How does a fan become a fan? I was very young when I “became” a Yankees fan, and, as such, I don’t quite remember how it happened. Whenever someone asks me, I generally reference one main contributing factor that may have led to the best (unimportant) decision of my life. But who’s to say that this is the actual reason?
The main justification that I use is that my uncle played for the Yankees intermittently from 1986-1989, when I was 6-9 years old. Although this is more of a significant reason than the average fan may have, I don’t ever remember seeing him pitch live, which is probably because he played about 3,000 miles away and television distribution in the ’80s wasn’t what it is today.
I do remember that whenever my cousins and I got together and played RBI Baseball on Nintendo we always argued over who would be the AL All-Star team because this was the only way to get a Yankee player—Donnie Baseball—on your team. [In the late '80s, mind you, the Yankees fielded some of the worst teams in its history. Consequently, Nintendo felt compelled to leave the entire organization out of the game. I couldn't say I blamed them since the game was called RBI Baseball and the Yankees (outside of Mattingly, of course) consistently had the fewest RBIs in the league during those years, but without New York in the game, baseball fans in general were deprived of other Yankee greats such as Willie Randolph, Dave Winfield, and, of course, my uncle.] Anyway, I use these lousy teams as an arguing point that I’m not a band wagon fan because who would have jumped on a band wagon that was missing three wheels and an axle?
Once this base was established, my fanaticism was solidified when the Yanks returned to glory in an improbable World Series win that saw them overcome an 0-2 series deficit against the Braves in 1996, winning their first title since 1978. I remember Wade Boggs riding around the field at Yankee Stadium on the back of a police horse and the bitter-sweet feeling that Mattingly wasn’t there to do the same after retiring in 1995.
The rest of that dynasty was incredible as well, although I was out of the country for the 1999 and 2000 championship runs and had to relearn the team and renew my passion when I returned in May of 2001. It wasn’t difficult, however, as the Yankees took the city of New York, and seemingly the entire country, on its back after the attacks of Sept 11 as it marched through the postseason, coming back from an 0-2 series deficit to the Athletics and then just destroying a Seattle Mariners team that had won a major league record 116 regular season games. Even though the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series in as dramatic a fashion as there can be in baseball, I was enamored with the series and was never prouder to be a Yankees fan after their consecutive come-from-behind wins in Games 4 and 5 at Yankee Stadium. I still maintain that the 2001 World Series was the greatest World Series I’ve ever seen despite the crushing loss in Game 7.
This last championship in 2009 was great to see after the 2003 World Series loss at home to a wild-card Marlins team, the debacle in 2004, consecutive first-round defeats in 2005-2007, and missing the playoffs altogether in 2008. I understand that not many teams see as much winning or success as the Yankees do, and I cringe when anyone complains how long it’s been since the last championship, but I realized with this most recent World Series victory how difficult it is for a team to not only make the postseason but also win the whole thing.
Now as a 29-year-old adult, I am much more cognizant of how I, as a casual observer, have become a fan of any one team or sport, such as the New York Giants. While there were several contributing factors that led to becoming a fan of the New York Yankees, I was certainly at a much more impressionable age than I am now, and as such, it’s been interesting to see the developmental process of how I now root for a team in a sport I didn’t grow up watching or much less care about until a few years ago. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my rooting interest for the Giants runs very deep or that I use them for much more than a bridge between the World Series and Spring Training, but I enjoy some of the players and have really come to appreciate the level of talent it takes to be in the NFL.
Because I’m a Yankees fan, I listen to a lot of New York sports talk radio. One of the main interviews each week during the NFL season in Eli Manning, who, in my opinion, received so much unfair negative criticism when he was drafted. To use a misunderstood cliché, I really liked the cut of his jib and started rooting for him just because of how he accepted the unreasonable expectations and deflected a lot of the negativity and monotonous, repetitive questions by the New York media and Giants alike.
Anyway, as I started making time to watch each of the Giants games in 2007, I was impressed by Manning’s leadership on Sunday and looked forward to his interviews the next day on Monday. I enjoyed following the team throughout the postseason run, and, like the rest of NFL fans, I was absolutely blown away when the Giants shocked the undefeated New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl that year. Again, I don’t think my fanaticism for the Giants will ever run as deep as it is for the Yanks, but it was certainly solidified with the improbable, upset victory in Super Bowl XLII.
So, using both of these examples, how does one become a fan? I think like anything in life, something or someone becomes stronger when faced with adversity, whether it’s deserved or not. Without getting too dramatic about sports, which is, after all, a form of entertainment, my fanaticism for both the Yankees and Giants went through relative adversity. First with the Yanks in the early ’80s as they stunk, which was even more painful since my uncle was on the team, and second with Manning and the Giants and undeserved criticism was heaped upon him for the most part.
But, again with the dramatics aside, both teams rose from the depths and persevered. In 1996, an overacheiving Yankees team overcame great odds to win the World Series. Likewise, in 2007, the wild-card Giants won three consecutive games on the road (Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay) just to reach the Super Bowl and face arguably the greatest NFL team ever in the Patriots. But with an incredible drive late in the fourth quarter, led by the once-maligned Manning, the Giants scored with under a minute remaining and gave New England its one and only loss on the season. Manning would go on to win the Super Bowl MVP.
Again, who knows what any of this means. In light of bandwagons and front-runners, this is all just a way to be able to explain away one’s passion without appearing to be a total flake. In any case, Let’s go Yankees!
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