A few days ago, I wrote a post about Jerry Sullivan's most recent Sunday column. Someone (hi, Joe!) asked me in the comment section, "What do you want Sully to write?" I think the comment I wrote in response to Joe was actually much, much better than the initial post. I don't know if everyone who reads this blog reads the comments (for the record, I would love for you to because I think we get some really neat discussions going there sometimes) so I'm going to post the comment here with a few tweaks and additions. I know that some of you are probably tired of reading me criticize the Buffalo News and honestly, I'm getting pretty tired of doing it so I'm hoping this will be my last word about it for the season.
So, what do I want Sully (and Bucky) to write?
I want Sully and Bucky to write whatever they want about the Sabres but I want them to stop dragging fans into it. Fans have one job: Cheer for the team whenever and however they choose. If the owner doesn't care about winning, that's on the owner. If the GM is an idiot, that's on the GM. If the team signed the wrong players, that's on the guys who evaluate talent. If management is happy to just make money, that's on management. If Larry Quinn and Tom Golisano are businessmen who don't care about anything but business that's on.
Would me not buying tickets send them a message? I don't know, maybe. But I shouldn't have to do that if I don't want to. It's not my job to make the team better, it's not my job to change the talent, it's not my job to make trades and sign free agents. If there are fans out there who want to pull all their financial support from the team, great, I think that's fine. I'm completely sick of the local paper making me a bad guy for choosing not to do that. I don't want to do that. I want to go to as many games as I can, I want to watch the rest on TV, I want to go to Puck Drop and get autographs, I want to buy a new Sabres hoodie, a car flag for my car, and a new jersey. And yes, I absolutely want to do all that AND complain about the team. I'm a fan so I can do that because there are no rules on how to be a fan. None of that makes me culpable in the team's mediocrity. Sully and Bucky are right about some things. (Some.) They are not right about the fans. They are so far off on the fans that I'm pretty close to never touching another copy of the Buffalo News.
I understand people getting to a point where they feel like a franchise is jerking them around and just throwing in the towel. I do. But I'm not there. I haven't gotten there with the Pirates (and that's 17 years of losing seasons and counting) and it'll be a long while before I get there with the Sabres. I don't think I should be lectured for that.
Please understand that I'm only speaking for myself here, but as much as I would love to see one of my teams win a major championship, my fandom is about so much more than winning and losing. When I watch the current Pirates squad, I'm remembering Andy Van Slyke and Jay Bell and Doug Drabek and falling head over heels in love with a sports team for the first time. I'm thinking about family vacations to Pittsburgh and how one of the clearest memories of my childhood is driving out of the Fort Pitt tunnel and seeing the bridges and buildings explode seemingly out of nowhere, lights reflecting off the rivers. I'm seeing my mom, exhausted from a long week of work and night classes, loading me and Lee in the car and driving from Birmingham to Atlanta because I really, really, really wanted to see the Pirates play in person and I'm seeing John Smiley warming up just below our seats and remembering how I thought that was surely the greatest night of my life. I'm thinking about my dad and how much I miss him and how much I wish I could go see a game at PNC Park with him. I'm watching Andrew McCutchen and hoping that he's the future we've been waiting for, finally arrived.
And while my connection to the Sabres doesn't go back as far, it's very similar. When I watch the Sabres, I'm falling in love with Buffalo again and remembering how I finally felt at home here. I'm remembering good times out with friends and family. I'm thinking about how awesome it was to find myself completely taken with a team and a sport that I barely knew existed for most of my life.
Even when the team you're watching isn't very good - and come on, give us some credit, we know when our teams aren't good - if you're paying attention you still catch the beautiful things about sports. The bare-handed grab and the perfectly turned double play, the throw from the wall in center field to home plate, the pitch that breaks so suddenly and sharply that the batter is frozen in place even after the catcher has jogged off the field, the screaming puck being tipped into the net at just the right angle, a desperate 5-on-3 penalty kill.
I don't say all this to say, "Look at me, I'm such a great fan!" because I'm willing to bet that just about everyone reading this right now could write their own version of the above paragraphs. I say it all to make the point that fandom is emotional and sentimental and because of those things, it's often irrational. It's, as John Updike wrote, rational people feeling indefensible hope. It's not a political statement, it's not a chip to be slapped down on the table, it's not something you shut on and off at will. For me, my fandom is too personal and deep-seated for that and Sully and Bucky continuously talking to me as if I should just toss all that aside to make a point is insulting and I think it shows a glaring lack of respect and understanding for the people - fans - who are reading what they're writing.
So there you go. I want Sully and Bucky to write whatever they want to write about the Sabres and the Bills, whether it's concerning the players or the people in the front office. But I want them to leave me and everyone who still feels an irrational, emotional connection to those teams out of it. I really don't think that's asking too much.