Recently, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title. (That’s basketball, for those of you who are sports impaired.) The Mavericks started playing basketball in the 1980-1981 season. They’ve been playing and trying for 30 years, and they have finally won their first championship. I’m happy for their fans. (The jerks!)
A few days later, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the award given to the NHL champion. (That’s hockey.) The last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup was after the 1971-1972 season. Die hard Bruin fans have waited 39 years for a championship. I’m happy for their fans. (The cretins!)
I can understand what those Bruins fans have gone through (except for the winning part.) It was sometime around 1971 or 1972 that I truly became a sports fan. That’s when I got a favorite team of my very own. (Because my brother made me.)
My brother is four years older than me. He knew everything about sports, and his favorite team was the Green Bay Packers. So, of course, my favorite team was the Green Bay Packers. Until my brother told me to get my own team. I was five and he was nine, and he was tired of me copying everything he did. So, I had to get a new team. A team of my own.
At the time, I had a shirt that was a non-descript sports jersey. It was a white shirt with the number “88” in red on the front and back. Apparently I liked the shirt, because when my brother told me I had to get a new team, I asked him, “Who is someone who wears the number 88?” My brother responded, “Alan Page.” I asked, “Who does he play for?” “The Minnesota Vikings.” So, I declared, “Well, then, that’s my favorite team.” And I’ve been stuck with them ever since.
(Looking back, I realize it could have been worse. My brother could have answered the “88” question with Charlie Sanders, and I would have been stuck with the Detroit Lions for all these years!)
It hasn’t been easy being a Vikings fan for the past four decades. They’ve almost always been good, but they’ve never been good enough. Every year starts with the promise that maybe this is the year they’ll finally win the championship. And every year ends with disappointment, and sometimes even heartache.
It was especially difficult being a Vikings fan as a kid in the 1970s. They were a great team, but they just couldn’t win it all. In a four year stretch they went to three Super Bowls. They lost all three. (Badly.) I learned at a young age how to accept losing. (A good skill to have, growing up as a nerd and a loser.)
The Vikings only made me cry twice. The first came in the 1973 season. The Vikings had started the season with nine straight wins, and they were playing on Monday Night Football. They were unbeaten, so I thought they were unbeatable. They lost to the Atlanta Falcons. (Really? The Falcons?) I was seven years old, and I cried. The second time I cried, I was eight years old and the Vikings lost the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I thought they would win. They didn’t. The Vikings have lost a lot of heartbreaking games since then, but I haven’t cried. (I’ve yelled, cursed, thrown things, and told their coach to do things that are anatomically impossible, but I haven’t shed any tears.)
So, as a Vikings fan I’ve had almost 40 years of futility watching the NFL. But, hey, there’s always basketball, right? Nope. I’m also a Utah Jazz fan. The Jazz are very similar to the Vikings: always good, but never quite good enough. (Plus they both wear hideous purple uniforms.)
Although they moved to Utah from New Orleans in 1979, it wasn’t until they surprised everyone with a division title in the 1983-84 season that the Jazz endeared themselves to the locals. Since then they’ve only had two losing seasons, if you define “losing season” as losing more games than they won. However, if you define “losing season” as not winning the championship, they’ve had nothing but.
Between the Vikings and Jazz, I’ve accumulated over 65 seasons of championship futility as a fan. (I don’t care enough about hockey to have a favorite team. And, I don’t follow baseball as closely as the NFL and NBA, but my favorite team is the Seattle Mariners.) (The Mariners are similar to the Vikings and Jazz, but without as much purple in their uniforms.)
So, every season, as the playoffs approach, once my team is eliminated (and they always are), I find myself rooting for the other teams that have had long championship droughts. I cheered for the Red Sox in 2004 and the White Sox the year after. I was happy for the Saints a couple of years ago, even though they beat my Vikings on the way to their championship. And I was happy for the Mavericks and the Bruins this year.
I feel genuine happiness for the fans of these franchises, because I know what it’s like to wait for years for a title. But then, I also feel a little disdain. Jealousy rears its ugly head, and I think, “why is it never my team?”
In the end, all I’m left with is “maybe next year.” That’s why I still watch. Now that I have an actual life, with a wife and kids and everything, I don’t have as much time to watch the games as I used to when I was single. But, I’ve got to keep watching. I’ve invested so many hours, so much heartbreak and disappointment, that I’ve got to be there to feel the joy and triumph when one of my teams actually, finally, inevitably wins it all. (It is inevitable, isn’t it?)