Hi everyone, my name is Sasuke. For the sake of mystery and allure, I will keep my real name to myself. Still, I would like to begin my first piece for AIH with an anecdote; one which may resonate with a number of other readers on the site.
On about two dozen occasions over the past several months, I have found myself in a familiar state: seated by the TV screen, a beer in one hand, my baby on my lap in the other, shouting all sorts of profanity, cursing the names of Ondrej Pavelec and Claude Noel as the Winnipeg Jets continually failed to meet expectations.
My wife, in what can only be called a reasonable query would regularly ask, "if it makes you so angry, why don't you stop watching?"
My response takes a consistent form: it is more worth it for me to experience the anger that comes with emotional investment than to hide away from it. After all, without risking the anger of frustration, there is no chance to experience the joy of happiness. And I can honestly say that even idle day dreams about the Jets making the playoffs or winning the cup inevitably bring a smile to my face.
So, I decided for my first piece to discuss the nature of fandom, especially in a "losing culture" like the one experienced by Jets' fans. As a life-long Jets fan (both 1.0 and 2.0), supporting a seemingly hopeless franchise becomes almost second nature. However, awhile back, I had the pleasure of living in Los Angeles for three years, all of which featured a championship winning season – two for the Lakers, and one for the Los Angeles Kings – and it gave me my first experience of being in a "winning" culture. What struck me the most during my time in L.A. was the sense of entitlement fostered by a slew of successful franchises.
"We lost the championship?! Let's burn this city to the ground!" The mentality was shocking!
At the same time, the preconditions for this kind of "winning" culture weren't so hard to figure out.
Big market team + money + mass media + rabid fanbase + a championship history = spoiled fans
Easy enough math. What was harder for me to rationalize was my own fan culture. Why would I continue to support a losing franchise? Moreso, how did I come to look at "winning" cultures with disdain, borderline pity? After all, these people seemed to gain no real pleasure from casual fandom – winning was the only thing that brought any real positive emotions. As a Jets' fan, just the idea of having a team was a blessing. An attempted explanation of our own "losing" culture seemed appropriate.
In a great piece, TJ Maughan talked about the central place of "hope" in fandom. Hope is a crucial motivating factor behind any long term dedication to a sports franchise – and the worse the franchise, the more hope becomes the only consolation for fans. At the same time, I still feel like there needs to be something – some concept – propelling that hope.
I think community member J-CA, said it best in a recent comment. I liked it so much, I just had to quote it in full:
Do You Have CUSS?
Chronic Underdog Supporter Syndrome. Not only do I seem to like to have my heart broken by the teams I support, if they finally get better I seem to lose interest in them. I can offer no rational explanation for this.
I think this CUSS concept completely captures my own approach to sports fandom. Not only do I feel compelled to support the underdog – especially MY underdog – and not only do I tend to lose interest when the teams I like get good, but the act of becoming good often feels like a betrayal – like selling one's soul. Why? Because, as the great writers here have emphasized a number of times, hockey is a talent-based game. More talent = better team = more wins. That means that there is nothing better for a team than to acquire the best talent and to utilize it effectively.
So why does that feel like such a betrayal? Why do I prefer to root for the underdogs in spite of the fact that they seem to be doing things incorrectly?
Here culture is so important. We are not the first generation to have underdog sports stories in the media (Bad News Bears, anyone?), but my childhood perfectly aligns with a number of Hollywood hits that I think helped form the ideal sports narrative in my brain. These movies – Mighty Ducks, Major League, Angels in the Outfield, Rookie of the Year, The Replacements – generally embraced a rag-tag group of underachievers who, through good leadership and the utilization of their latent talents, manage to overcome the odds and win stuff. I never grew up seeing myself as the prodigious superstar who conquers sports at every level; rather, I embraced the loveable underdog who gives the talented bully his/her just-desserts.
It doesn't stop at loveable underdogs, however. This movies go beyond embracing the "losers"; they actively place the talented, high-priced superstar as the archetypal villain. All of the Mighty Ducks' foes were bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than the Ducks. The villain of Major League II is the big off-season acquisition who saw himself as being above the loser franchise. In The Replacements, the line-crossing MVP quarterback proves too selfish and arrogant to lead his team and is replaced by Keanu Reeves in the big game.
In all of these cases, big-time stars are seen as the bad guys, and those that kowtow to them as "selling out". If the Jets announced tomorrow that they had managed to acquire Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Duncan Keith, and Tuukka Rask in a series of breakthrough trades, more than a few of us would see it as a type of selling of the soul – a George Steinbrenner move. Aren't we just the Yankees, then, buying our championships instead of "earning" them? I am not sure what earning them necessarily means in this case, but by golly, I will not let my team sell its soul for the want of a Stanley Cup.
I don't know if I regret my CUSS. I think it makes being a fan a gruelling experience, but one whose rewards could be the ultimate in fan satisfaction. At the same time, I think it important to ask ourselves what we would want our Jets team to do. What kind of Jets do we want? To each of us, what is a prudent managerial move, and what would threaten our team with spiritual crisis?
Either way, I think many more nights of Beer, Baby, and Profanity (BBP) are in my future.