a service dog for a combat veteran. Through rose-colored glasses of loyalty and compassion, we can still see what was once great about our beloved organization—and what could be again if only we could get beyond our shell-shocked past.
* * *
Irrational glee for the Browns is what makes it great. That common passion with the stranger next to you. You both know it won’t end well, but you believe anyway. You share the joy of one victory over the Steelers. That’s our Super Bowl, and we’ll enjoy it together until next year.
* * *
The more difficult question to answer is: Why do I STILL love the Browns? Art Modell took my team away, and the Browns haven’t shown even a modicum of decency since their return. Why do I still pull out the VCR to watch the 51-0 beatdown of the Steelers from 1989 every year, and secretly hope that the Cavs lose so the Browns can be the team that brings a championship back to my city?
I can sum it up this way. The last words that my grandfather spoke to me on his death bed were, “I pray to God that they fire that Pat Shurmur. He’s a bum.” Amen.
* * *
Here’s the thing—and this is really the sum of the matter—I AM a Bengals fan. It’s who I am. Born in Dayton, mocked by the chuckleheads who love the word “Bungles,” I grew up listening to our blacked-out games on 700 WLW. When our playoff drought ended in 2005, my heart soared with joy. Then Kimo von Oelhoffen assassinated that joy and dragged it through the streets as Dave Lapham wailed in agony.
That’s what it is to be a Bengals fan. It’s illogical love and passion in the face of unmitigated disaster, disaster that defines and molds us into who we are. We’re hard as nails in Cincinnati, fused together by a love that perseveres the most gutting moments. And there’s a void inside of us, just waiting for that moment when it’ll be our hero hitting a receiver in the back of the end zone with 34 seconds left in the Super Bowl.
—Reggie Osborne II
* * *
Gramps’s heart couldn’t take it. Literally.
A lifelong Broncos fan and season ticket holder when it was just known as Mile High, Gramps resided in the South Stands. The place where steel-toed boots helped on the metal bleachers; where vocal strength (aided by Peppermint Schnapps) was a must; and where a man stood naked in a barrel. But when they remodeled the stadium, Gramps was priced out. That’s when the doctor gave him even worse news.
He complained of occasional chest pains and, after some digging, the doc figured out that they usually occurred on Sundays. During games. When Denver was losing. So Granny’s job was to keep him upstairs, away from the TV. My job was to give him “selective” play-by-play and score updates. The Doc said he’d live a lot longer that way.
And boy was he right. For 20-plus wonderful years he swore behind a closed bedroom door while someone yelled the updates. I can still hear those muffled groans, “That g-ddamn Cutler! Why can’t he protect the *#@ing ball?!?!”
Point being: I’ve given more Broncos updates than the four-letter network.
* * *
Texans lore is not something anyone can boast of boasted of (yet). My grandfather could not reminisce to me of a rich Houston Texans history of achievement. One day, however, I will have the opportunity to regale my grandchildren with the pure ecstasy of David Carr, Seth Payne and company’s inaugural season-opening victory against the utterly detested, cross-state rival Dallas Cowboys; of Kevin Walter’s game-winning touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch the franchise’s first division title; of J.J. Watt’s pick-six against Andy Dalton in the franchise’s first playoff win; of witnessing the incredible achievements of the likes of Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Watt; and, of course, the awe inspiring Super Bowl win in… well, that is a chapter yet to be written.
* * *
The Indianapolis Colts are the stretched fabric that holds my fall and winter together. They make it possible for me to hug my mom from over 1,000 miles away, and to high-five my little brother across the country in Manhattan. This team keeps me connected to the parts of my past and future that are the most precious to me. I have lived all over the continent—Chicago, Costa Rica, Washington D.C., Denver. My saddest football moment came in an empty bar in Guatemala as I watched New England cornerbacks repeatedly tackle Marvin Harrison at the line of scrimmage. When my favorite football player ever decided to follow me to Denver, I could have swapped my blue No. 18 jersey for an orange one… but I went online and ordered a blue No. 12.
* * *
In the 20-season existence of the Jacksonville Jaguars, I've experienced the highest of highs—greeting the Cinderella second-year "Jagwads" on the tarmac after the thrilling playoff upset in Denver—to the lowest of lows—three separate rebuilding efforts since 2008. I've endured weekly NFL power rankings in the bottom five and stories ranging from "Jags Moving to [Insert City Here]" to "Jags Punter Gets Axed." (Sigh…) From the first game my father took me to as a 5-year-old in 1995, however, I was hooked.
We've been an easy target in the media for much of the last decade, and I still get confused looks when people see me sporting Jaguars gear outside of Northeast Florida, but neither distance nor lack of on-field success can ever make me abandon my home team. I’ll continue to make the five-hour drive every home weekend to keep my seven-season home streak alive, and I’ll continue to lose my voice in the stands.
I’ve heard one has to endure the hard seasons in order to truly appreciate the great ones. The triumvirate of Shad Khan, Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley has breathed new life into the fan base, and, like much of the Jaguar faithful, I'm ready to start appreciating again.
* * *
Growing up in New Jersey, I always get asked this question: How did you become a Jaguars fan? This is my best and only response: I played Pop Warner for the Jackson Jaguars in 1996, a year after a brand-new team with a very similar name came to be, and in 1996 they happened to be pretty good. I decided then that this was my team through thick and thin. As goofy and ridiculous as that sounds, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I will never regret it.
* * *
Kansas City Chiefs
One autumn when I was 9, I watched Joe Delaney run and fell in love. Joe was gone a year later, and I wept. But there was no going back. With Derrick [Thomas] and Neil [Smith], glory seemed attainable. Joe Montana’s arrival was a dream. But K.C. Joe was like autumn, too—fading, beautiful and never truly ours. His exit signaled the start of the great winter, where hope gave way to Bono, Gannon, Grbac and Green, before spiraling ultimately to the nadir of Orton. But as every summer wanes, the restless passions of boyhood yearning stir anew. So I will believe that this is the year when Alex Smith rises above “game manager.” I will roar with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. I will believe that Jeremy Maclin’s knees were simply allergic to Philadelphia. From the distant peaks of northern Arizona, where I live in self-imposed exile from the Midwest, I will close my eyes each Sunday and summon the Arrowhead parking lot, and the red and gold leaves brilliantly shrouding the river, and I will know this: The Chiefs return each autumn, as do I, and we owe each other nothing. This is how I can tell it is love.
* * *
In 2007 the Miami Dolphins nearly became the first NFL franchise to record two perfect seasons. One day after a miracle overtime TD (and an assist from a Ray Lewis injury) saved us from becoming the first ever 0-16 team, I wore my orange creamsicle Ricky Williams jersey out on the streets of Boston in celebration of avoiding that ignominious fate. The Patriots fans I saw in public laughed. They were mostly young and giddy in the glow of an ascendant franchise making its own bid for perfection. Only one old-timer wearing a throwback sweatshirt gave me a nod of approval. I like to think he understood that the measure of fandom isn’t how loudly you cheer when you win, but how you root when they don’t.
* * *
I am, without a doubt, the most knowledgeable and passionate Miami Dolphins fan in the city of Fort Atkinson, Wis., population 12,482. I am also miserable.
But it wasn't always like this.
Superbowl XXXI. I'm 7 years old and running from the kitchen to the living room with my heart in my throat. I leap into the only open spot left on the couch, just in time to see Desmond Howard return a kickoff for a touchdown. I sat in that lucky spot for every Packers down for the next four years.
When I was 11, my mom and her then-fiancé, the man who introduced me to football and the Packers, separated. I abandoned football entirely for more than a year, focusing instead on my angst and effortless cool.
When I returned, I decided I needed to forge my own path by choosing a new team—an unthinkable act of rebellion in rural Wisconsin. I chose the Miami Dolphins. I chose Chad Henne over Aaron Rodgers. I chose Ted Ginn Jr. over Jordy Nelson. I chose Cam Cameron and Nick Saban and Tony Sparano. I chose misery over happiness at 12 years old. And every year I choose loyalty.
* * *
New England Patriots
I love the New England Patriots because they have given the NFL something it’s lacked for years: a villain. Your modern-day New England Patriots are rogues in cities across the U.S. And that’s the way we like it. They epitomize the region’s culture perfectly. You don’t like us? That’s OK, we’ll see what happens on Sunday. And the best part is that people forget how bad this franchise used to be.
The Pats are your prototypical rags-to-riches story, transforming from the ugly, nerdy girl in high school to the mean-girl supermodel people love to hate. Say what you want about the Belichick-era teams but know this: They’ve succeeded through hard work and clever thinking. Sure, they’ve had a few lucky bounces (literally), like a certain conscientious QB from Michigan falling to them at pick No. 199. But they’ve also created their own luck. They turned a former Kent State QB into an elite receiver and an undrafted cornerback into a Super Bowl hero. They don’t get it right all the time, but no team does. But they come out on top more often than not, and I can’t wait to see them compete for another title this season.
* * *
It's the little things that make a person fall in love. For me, it was a slow awakening: to the subtle charm of a Bill Belichick press conference; to the big-man grace of Vince Wilfork; to the earnest effectiveness of the “Patriots Way”; to the classy veneer (and steely underbelly) of Robert Kraft; and to the heart-pounding realization that we should never, ever, ever, ever give up on Tom Brady. Every time the Pats drove themselves into a hole then dragged themselves back out, I fell a little more deeply.
Like any hardcore fan, I hold football beliefs on a profound level. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are very, very good, but they're not Tommy. Just no to the Jets (but Rex Ryan might be an OK guy). Mike Tomlin definitely interfered with Jacoby Jones' touchdown run in that 2013 game. Ben Roethlisberger, Incognito, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson: I have no time for these guys.
I like my coaches and players to demonstrate their integrity—which makes this a particularly interesting year for me. Will my love affair with the Pats survive? I only know this: Love grows stronger when it's tested and triumphs.
* * *
This past season after Miami upset the Pats in their opener, I ceased drinking my morning coffee from my Patriots mug. After Butler snatched Super Bowl 49 out of mid-air, I put the mug in a bag, hit it with a rock, and buried it.
* * *
The hoodie sends a message that you don’t care what people think. It’s durable and can handle any conditions: Wash, spin, and soak. Yes, new things will come along, but the hoodie will always be your favorite. The frayed cut-off sleeves give off the impression of rebelliousness; you’re going to do things your way. There’s a comfort when you put it on, you know what to expect and it will always deliver. Yes, it’s had a controversial past, but it’s an American icon.
* * *
I thought about submitting just those two words. After all, 15 years worth of English classes have taught me never to add fluff to an essay. Never add nonsense or unnecessary detail just to get to a page or word limit. The rest of what I’m about to write is simply that: filler. There is not much else that needs to be said when talking about what I consider my generation’s Evil Empire, the New England Patriots. So much praise is heaped on Bill Belichick for his Patriots Way: for his ability to take on troubled players and get so much out of them; for his uncanny way of making players buy in to the system; for his power to make the players simply do their job. That is all true, but the fact is, without Tom Brady none of that would be possible.
Simply put, without Tom Brady, Bill Belichick is not Bill Belichick. Hell, the New England Patriots might be the Hartford Patriots. Tom Brady is the quarterback of every fan’s dream. All this is coming from a 21-year-old who has a signed Drew Bledsoe Jersey in his room and who absolutely wanted to have it out with Mr. Belichick when he replaced my idol with some kid named Tom Brady.
* * *
I can’t explain why I woke up at 2 am while on deployment in Djibouti to watch the Patriots lose the Jan. 2007 AFC Championship Game in a plywood shed. I also can’t explain why I watched an undefeated season slip away alone in my bedroom, instead of with my Super Bowl Party guests. If I can’t get my wife to understand why I hide in the basement for 16 Sundays each fall, then there’s no chance I can do it here.
There’s only a finite window in which any team can have sustained success. I know the window will close for the Patriots, so I watch, waiting for that one season when I know it’s over. But the window hasn’t closed. Brady and Belichick won’t let it. I tried to close it after the Wells Report came out. I even uttered the words that my wife longed to hear: “I’m done with football.” I didn’t stay away for long. Dejection turned to defiance, which turned to arrogance. I’m back to being the type of overconfident Patriots fan that other fans loathe. I’ll be busy 19 Sundays this Fall. The Patriots have a title to defend.
— Rich Parella
* * *
New York Jets
I love the Jets because my dad loves the Jets, and for that he has apologized repeatedly. He says he gave me the Yankees to make up for it, but the truth of the matter is, the crushing defeats have brought us together as much as, if not more than, the World Series championships. It’s amazing how the sacred father-daughter relationship can be strengthened by the repeated failures of a favorite team. Through his Jets fandom, Dad has taught me faith, tolerance and patience—lessons valuable for the preservation of my sports sanity as well as in everyday life. I get an annual email on January 12 to commemorate the Jets’ last moment of glory—the memory of Super Bowl III that Dad holds on to in a way that makes me think, deep down inside, that he’s not sure he will ever see it again.
—Kara G. Lemberger
* * *
This isn’t a team for the shiny metropolis where fans throw sports coats over their shoulders and loosen their ties on their way into the stadium after enjoying a few martinis at a steakhouse. The Jets are the dive bar next door with the cheap beers and baskets of wings that you wear your grease stained Joe Klecko jersey to.
Publicly, Jets fans don’t love being Jets fans. They sulk and talk of their Green and White burden to bear. Yet when Sundays come, there is nowhere they’d rather be than in that dark metaphorical dive bar with a roomful of like-minded individuals. There is only one Super Bowl trophy in that bar, but there has never been a more important one in helping turn the Super Bowl into the game it became. So it should count for three or four, right?
* * *
At 13 years old, I had to have my right leg amputated. It had been deformed from birth, and it was time to cut my losses. In this tumultuous part of my life, my aunt contacted the Raiders, telling them about my situation in a Los Angeles hospital and that I was just getting into the game of football. The Raiders sent a package for me containing photos of greats like Tim Brown and Rich Gannon and books and films on the team’s history, and they even sent me Christmas cards for a few straight years. They had a chance to make me a fan for life, and it’s exactly what they did.
* * *
Back in 1970, a few Kansas City Chiefs players refused to give my Dad an autograph because he wasn’t with the group they were at the hotel to sign for. So my dad did the only reasonable thing: become a fan of their biggest rival, the mighty Oakland Raiders. Of course, my two older brothers and I had no other choice but to become lifelong fans. I was born in 1991, so my years as a fan haven’t been easy. When John Gruden came along, it was perfect timing for me to really get into the game. Those few years really made me fall in love with the Raiders. (It also made me hate New England so dearly.) It's almost fun being a Raider fan living in the middle of Kansas. I've been fortunate to go to Arrowhead three times and see the Raiders win twice. Most people hate the Raiders, and even if they're only winning four games a year, those four are oh so sweet. It's now 2015. The Jack Del Rio era has begun, and there is new hope. While I don't think there will be any Super Bowl runs this year, I'll be in front of my TV every Sunday, cheering on the Silver and Black. I'll still be around when they return to glory, and it will be a glorious time to be a fan.
* * *
My team gave me the fondest memory I have of my distant, difficult, Pittsburgh-born dad: watching and celebrating Super Bowl XLIII only months before he died of cancer. Since then, each game brings a wave of nostalgia and comfort. I know he’s watching too.
* * *
I was born in South Korea and raised in an orphanage until I was about 9 years old, when I was brought to the U.S. by newly adopted parents from Western Pennsylvania. They gave me my name, parental love and guidance, and the Steelers. For me, football and the Steelers were the two best ways to make friends in this new country and become an American.
* * *
Football matters. And nothing matters more than the Stillers winning and physically pounding the crap out of the opponent. I want to see the opponent bloody and limping, grieving, shaking their heads, wondering who was that masked man. When two AFC North opponents play each other, someone asks me who I root for. My answer is, “Pain and suffering on both sides of the ball.” To have seen the Stillers greats leave the field in victory, to have seen Cowboys and Vikings, Rutigliano and Schottenheimer and Wyche and Billick and Bellichik and Brian Sipe and Ray Lewis leave the field in defeat, disgust, bitterness, . . . ah, man, life is so beautiful.
* * *
Some of my earliest memories are watching Steelers games with my father and grandfather. As a young boy I had a deal with my short-tempered grandfather that every time he swore I got a dime. After a week of heavy losses, Pap started to swear in Croatian to avoid the fine, but I caught on, and my piggy bank only grew. So watching the Steelers at that age not only entertained me, but also helped me make money. What’s not to love?
* * *
Twas the day of Steelers season, Fall had arrived,
In the land of bridges, where sandwiches have fries.
UPMC's sign sat high above the trees,
A "non-profit business, with no employees."
Some yinzers were hung over, snug in their beds,
Last night’s Primanti’s wrappers strewn by their heads.
Some drove to the North Shore, over potholes galore,
While cursing the never-ending tunnel detours.
Tailgates roared on, it was a Black and Gold sea,
And between every car, was a river of pee.
"Ten minutes to kickoff!" a pantsless drunk cheered,
I ran through Gate A, and bought a nine-dollar beer.
On to my seat, a two-foot hotdog in tow,
Time to experience the Mike Tomlin show.
More rapid than Eagles, his players they came,
And he shouted their names, popping out his neck vein.
"Now Pouncey! Now, Miller! Now, Taylor and Johnson!
On, Beachum! Not Adams! Now go, Cortez Allen!”
He deferred the kickoff, “tails” decided the fall,
“THE STANDARD IS THE STANDARD" beckoned his call. ...
Back on the sidelines, Tomlin was slapping Ben's ass,
It was man-code for "that was one hell of a pass",
And I heard him exclaim, words sent down from Heaven,
"THIS IS THE FIRST STEP, ON THE STAIRWAY TO SEVEN!"
* * *
San Diego Chargers
Growing up a San Diego kid, I’ve been around Chargers football all my life. Yet that’s not how my love for the team came about. Ironically, I started rooting against the Chargers because I knew it was a great way to get under my stepdad’s skin. Enduring the L*%f era didn’t inspire much fanaticism either, believe it or not. It wasn’t until the Chargers took a beating like they did in 2000, going 1-15, that I suddenly developed admiration and pride for a team that could not have it worse. I suppose 0-16 was possible, but back in 2000 I felt pride in knowing that these are “the bad times,” and many wouldn’t dare to jump on this bandwagon. Yet I knew there would be light at the other end. The drafting of LaDainian Tomlinson fulfilled this prophecy. Watching this young man put this franchise on his back (along with Drew Brees in 2002) and dedicating himself to do all that he could to bring a Lombardi Trophy to my town was as astonishing and inspirational as his actual play. Simply put, L.T. made me believe, and I am forever grateful.
—Alfred Yucupicio Aguite
* * *
I am a Chargers fan. We are a pathetic lot, forever being taunted with “I thought you guys were supposed to be good this year?" We've never won a Super Bowl, and my husband says it's because our city is so darn pretty, it wouldn't be fair to be blessed with a championship ring.
I don't have that luxury. I haven't lived full-time in my hometown for almost 25 years. So why do I bleed powder blue? Because I watched my Chargers squish the fish in an epic game in 1981, when Kellen Winslow probably cemented the fact I was destined to marry a tight end. Because of Air Coryell and a bearded man named Fouts. Junior Seau made us believe, and the tears that fell when he died were some of the truest I've shed. Philip Rivers' histrionic game face.
For almost 10 years I walked the halls of my school (in Seahawksland, mind you!) with a Chargers lanyard around my neck. My family and I have just relocated to St. Louis, and I will continue paying exorbitant fees to DirecTV so I can watch every game. This may be our year... and our final year in San Diego. I'll jump off that bridge when we get there.
* * *
The graceful gait of Alworth. The fiery determination of Fouts. The explosive energy of Seau. The ethereal moves of L.T. The passionate persona of Rivers. Great players and memorable moments abound for a diehard Chargers fan like me. The eternally optimistic, devoted supporter in me greets each training camp with confidence that this will be the year to win it all, that this team is the one—even if evidence suggests otherwise. With pride I watch players go to battle each Sunday for the Chargers, for the fans of San Diego.
I admit to rising frustration in observing an organization that appears ready to leave town, as well as deep disappointment in a local government that seems incapable of procuring a stadium deal. The threat of the Chargers moving to L.A. tests my resolve, but will not extinguish my love for the team, for the players who give their all. Short of a Super Bowl win, there is nothing greater than to see the Bolts defeat hated (but respected) rivals in the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders. Given the maelstrom that has enveloped the Chargers this year, I will be cheering on the team with even greater emotion and urgency this season.
* * *
Everyone knows that the Chargers are leaving next year, and frankly no one really cares. That’s what San Diego fans do: When our team loses, it’s OK. We’ll just go to the beach or run up Torrey Pines or take a stroll through Balboa Park.
I was born and raised on the East Coast, in the shadow of the Meadowlands, but never cared for the Giants or the Jets. The Jets were a Long Island team as far as I was concerned. I moved to San Diego in 2001 and have been a Chargers fan ever since.
I love the Chargers like any Chargers fan does: fairweather. It’s San Diego. We’ve got better things to do than sit inside and eat steak tips talking about the Pats or the Bills. We cheer on our team when we're winning, and we don’t really care when they're losing.
I am a Chargers fan.
* * *
Why do I love the Tennessee Titans? In large part because here in the South football is our birthright. We may not have invented it, but we believe we have perfected it.
The NFL is a new invention compared to the history and passion of college football in the South, with rivalries dating back to the late 1800s. Football in America is king, and he speaks with a Southern accent.
Unlike the college game, which is dominated by coaches, the NFL is driven by quarterbacks. The relevance of your team and even your town is directly correlated to who your QB is. The tragic death of Steve McNair, the failure of Vince Young and injuries to Jake Locker have left the Titans boring and bland.
Enter Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota. His physical tools and character have already set Nashville on fire. His jersey was the No. 1 seller in the NFL for the month of May. That is tangible evidence of a franchise being relevant again! Now comes the hard part—keeping Mariota healthy and transitioning his game to the NFL game. That will make the Titans, for the first time in a long time, must-see viewing in 2015 .
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