Circle the Wagons: Part 1

A few times a year–Super Bowl time and NCAA basketball tourney time, in particular–I start seeing posts on Facebook shaming “bandwagon fans.” And every year I get ruffled over this, and I start a post expressing my annoyance, and it inevitably becomes too long for Facebook and I abandon it and dump my complaints on my husband, who, year after year, just nods/shakes his head at all the right times and all but pats me on the head. But here we are again, on the cusp of Super Bowl Sunday, and there’s that phrase again on my FB feed, and I am breaking the silence.

I did a little internet research on the meaning of “bandwagon fans” and settled on this definition: a person who supports a team only when that team is doing well, or someone who has watered down allegiance to a team or teams. I went on to read a list of “signs you are a bandwagon fan,” and I felt that same old irritation rising with each bullet, possibly because nearly every item on the list was illustrated by a photograph of Justin Bieber sporting a hat and/or jersey from a different NBA or NFL team. While this topic isn’t earth shattering, I really don’t feel like Justin Bieber is a proper representative of–well, of anything, actually, but that is beside the point. The Bieb notwithstanding, this list is filled with the same attitudes that annoy me so much on social media. A few contradict other items on the same list, and one is just downright narrow-minded. As an example, I am a bandwagon fan if I pull for a team just because I like a player on that team, if I know fewer than half the players’ names on the team, or if I support a team that is nowhere near where I was born and raised. Sorry, Russell Wilson, but I guess that means I’m done with all you Seahawks, considering I can only name you, Marshawn Lynch, and Richard Sherman, and also, because apparently I must limit my allegiance to a team somewhere between West Virginia and North Carolina. However, my fandom is also suspicious if I pull for a team that’s doing really well in a season, or if I pull for a team only during playoff time, so adios, Cam Newton and your amazing Panthers. Even though I have lived in North Carolina longer than you and the actual franchise have existed, I wasn’t really interested in football until recently when Husband sat me down and explained the rules, so technically I am not a “real” fan–of your team or anyone else’s, by this definition.

But the one that really got me was “You have no legit reason for pulling for a team.” How very vague and short sighted. Sports fans, I ask you with a genuine heart, what are these legit reasons? I really need to know. Is it familial allegiance? Because my dad loves the Celtics and NASCAR and the WVU Mountaineers, whereas I detest the NBA, period, the end; auto racing puts me to sleep; and I could really care less about the teams from a state I lived in for less than a quarter of my life, even though I was born there and both my parents, their parents, and their parents were born, bred, and raised there. I grew up in North Carolina where college basketball was practically a required subject in school. I graduated from a school system that was perfectly okay with teachers setting up televisions in their classrooms during the ACC tournament so we could keep up with tournament action while we “did our work.” I pulled for whatever team my friends were pulling for until sometime during my freshman year of college, when I decided to become an NC State fan because I was impressed with Jimmy V’s story, his ESPY speech, his coaching success, and his spirit, which seemed to define NC State, even though by then he was no longer coaching the Wolfpack. Is that a legit reason to pull for a team? That I decided to do it? Clearly I have no idea.

It will not help my case against bandwagon fan hating to confess that for a few years, a few years ago, I pulled for another college basketball team. Okay, it was UNC, and if you’re a “true” NC State fan reading this, you can scoff all you want, I really don’t care. I was friends with a number of UNC grads, and when I hung out with them and basketball was on TV, that’s who everyone was cheering for, and I Justin Biebered the heck out of the situation. I was a single mom of a toddler, and if cheering for the light blue meant that I got to hang out with adults, then so be it. When I married Trent I married back into the Wolfpack and I have not looked back. I love watching sports with my husband. Even sports I once disregarded because I didn’t really understand them: football, for example, and the occasional golf tournament. He knows things I don’t know, and he is patient in his explanations and does not make me feel excluded because I have a lot of the same questions every week. He lets it be fun for me. And the more fun it becomes, the more interested I become in the teams and the people who are on them. I love the stories. There are no stories like sports stories. And true athletes are amazing to me: it takes real talent to be elite in your sport, and so much discipline and perseverance to maintain and improve. Add humanitarian efforts, wit and intelligence, good character, and personality into the mix, and I am sold (see above re: Jimmy V). So is it any wonder that I “decided to like” the Seahawks because I adore Russell Wilson or because Richard Sherman is entertaining to watch on and off the field? Is it wrong that I will be pulling for the Panthers on Sunday, even though I pulled for the Seahawks last year and couldn’t even tell you who was playing in the Super Bowl the year before last? Will you judge me for choosing my pick for The Masters based on who has the best back story? I’m sure for some of you bandwagon fan haters, the answer to all these questions is YES.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care. There is a thrill for me in deciding to pull for a team, whether I do so when they are losing every single game or when they are poised to win it all. I form imaginary emotional bonds with players, and their enthusiasm gets inside me, propels me, excites me. I am sure I’m not alone in this. It is human nature to pick a side. Walk down a street in Charlotte, NC right now and pick out the lifelong fans over the “bandwagoners,” I dare you. You won’t be able to do it, because the excitement of picking sides looks the same, whether you’ve been on that side for one season or 20. Is that to say some of the current Panthers supporters won’t go back to pulling for, say, the Redskins or the Seahawks come Monday? Probably not, but let’s be honest–it’s a real drag to sit through the Super Bowl or the NCAA championship or any other major sporting event and not root for someone. So come April when NC State has inevitably NOT survived and advanced, I will pick a dog and will it to fight. I won’t go buy some other team’s colors, and there’s a good chance I’ll be pulling against a team just as much as I’m pulling for one (I’m looking at you, Kentucky), but I will do whatever it takes to make things interesting for me. Because that is kind of the point, no? And if that makes me guilty of wagon hopping, fine.

And just for the record: Cat Barber, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, BeeJay Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Maverick Rowan, Terry Henderson, Chris Corchiani Jr., Shaun Kirk, Chris Brickhouse, Torin Dorn, and Chase Cannon.


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