Tuesday, November 6, 2007

On Being a Fan

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts! Today, Bucky Gleason strikes again (I know, I know...)

Once upon a time, I, Heather B, wanted to grow up to be a sports journalist. It's true. I loved to write and I loved sports, particularly baseball. Seemed like a perfect mix, no? I wrote for my high school paper and went off to college, jumping into journalism with both feet. But a funny thing happened on the way to the press box. I started meeting sports writers and they were the most miserable people on the face of the earth. I can understand the desire to let wide-eyed aspiring journalists in on the realities of their desired careers - the pay is usually not good, the traveling is tiring, athletes are often not what their reputations suggest - but people in sports were hands down the most negative journalists I came in contact with and they were often almost gleeful in that negativity. They didn't seem to enjoy what they were doing at all.

Which brings me to Bucky Gleason. Listen, fellow bloggers, I'm trying really hard to avoid Bucky but you all keep writing really entertaining and insightful entries about his columns, almost forcing me to read his stuff. I'm going to ignore a lot of the content that has already been addressed - check out Bfloblog, The Goose's Roost, and Getting Caught from Behind for some good responses - but I do want to say something about being a fan. Because I really think Bucky, like many sports journalists, has gotten so focused on being a professional (i.e. NOT a fan) that he's forgotten why he became a sports writer in the first place. That is assuming that at some point young Bucky actually liked sports. So here goes:

Should we be grateful that we have pro sports franchises? Yes, damn straight we should. There are roughly 18,000 cities, towns, and villages in the United States. There are 122 franchises in the 4 major sports. Two of those franchises are in Buffalo. I've mentioned before that I grew up in a state - Alabama - with no pro sports presence. Trust me, for a sports fan, that stinks. Living in Buffalo is like a different world. Those of you who have been fortunate enough to live in a city like Buffalo all your lives (Bucky), may not realize this but you have a gift. It's a gift to be able to drive 10-20 minutes down the road to watch an NHL and NFL level team play week after week. It's a gift to have teams that represent your city. Not the city on the other side of the state, not the next state over, your city, the one you work in and live in and love. It's awesome that 8 weeks out of the year, football fans can hang out together in the parking lot of a football stadium tucked in a little local suburb like Orchard Park, crack open the beverages of their choice, and forget about the real world for a few hours. It's awesome that hockey fans can take over restaurants and bars downtown and do the same thing. And the fact that some of us still choose to do that even when the teams are struggling doesn't make us losers, it makes us fans. Because that's what fans do, they find things to cheer for. If you're only going to cheer for the Bills or the Sabres when they're winning, hey, whatever, more room in the parking lot for the rest of us. But to say there's something wrong with those of us who show up to watch losing teams is ignorant.

I personally think there's something sweet and charming about this year's Bills team and I'm not even really that into football. They've been given every reason to give up - they watched a still and silent teammate get carted off the field in week one, their defense has been decimated by injuries, they lost a couple of last second heart-breakers, they've gone back and forth (and back and forth) between two quarterbacks, they're playing .500 ball. But even in the middle of all that, there's plenty for a fan to root for: This is a team full of heart and scrap, a team that seems to genuinely like each other. It's a team that's at .500 even though it lost three of its first four games. It's a team with good young talent on both sides of the ball, particularly in Marshawn Lynch and Paul Posluszny. You can argue that management hasn't provided all the pieces needed to really be competitive and maybe that's true. But the guys on the field don't have any control over that stuff and it doesn't make them any less worthy of my applause and support. It may sound dumb, but I was so proud to be a Buffalonian during the Bills Monday Night Football game. Watching a beat-down, average team fight tooth and nail against a team that was supposed to blow them out and seeing and hearing that crazed, full-capacity crowd urge them on, no matter how much they'd lost up to that point? That's the good stuff right there. Is it as much fun as watching the Patriots march toward an undefeated season? No, probably not. Would I rather watch the Bills win a Super Bowl than just barely lose a regular season game? Of course. But that loss was beautiful in its own way.

Bucky treats fans who talk about "thick and thin" a little snidely in his column, but being there through thick and thin makes a fan a fan. Being there for the bad is what makes the good so good. Watching Ryan Miller drag his team through the playoffs last year was more special for those of us who remember the kid who cried during a post-game interview a few years ago. Watching Brian Campbell tear up the NHL in the first half of last season (and for the haters, Brian did have a great first half) was even more enjoyable for those of us who remember him struggling to stick at the NHL level. And if the Bills or Sabres ever do win a championship, it's going to be that much sweeter for those of us who can say we were watching the Bills during that emotional topsy-turvy season back when Marshawn and Poz were rookies or pulling for that young Sabres team that was struggling to find a new identity after losing Briere and Drury.

I'm a fan and I hope I'm always a fan. I want a Stanley Cup or a Super Bowl as much as the next person, but I also know those things are tough to accomplish and that sometimes, the joy is in the journey. A sports fan who lives and dies only for a championship is probably going to be a pretty unhappy sports fan. I don't ever want to lose that little piece of my heart that's whispering, "Who says the Bills can't beat the Patriots? Stranger things have happened" or "When all is said and done, the Sabres are going to be just fine." Because I think it's that little piece of your heart that always believes that makes sports beautiful.

16 comments:

Kate said...

Heather, this is an incredible and beautiful post. Bravo. Seriously.

amy said...

I think we in Buffalo do take a lot for granted when it comes to our sports teams, and sometimes we do need someone to tell us we have it pretty darn good. Thank you for that.

Great post and a good counteraction to Bucky's negativity.

Mark B said...

I'm sitting here feeling awfully proud at being your husband.

Absolute perfect post.

Meg said...

Great post, Heather! You're like the anti-Bucky.

Gambler said...

Beautiful post, Heather. I was actually thinking this as I read that stinker of a Bucky column, but you wrote it way better than I could have.

Justin said...

You hit it right on. I remember back in the fall of '05 coming out of the lock-out when I told my little brother that the Sabres would have a good year. I wasn't sure if they'd make the playoffs, but I figured at least they'd have a year to build off of. He laughed at me, but by December he came around (as with the rest of WNY) I certainly enjoyed the season more than he did.

I'm glad I don't live in the Buffalo area -- I don't have to worry about seeing the crap that Bucky shovels out.

DCThrowback said...

Totally agree. We are lucky - thanks for summing it up so nicely.

jonhoepfinger said...

You've summed up how all of us feel..

These sportswriters are so detached, who knows if thats a good thing for the job, they don't know how the real fan feels. This comes through in the work, which doesn't express the fan sentiment at all.

Talkin_Proud said...

Woah. You're tuggin' at the ole heart strings here.

I can't always remove my emotions to be critical of the facts so thats where sports writers come in. But obviously Bucky has gone too far. He fails to realize that regardless of the outcome, a night out is a night out. Don't make fun of the way I choose to spend my money.

What happened to the lovable Bucky who once was struggling to train for a 5K race?

andrew said...

Wonderful post, Heather. Seriously great stuff.

Joseph said...

I think it got a little dusty in my office while I was reading this... It's so hard to articulate what it feels like to be a fan, you did a great job putting it into words.

I just can't understand how the Buffalo News allows opinions pieces like Bucky's and Sullivan's to continue unchecked. It seems to me they run the risk of alienating the readership.

Pookie said...

Because I think it's that little piece of your heart that always believes that makes sports beautiful.

This post gave me chills. Seriously. Great work, Heather!

beaker said...

Outstanding post. As a life long Sabres fan that currently lives in a city without any professional sports, it really bothers me when someone as ignorant as Bucky gets down on true fans for maintaining our support.

RJ said...

Quite simply, yes.

I'm sorry I didn't read this sooner.

Becky said...

Ditto...Wonderfully written and expressive of the real fans everywhere!

Anonymous said...

Completely 100% spot on. well-written and true.

More tickets for the rest of us!

-Aaron