by Kevin Franklin
As Lucifer once sang through Mick Jagger’s nightcrawler lips, “Please allow me to introduce myself.”
I am what you might call a typical hardcore fan. I’ve been a diehard Flyers, Eagles and Phillies fan ever since the early 1970s. I have rarely ever missed a game in person, on television, radio or online for well over 35 years. I have an encyclopedic memory of games, players and plays that have gripped the local sports teams. I froth at the mouth, scream until I am hoarse and have thrown many projectiles in just as many directions over bad calls, non calls and any number of misfortunes that have befallen the local squads. Add all that up and do you know what it equals?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
With the recent success of the Phillies – and now the improbable run of the Flyers – there is a significant number of fellow die-hard fans who are raging about “all these new bandwagon fans.” For some reason, these fanatics are thrown into personal distress over people rooting for their teams. The nerve! They don’t consider these bandwagon jumpers to be “real” fans because they haven’t lived and died with their teams, haven’t spent untold thousands of dollars on season tickets, logged as many hours in front of the tube or purchased the jersey or sweater of whichever local hero is currently the darling of the sports page.
Why does it bother these fans so much? Why are they upset at people at work just now putting Flyers stuff in their cubicles, casual fans wearing Ryan Howard jerseys or people who mumble parts of the “Fly, Eagles Fly” fight song because they are not very familiar with it? Is it because these “new” fans somehow dilute the fan populace? Does it invalidate all the time, emotion and money the old schoolers have put in over the years, their fandom being passed down through the generations like an heirloom? At what point do these bandwagon fans graduate to “real” fans? For such a blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth sports town why are there so many fans who look down and act snooty towards other people who are cheering on the local squads?
Whether you like it or not, most every fan starts out as a casual, bandwagon fan. Regardless of what some callers to radio shows think, it is NOT in your DNA. It is a conscious choice on which teams you root for. Some fans root for the Philly teams because their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and older siblings rooted for them and were swept up into it. Some people wanted to be different, that’s why you can find Philadelphia-born Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Blues and San Diego Chargers fans within the city limits. Other people with a local heritage intentionally want to piss off other people or wanted to follow the teams experiencing success at the time they became fans and cheer for the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Yankees. But isn’t it odd the same self-important non-bandwagon yahoos reserve the same amount of vitriol for these bandwagon fans as they do Cowboys, Penguins and Yankees fans?
I say, the more, the merrier. Not everyone became fans in their formative years like most of us diehards. I have known a great many people who did not became over-the-top Phillies fans until they were in their late 20s. I have known others who became fans because their significant others were fans first and today, it is hard to tell which one is the bigger fan. I have known people who had to be dragged to a Flyers game who currently bleed Orange & Black. Forget about the supposed “blue bloods” in the luxury suites. While they are often used for corporate purposes, there are many people in those boxes who are just as rabid as the guy who painted his face and bangs on the glass when the puck comes to his end of the rink. It’s not strictly an income bracket demarcation. Ask yourself this – if you made ten times as much money as you currently make, would that make you less of a fan?
Every team in every sport is going to have their share of casual fans. Fortunately, the casual fan pool is a great place to bring others to our dark side and convert them into the raving lunatics we become at game time. Throw enough sauce on the noodles and some of it is bound to stick. When the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 to the Phillies’ World Series victory in 2008 – and the parades that followed (not to mention the three parades in between) – the streets were flooded with revelers and folks grateful for something to celebrate. Imagine if the Eagles won the Super Bowl and the parade that would follow. You would call up a friend in another city and laugh, “We had THREE million people at our parade!” I guarantee you all THREE million of those people were not diehard fans like you – and you wouldn’t mind one bit.
Take this opportunity to bring one of these bandwagon fans under your wing, just like someone took the time to show you the “right” teams to root for all those years ago. Celebrate with them, console them, show them the finer points of the games. Be responsible for drafting a whole new army of diehard fans. If only one out of five goes for it, that’s one more fanatic. One more fanatic to hang out with. One more fanatic to buy tickets and merchandise to help fund the home club to put the best team out there. One more fanatic to help save you from an ass beating at a road game.
As Philly fans, we are in a heady confluence with the local teams. The Eagles are on the horizon of a whole new regime, the Phillies are two-time pennant winners and are keeping their collective feet on the pedal in 2010. The Flyers are surfing the wave of remarkable improbability and are only three wins away from playing for the Cup. The Sixers are the one lame horse, currently, but the other three teams do circle the year-long calendar enough to keep you braced for the entire 12 months.
It’s been 35 long years for the Flyers, 27 for the Sixers and half a century for the Eagles. The Phillies winning the World Series in 2008 allowed us to give a brief reprieve to those other teams, but today, it has manifested itself into a thirst for excellence for all of our teams. We expect the best now and it only intensifies our blood lust. If people want to jump off the bandwagon, let them. They weren’t sitting in your seat anyway, and when the dust has settled and the last jumper has jumped, you’ll find the bandwagon is fuller than before everyone started to board it. Not only fans from Southeast Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Northern Delaware, but new diehards in places like Raleigh, North Carolina, Tacoma, Washington and Dublin, Ireland. Consider if you were cruising the streets of Amsterdam and saw a local with a Richards jersey or some cajun dude wearing a Phillies cap in New Orleans. Maybe they’ll tell you they became fans during the recent playoffs. I guarantee you that you’ll be texting your buddy, taking pictures and eventually closing down whichever local bar the two of you could find that night.
Do the right thing. Enough with snorting at what you consider lesser fans of the Flyers, Phillies, Sixers and Eagles. There are bigger fish to fry such as hating Mets, Yankees, Devils, Penguins, Celtics, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants fans. For those who like the Phillies but hate the Eagles, for example, talk all the smack you want when it comes to football and make sure you shake their hand with the same hand you used to punch them in the nose when the conversation turns to the Phillies. Remember, winning breeds new fans, like it or not, and this is an opportunity to bring new conscripts to the army.
Then again, there are some people who just don’t get it. We can’t always get what we want and some people just can’t get no satisfaction.
Just keep those people offa my cloud.
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