What makes a true fan? Is it being from the city or state? Is it attending the college? Is it some family connection that was passed on to you, like the many Notre Dame fans across the country? Do you have heroes on the team? Are they winners?
All great reasons to consider yourself a true fan, but I think the real test is longevity. Here’s why: If you haven’t been through the building, trading, hiring and firing of coaches, the gut-wrenching losses, switching quarterbacks, hot new shortstops, veteran players, injuries, surprising rookies, etc., you can’t possibly enjoy the euphoria a championship represents when you finally get one. That’s right – I said when you get one, because if you are a true fan with longevity, that championship is just as much yours as it is the team’s that won it.
As a little boy growing up in New York, I used to take my Pop Warner helmet and shoulder pads and head to the park to play tackle football. You weren’t allowed to wear your game jerseys, so all the kids wore big sweatshirts of their favorite teams, mostly the Giants and the Jets. Every afternoon, especially when there was snow on the ground, it was off to the park to recreate some of the great plays made by our heroes the previous Sunday.
I remember I wore a plain white sweatshirt the first couple of times out. Suddenly feeling out of place, I begged my mom to get me a football sweatshirt with a number on it. For whatever reason, she returned with a gold sweatshirt with a big, maroon #9 on it, representing Sonny Jurgenson of the Washington Redskins. I can’t tell you how many years I owned that sweatshirt or whatever happened to it. But I can tell you this: From that very first time I put it on, I became a Washington Redskins fan and have been to this day.
I did not grow up in D.C., I did not pick them because they just won a championship, and I did not have a family connection to the team. But I have been a fan for as long as I can remember football. From the rah rah days of George Allen through championships with John Riggins, the Fun Bunch, Theisman and full circle with Coach Gibbs, I have been there week in and week out. I can remember the team being awful, but I can also remember the first Super Bowl victory. What a thrill to finally win after all those years. To me that’s what makes you a true fan. You have to put in the time with the ups and downs.
So the next time someone tells you they’re a true fan, ask ’em one simple question: “How long have you been a fan?” If they haven’t put in the time, toss ’em a bag of nuts and tell ’em to get back with you on that.