Don't be a Bandwagon Fan

By Glen McLaughlin

There comes a time in every person's life when you have to go with one. And by one I mean sports team. I've recently noticed or should I say I've recently been more annoyed than usual with individuals that somehow have a chicken in every pot, so to speak. Unless you are a compulsive gambler, there is no reason to have multiple teams to root for. I, myself, enjoy watching the big three of basketball, football, and baseball, in that order. I root for Notre Dame in all three categories, as well as the Chicago Cubs, Indiana Pacers, and Pittsburgh Steelers. That's it. Those are the games I have circled on my calendar. Those are the teams that bring me to the highest high and leave me time and time again in the lowest low. But I have become concerned with a developing trend among the people in my age bracket, specifically 20-25 years old.

And the trend is to have a minimum of two teams in every sport, a supposed Team A and lesser but still rooted for just as much Team B. This, to me, is the ultimate sign of disloyalty as a sports fan, and invariably, it's due to breaking the #1 rule of sports fandom. In the sports Bible handed down from generation to generation, Rule 1 clearly states and I quote, "DO NOT BE A BANDWAGON JUMPER. It's written in bold red and underlined 17 times. It's just about the only rule to being a fan. There are sub- Bibles for individual teams of course, like The Philadelphia Sports Bible, which commands its fans to boo anything that comes across their path, up to and including Santa Claus.

But in general, the only thing you have to do to be a fan is to root for one team. But this simple rule seems to be to much to ask for some people. For instance, I have a friend. His name shall be Friend A. Friend A is, like me, a Notre Dame fan. No problems so far. Friend A, however, also roots for the Florida Gators for no other reason than he lived in the state of Florida for a short time. Not in Gainesville, mind you. In the state of Florida. So by this reasoning, he must have a heck of a lot of teams to root for. FSU, FAU, USF, UCF, U of M, U of F, the list goes on and on filled with teams he should technically be rooting for in all sports due to his sound, "I lived there" reasoning. But none of that is true. He roots only for Florida. Coincidentally the most recently successful of all the Florida sports programs. Football and basketball have seen major championships recently. Florida Atlantic, on the other hand, hasn't won anything during the small period of time called ever, and therefore they get no love from Friend A. Call it what you want or try to reason it any way you can (and he has and I'm sure will continue to do so), but that's breaking Rule #1.

Don't get me wrong, I can see why people would want or even need a second team for college athletics. At last count, I believe there are 34,000 college football programs. Don't look that up. But I believe that's what makes college football fans the best of any sport. All those teams and true fans have chosen just one to give their allegiance to. What disturbs me most about Friend A is that the team he grew up cheering for is Notre Dame. One of if not THE most storied programs in history. How is that not enough? Why is it not good enough to root the Irish on every time they step on the field (granted, he does do this), but without the added bonus of a backup plan? Notre Dame has tossed up some historically bad seasons since I've been rooting for them the last 15 years, and while I complain and whine and generally make an ass of myself, I've never been tempted to find me a winning team I can root for just in case. Notre Dame's never not been enough for me. I guess the same cannot be said for some people. Go root for Florida. Just don't talk to me about Notre Dame when I know what you've got on the backburner. When your A team can play your B team and you can walk away slightly satisfied, that's not being a fan. That's being a coward.

So I guess while I'm all good and hopped up on Diet Mountain Dew with a keyboard in front of me, this would be a pretty good time to rant a little about bandwagons jumpers in general. I believe this group of people makes deserves to be lit on fire. Literal fire. With a match. Every single year, its "________ IS GOING ALL THE WAY BABY!" Oh yeah? Why do you think that? Oh right because they did it last year and you became a fan 45 seconds into the title game. Now I remember. The way I figure it, there are four distinct types of bandwagon fan, each with a very recognizable set of fans. They are, in order of annoyingness:

  1. Hardcore Shameless Bandwagoners
  2. Relatively Recent Success Bandwagoners
  3. Player Bandwagoners
  4. Historical Bandwagoners

I'm gonna go ahead and break each down for you, because I've got that kind of time.

1. Hardcore Shameless Bandwagoners

These are the people that sniff success halfway through a playoff series and proudly proclaim that, "I knew we had it in us all along!" while wiping away a single tear of fake joy. A great example would be the Florida Marlins a few years ago. Half the country all of a sudden knew who Josh Johnson was and who was batting cleanup against lefties. The Phillies are another good example. There should be no Phillies fans in Northern Indiana. There should be Cubs, Sox, Tigers, and Indians fans here. But, since those teams have won a combined two World Series in the last 300 years (don't check that either) the impatient hardcore shameless bandwagoner had to latch on to success, meaning there are Phillies fans and Boise State fans and India National Cricket Team fans. One of the most annoying sets of bandwagon fans I can remember were the 18,000 people that suddenly remembered how much they loved the Chicago Blackhawks last year when they conveniently reached the Finals. Northern Indiana collectively lost its mind and started screaming for hockey.

And let me preface this by saying I don't mind cheering for a local team to do well like the Blackhawks or Butler University. What I do mind is people that start naming players and coaches and acting like they've been secretly sneaking in 2am film reviews of the Blackhawks second line power play strategy. Where was this unbridled enthusiasm for them during their 7 month regular season? Not a word spoken about them until the conference finals roll around, then oh my it turns out you've been a huge Patrick Kane fan since 2nd grade and "dude I knew all along he was gonna be a stud I just didn't say anything because I didn't wanna jinx him". Whatever man. Did you sprain an ankle hopping on that bandwagon? I hope so.

Because success doesn't matter to these fans. Only very recent success matters. These are the worst people in the world to me and I wish nothing but unfortunate accidents upon them and their puppies.

Recognizable by: BMW belt buckle, Texas Rangers t-shirt with matching hat.

Catchphrase- "Never a doubt in my mind brah"

Texas Rangers Fans cheers

Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers fans cheer with signs prior to game five of the 2011 World Series with the Texas Rangers playing against the St. Louis Cardinals at Rangers Ballpark. Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports.

2. Relatively Recent Success Bandwagoners

The next level of bandwagoner is the relatively recent success type. Relatively recent meaning the last 7-8 years. Here's to you, Colts fans. Don't bother trying to impress me with the number of games you've won since 2003. Because I don't care. Because coincidentally, that's how long you've been a fan. Who were the three quarterbacks before Manning? No one knows. Because the Colts (or Red Sox, or TCU, or whoever else fits this category) weren't good then. The Colts ran through Baltimore like a tornado then came to Indianapolis and sucked. Sucked hard. But what's this? The wins start flowing like wine and the fans start flocking to the bandwagon in record numbers. Colts fans have attached themselves firmly to the teat of success and will suckle until it runs dry in a few years. Then how many Colts fans will be left, I wonder. 3? 8? Maybe not even that many. How many of you recognize the name Paul Justin? That's what I thought.

Recognizable by: Blank look on their face from the previous question.

Catchphrase- "We've got 422 wins, 14 conference championships, three MVP's and a Super Bowl. And that's since 2007! What have you done lately?"

3. Player Bandwagoners

This is a tricky little type of bandwagoning, because it's so easily explained away. This is when a fan of a team, say the Cavaliers, loses his favorite player for said team, say Lebron James, and becomes a fan of his new team, in this case the Miami Heat. I cannot stand this action. I am a huge Indiana Pacers fan, and I know it was because 1. They were local, and 2. I loved Reggie Miller. And yes, a little part of me died when Reggie retired, but I focused on Jermaine O'Neal and Danny Granger and moved on. When the Celtics were reportedly pursuing Reggie after he retired, I wouldn't have become a Celtics fan if he went there. I would have said good riddance Reggie and I hope you and every other Celtic die a cold lonely death.  But of course Reggie stayed retired and the Celtics got bounced from the playoffs yesterday, so all is right with the world. And as I search for a real world example for this type of bandwagoner, Friend A makes another appearance. Friend A is a Lakers fan, with no ties to L.A., no family connection, not even a flimsy "I lived there" excuse this time.

And every time I question why he's a Lakers fan, I invariably get the same answer. He claims to have liked Kobe Bryant from the minute he stepped into the NBA, and carried that love of Kobe into a fanhood of the Lakers. And before I get to the reasons why that's a bold faced lie, let me say that I root for Dirk Nowitzki. He's a big, unstoppable, 7- foot German machine of a shooter who has, to my delight, thrown up some of the craziest attempts I've ever seen and dropped them like he was playing a game of H-O-R-S-E with the other team for 48 minutes. I am of German descent, and I root for Dirk as much for his heritage as for the crazy shots he chucks up. He's probably my favorite player in the NBA right now since Reggie retired. But I don't root for the Mavericks, and I can say with no hesitation that every time his Mavs play the Pacers I'm screaming at Mike Dunleavy to take his legs out with a folding metal chair (which would be by far the most useful thing Mike Dunleavy has ever done for the Pacers, by the way). I believe that team takes precedent over player when you are a fan of two separate entities like this. But back to Friend A.  He claims to have liked Kobe since he came into the league, which I find highly doubtful. You don't just pick a random skinny kid to root for, or else he'd be a Kwame Brown fan. And he isn't. I'm not sure anyone is, come to think about it. So Kobe came into the league in 1996.

Bear in mind that Friend A has also been a Bulls fan since his early days, which I can vouch for. So during Kobe's rookie season, Friend A was so distracted by his dazzling play that Michael Jordan's Bulls putting up 69 wins couldn't even hold his attention. So I took a look at the stats to see just why Kobe drew him in. Well, he averaged 15 minutes a game and 7.6 points while starting all of 1 game. So I'm calling BS. There are many players that put up those kind of numbers and beyond, so I'm not sure what could have possibly stood out. Maybe it's that he was just so durned young, right? Well Kevin Garnett was that age when he came in, yet Friend A doesn't follow him, so it must not be that. To sum up Kobe's first three NBA seasons, he started 57 out of 200 games played and averaged just over 13 PPG combined. So numbers that any bench player in the league could probably put up. I mean, Marcus Thornton averaged 21 a game this year, and I'll bet only half of NBA fans can even tell me what team he plays for. So it wasn't the scoring. It must have been Kobe's legendary clutch plays. In his first playoff series he chucked up four airballs in a row during the fourth quarter of a game they would go on to lose.

So his early clutch factor = 0. Then the 1999-2000 season rolls around. All of a sudden, Kobe's dropping 22 a game and the Lakers are good. I mean real good, like stroll to the NBA championship good. And that's just what they did. And that, readers, is where Friend A became a fan, the minute they won that first title. And that disgusts me. He jumped on that bandwagon quicker than you could say three peat. He decided that, coming off 6 titles in 8 years with the Bulls, I need to find a player and team close enough to Jordan and his Bulls that I can coast off their success while the Bulls suck. And I'll give him credit, that's exactly what he did. He managed to hop on a bandwagon that drove into Title Town 5 times since then. Well played. Disgusting, appalling, and shameful, but well played. And it's hard to argue his bandwagoneriness with him. I'll ask why he rooted for Kobe despite dismal stats and productivity his first few years and, without fail, I'll get the ol, "I don't know I just did" defense. So what I hear, when he says that, is, "Well he sucked for a while but then he won three titles in a row and I decided to take the easy way out and hop on the bandwagon for a franchise that's been historically dominant in order to avoid any down years in my career as a fan." Hard to argue that. And Friend A is just one of the many examples I could provide of this same type of douchebaggery. The player bandwagoners are inevitably drawn to the best player on a championship team. Dwyane Wade, Kobe, Peyton Manning, Shaq, Kemba, Jeter, it doesn't matter. It's all bandwagon, all the time.

Recognizable by:  Lebron James "Witness" t-shirt and a resume of fanhood that includes at least one title every other year since they can remember.

Catchphrase- "I've loved him since the BEGINNING!"

4. Historical Bandwagoning

Here's the thing about historical bandwagoners. Everyone does it. We have no choice. If you like sports, then chances are at least one of your teams you follow is due to historical Bandwagoning. My grandpa liked the Pittsburgh Steelers when they were winning Super Bowls with Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain in the 70's. He chose to like them because they were successful and hard nosed and played the right way. He passed his views on to my dad, who passed them right along to me. So I'm a Steelers fan because my grandpa was a bandwagon hopper 40 years ago. It hurts to say, but it's true, and I'm willing to bet a lot of people have stories like that. Team X won a title; someone started rooting for that team, and 50 years later bam you root for them as a result. I catch some flak from time to time for being a Steelers fan living in Podunk, Indiana, and I've been called a BW hopper a few times, especially after their recent success. But I had to put up with Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Tee Martin, and Tommy Maddox before we finally had any kind of success. And even now my quarterback is a serial rapist, so I've got mixed feelings.

But the point is that I wouldn't trade my team for yours for all of King Midas's silver, and that's what makes me a true fan. I know I can point to any of the teams I love and give 50 concrete reasons I love that team, and none of those reasons is success. Success should be the reward for a lifetime of loyalty, not the reason to become a fan. Right Cubs? Right?

Recognizable by: Looking around and pointing to anyone.

Catchphrase- No catchphrase here. But screw you anyway Neil O'Donnell for destroying my childhood.

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