Everyone knows that one crazy guy. The one that hasn’t washed his underwear because his team is on a playoff run. The one that sits in the same position for 2 periods because that’s where he was when the team scored. Sometimes, we are all that person. We all have those crazy quirks about things that, ultimately, never have an impact on the game. This won’t be about why the way you cheer for you team is worse than the way I cheer for mine (But my team’s fans are the best fans and your team’s fans suck).
The city where I’m from loves its sports. No matter if it rains, snows, hails, or is 100 degrees, the stadium is full. There is no city better for sports than my sports’ city. I’m not here to gloat, however, because there is no place better than your city, or my city, or your country, or my country; sports fandom weaves us all together.
Growing up in Philadelphia, there are a few teams that I was taught to despise: the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Boy, do I dislike those teams. There is something about the villainy they have that makes watching them lose all the sweeter. Growing up, the Cowboys beat up on the Philadelphia Eagles pretty regularly. As for the Penguins, however, it goes deeper than that.
I have a younger brother, and what do younger brothers do to older brothers? They spend every hour annoying us, of course. If I liked the hometown team, my brother rooted for the other team. This still goes on today, but the teams have changed. Except for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I remember when I was about 6 years old the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. It didn’t matter to me much; I was, honestly, too young to care much. I just knew that the Flyers had lost. My brother, who is a year younger than I, was also too young to care. The concept of a championship was still new to us. Even when we played floor hockey down at the local YMCA or roller hockey down at Houston Playground, it never sunk in. I remember winning our first YMCA championship and just being excited to get a water ice and pretzel after the game.
Flash forward about ten years. It’s the year 2000, the Penguins and the Flyers are in the Conference Semifinals. After the Flyers dropped Games 1 and 2 to the Penguins, my brother was all smiles, rubbing it in my face that the Flyers were done. Game 3 would require overtime, but the Flyers pulled it out. Game 4 was a completely different animal. Pittsburgh scored early, and the look of joy on my brother’s face was unbearable. The Flyers, however, came back to tie the game early in the 3rd period. Once again, an important game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins needed overtime. In overtimes in the playoffs, unlike regular season overtimes, the game is played 5 on 5 for a full period length. So, just like a regulation period, the first overtime came and went. Then the second, then the third. Midway through the fourth overtime, my brother went to bed. It was getting very late and, seeing as it was a school night, my mother was pressuring us to stop watching. As they both went to bed, I convinced my mother to let me watch in my room.
The game needed a fifth overtime to get the job done. Keith Primeau beat Penguins’ goalie Ron Tugnutt to end the madness. I lost my mind, leaping up and hitting my ceiling fan, smashing the glass globe around the light bulbs, and waking up my family in the process. Needless to say, my mother was not very happy about the 2 AM wakeup call, nor was she excited about the broken glass. I tormented my brother constantly, as the Flyers went on to win the series. Of course, sadly, the New Jersey Devils knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs in the next round.
My brother and I have gone back and forth for years about why our team is better than the other. Why this is the year they win the Cup. Well, mostly why the Flyers are going to finally win a Cup (which would be their first since 1975); the Penguins have five Cups since 1991.
Rivalries Continue Outside of the Home
It can be difficult to deal with other team’s fans. There are always going to be the jerks and the drunks, but most interactions are perfectly fine. If you’re visiting a rival’s city, it’s OK to fly your team’s colors. It’s perfectly fine to cheer a goal or a great play. However, act civil and don’t be an ass about it. I have been to plenty of games where fans on both sides get out of hand. I don’t care that the guy next to me enjoys the game. I do care when you nudge me constantly and complain about everything during the game. I get that you think the nickname you have for the rival’s star player is funny, but stop shouting to the players or the guy one section over who has the other team’s jersey on. Now, I’m not against some light ribbing or soft jokes at other fans; as long as everyone is having a good time, let the jokes fly. Please, just keep it clean and easy; don’t berate a fan because they don’t like your team.
We need those other fans in the building. The rivalry doesn’t really exist without them. The two teams may hate each other on the ice but when you take off the logo on the front, everyone is the same. Look at things like Olympic hockey. Your team’s star player will play with your rival’s star player. What do you see on their faces? Hatred and contempt for each other? No, you see smiles and good sportsmanship. At the end of the day, the players enjoy playing with one another. We should feel the same way about the fans. We need that person to have fun with. It would be boring to sit in a stadium or at an event filled with only people we agreed with. I think that would take a lot of the enjoyment out of anything.
Fandom needs both sides of the coin. There will be people who you don’t like. There will be fans whom you despise, however, there will also be fans you love and miss. (S)he doesn’t need to be family, nor even a close friend. (S)he could be some random guy from the Internet. It’s good to interact with the hockey community as a whole. I think sometimes it’s too easy to try and run the same tired joke or argument, especially online. At the end of the day, I still don’t like the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’ll probably never like the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, even I have to admit that they have the best player in the world and have found great success recently. The whole NHL has been successful, really, with ratings and growth within the sport. That doesn’t happen without the fans supporting their teams. There can be no growth without the people who paint their face or dress up. That guy who hasn’t changed his underwear during a 2-week win streak is important. Just like the younger brother who sees Jaromir Jagr and decides to like his team. Hockey, like all sports, is a giant community and, while there are some terrible members, you can always wave at a neighbor who may root for your team’s rival, even during the playoffs.
All sports need their fans; we just need to realize that without the rivalries between fan bases, the whole sport fades away. I see the hatred felt for other team’s fans both in person and online, and, I’ll admit it, it’s easy to get caught up with the mob and feed the flames. However, take a moment next time you want to lay into a team’s fanbase or star player and take the logo off the front of the jersey to see the person beneath.