Sunday, January 24, 2010. 11:51 PM.
I am a True Fan, and I have no choice. I sat in my seat and I watched. I watched a team of men clad in purple. I watched because the results of their effort would somehow define who I was.
I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to those who are not True. Maybe even a little sad, or pathetic. It is all of those things. Those of us who are True know this. We know that it is silly for a grown person to be so wrapped up in the local sports team that your actual self worth depends on their continued success. That is why we pretend that it doesn’t really matter. We try not to get too attached, reminding ourselves of years past, and the heartache that we’ve suffered.
But the True Fan cannot help himself. He sneaks glances, hoping no one knows, at the goings on during the off season. He does his best to ignore the excitement he feels when the front office puts another piece in place: the best offensive guard in the game suddenly signs as a free agent. A Heisman trophy candidate falls in the draft due to a late injury, and we snap him up. A pro-bowl defensive end is secured in his prime because his current team views him as “a young man at risk”.
We even delude ourselves into believing that the young quarterback, hand-picked by the new coach out of an obscure college, will suddenly fulfill all the promise at which his athleticism hints. Stranger things have happened; plenty of players have come from such backgrounds, been overlooked by other teams and gone on to great things, why not him, why not our team, why can’t it happen for ME??
But no. Another season slips by, another umpteen articles and press conferences, phrases like “potential” and “learning curve” fill the eyes and ears of the True Fan like salt in a festering wound. Because as one piece of the puzzle “develops” the other pieces grow old, and the window once again begins to close.
And then, a whisper. The whisper become rumor. And suddenly, a white knight in a black Escalade has descended as if out of a dream, and is actually among us. The True Fan is gripped by a combination of glee and foreboding. Speculation abounds. Talk of old age, past injuries, and a “skism” fill the air, and the True Fan clings to his doubt like a security blanket. But inside him something percolates like Kilimanjaro, and try has he might, he cannot ignore it: HOPE.
Having not watched a pre-season game in 11 years, he sits through all four, riveted. He listens as the talking heads discuss “timing” and “managing the game”. The true fan studies every move of the white knight, looking for evidence to convince himself NOT to be sucked in. He IS old. He WAS injured. He himself seems to doubt his staying power. But there is something there.
The media bombards the airwaves with the famous scene of the white knight from his younger days sprinting across the field, helmet raised, celebrating another impossible victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and questions if he can still do it. Others point out that he won’t have to, as on this team his role is different. Counter arguments abound, the white knight will be unable to accept a lesser role, handing the ball off, he will surely bristle under this coach’s demand for control. In his dreams at night, the True Fan sees the famous scene play out, but green slowly dissolves into purple…
Two games of doing exactly what was talked about: managing the game, handing the ball off, fitting in, leads to 2 victories. But then, week three. An up and coming team, and up and coming coach, a game plan. A hard fought battle, but with seconds remaining, a loss seems certain. But the white knight does not lose. He is NOT old! He is NOT injured! He is absolutely magical, as he has always been! VICTORY! The True Fan throws off his cloak of shame, all doubt is forgotten, and he is once again a believer! This is the key piece, legendary and at full power. He will lead us to victory, and finally all the pain and humiliation of years past will be wiped away forever. The True Fan thinks this. He actually does.
But then the day ends, and there is nothing but emptiness. The other fans, those who are not True, will speak of moral victories, of coming so far, and how they did their best. The True Fan cannot speak. He cannot think. He can only feel. Black. Empty. Pain.
And then the demons come. The True Fan is haunted by the demons. And the closer the team gets to ultimate prize, the harder the demons laugh. Our offense outgains the opposition by 250 yards. The highest octane offense in the league is completely stuffed, held to 7 points in the second half by our defense. Having had no games all season where we gave the ball away 3 times, tonight it was five. FIVE! And yet, despite the ridiculous turnovers, the missed opportunities, the dropped interceptions, despite EVERYTHING, we were right there, seconds remaining, victory within our grasp. And then, the demon’s master stroke. It was the white knight himself, after a season so magical, so powerful, so magnificent, had us all believing he was no longer subject to the lapses of his youth, who turned at that moment, and drove the dagger through our hearts.
To the demons, this is the pinnacle of high comedy. To the bandwagon fans, these “ironies” are evidence that “it wasn’t meant to be,” and “it just wasn’t our year.” For the True Fan they are sign-posts on an all too familiar road to the depths of hell.
Eventually, the demons fade, returning to the shadows from whence they came. They know that the relative brevity of their stay serves to intensify their haunting efforts, leaving the True Fan to wait in paralyzing fear for their inevitable return. As they withdraw, and with their cackling laughter still ringing in the ears of the True Fan, the demons speak. The words, while comforting to, and often parroted idiotically by the average fan, send a cold shiver down the spine of the True. They envelope his soul in their cold embrace, delivering the message that to the True Fan is nothing more, or less, than a dark, hateful promise of agonizing pain that is yet to come: “Just wait till next year.”
I am a True Fan. And I have no choice.