I was born and raised in Michigan in the 1980′s. Therefore, names like Barry Sanders, Alan Trammell, Bill Lambeer, and Loyd Carr are embedded in my DNA. Before I could crawl it was decided that I would cheer for the UofM, rather than those damn dirty Spartans from Moo U. Growing up, I cheered for my native teams with the blind admiration that only a child can muster. Football was the sport that I embraced above others as a youth, and we had the Lions to cheer for. Growing up, Rodney Peete could do no wrong. And Barry Sanders was like Achilles come down from Mount Olympus to make a mockery of the opposing teams defenses.
But it turns out that Rodney Peete was a terrible QB, and spent more time on his back than throwing TDs. And Barry Sanders left the Lions early to “retire” dashing all hopes of ever seeing a post-season run by the Lions. I also grew up with the abysmal 90′s Tigers, and the Pistons post-Bad-Boy era which was like rooting for whatever team the Globetrotters were playing against. And yet, I held on to the hope that maybe, just maybe this would be the year that ‘my team’ went all the way.
But then I grew up. And I realized that yes, the Lions suck. The Tigers suck. The Pistons suck (though we I did have the Red Wings growing up, who have always been either excellent or good enough to watch and be proud of). Being a sports fan in the mid-’90s in Michigan was a constant struggle. The teams were mis-managed, the stars were gone, and to say the wins were coming in slow was to imply the wins were coming in at all. So as I got into my teen years, I started to learn enough about the sports world to be critical of the teams I had previously rooted for. And since by this time we still weren’t winning in any sport that didn’t’ involve ice, there was plenty to be critical of. We were going after the wrong athletes, making the wrong plays, and were devoid of talent in general. At this point I was so critical, it was hard to see that I supported these teams at all. Watching the Lions get decimated game after game, usually by the end of the 4th quarter I’d ripped my team so much you’d hardly be able to tell that I was a fan at all.
But all this criticism stemmed from the love of my team, and how I wanted to see them succeed, and was upset that I didn’t. What I wanted more than anything was for them to win, and I believed that they could (some of the time). I was critical of team management and coaches that were making my team the mockery of the NFL. Everyone saw us as a failure. Our teams weren’t spending money where it was most critical. The Tigers left historic Tigers stadium, and the Lions left the Pontiac Silverdome both to brand new stadiums, even with their terrible records. A brand new, shiny stage for the world to see our failure. Eventually the teams and their respective management began to listen to the criticism and turned things around. The Pistons won the championship. The Tigers actually made the playoffs and in 2006 actually went to the World Series (they lost, but it was a huge win for the fans). The Lions still suck, but that’s another story altogether….
I will always love my teams, win, loose or otherwise. But I’ve abandoned the silly “my team is the greatest no matter what” mentality that I had as a child, because as a serious sports fan, hero-worship only blinds one to the reality of the situation. That kind of fanaticism is fine for a child, but the greater reality of the situation is much more complex, and since we care deeply, it deserves our criticism as much as our love.
Cheers, and happy 4th of July.