Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sports Fans

It's been a while since Ted and I established this blog and I realize there have been zero posts having anything to do with sports. This is sad, since the world of sports occupies such a prominent spot in my life. It's usually fun to be a fan of Chicago teams, which I am. Even though they have a tendency to disappoint, they're still not as disastrous as, say, teams from Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love celebrated its last championship, in any sport, in 1980. How much does that suck? Any friend my age who's a fan of Philadelphia sports has not been alive for any championship, which is sad. Although I cannot say I was really conscious of the Bears winning in 1986, or even the Bulls' string of victories in the 90s, I can still lay claim to them. Being a fan of often-disappointing but occasionally successful teams breeds a curious sense of loyalty. Like the Cubs, they're the "Loveable Losers." Most Cubs fans would probably prefer their team to win consistently rather than melt down in Game 6 of the NLCS, but the fact that they do melt down so often makes each season such an exciting roller coaster ride.

Anyway, I was reading
Bill Simmon's column on Page 2
, and in his most recent article he wrote about the power of fans at sporting events. Here's Bill's interesting first paragraph:

"It's easy to discount the spiritual impact of basketball crowds if you haven't attended a playoff game with special fans before. There's no way to understand it unless it definitely has happened to you. Then you know. As strange as this sounds, it's like a woman being unable to tell whether she's ever had an orgasm. If she thinks it might have happened, or it felt like it kind of happened one time ... it didn't happen. When it happens, they know. Then they feel stupid for all the other times when they thought it had happened."

Perhaps I'm like the poor, suffering example he gives, but I feel like I've been around a good crowd before. Although, he's right, I can definitely see how you would just feel it if you were in the presence of an amazing crowd. And maybe I haven't felt it. But this led me to the question: Do sports fans make a big difference in games? Or, more specifically, do you need "special" fans to make a real difference. According to Bill, he and his fellow fans "swung the outcome of six series ('81 Sixers, '84 Lakers, '87 Bucks, '87 Pistons, '88 Hawks and '91 Pacers)". Quite a hefty claim. The one example Bill gives of the kind of things a "special" fan does is this: "These are the fans who instinctively understand stuff like, 'Mickael Pietrus just threw down a ridiculous putback; I'm going to stand and keep cheering for an extra 30 seconds because he's a young kid and we need to keep pumping him up so he'll do it again.'"

This doesn't really sway me, though. I mean, what's the difference between 30,000+ Angels fans screaming all the time at the top of their lungs with those damn thundersticks and the supposedly great Golden State fans at Oracle Arena? Sounds like the same noise to me. I know what Simmons means when he says that "real fans" don't follow the directions on the big screen, don't need to be told how to cheer, but really I think it just all comes down to the noise. Perhaps you could say something about the dedication. Cubs fans at Wrigley get up to cheer for specific at-bats more often than any other fanbase I've seen. The character of the stadium and the city contribute as well. For instance, would you want to be an NFL player and go to Cleveland, where they throw shit at you on the field and destroyed their own stadium after Art Modell sold them out? Not me. It's not necessarily the experience of the fans but their intensity. Yankees fans, Red Wings fans, Bears fans.. they're all probably very in tune with their teams and well-versed in the history of the franchises, but I wouldn't say it's scary to play baseball in NYC, hockey in Detroit or football at Soldier Field. A great time, for sure, but I don't know if the fans affect the game.

Bottom line, Bill Simmons is just a little too nostalgic about those classic series he attended. The only (or at least only major) requirement to be an effective crowd is too make enough noise to disrupt the other team, be it calls for a quarterback or signals for a pitcher.