Sports fandom is not rational, yet the yearning for a team and its animal logo remains a precious thing that gets passed down from generation to generation.
It was the same experience for me, except my father's sports allegiances and proclivities are even more bizarre than your average fan's. But over the years I've come to understand and appreciate it all. With Father's Day approaching, I took a moment to reflect on how he's shaped my sports identity. He's 66, I'm 33, and this is what I've learned:
1. Honor superstitions, even at a cost
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In the living room at my parents' house, there's a modern 46-inch HDTV, a couch and two ergonomic chairs. On a counter in the adjacent kitchen sits a 13-inch, old-school tube-style set. That's where my father watches the important games -- standing in front of the small, white countertop TV, pacing around the kitchen, typically when the Detroit Red Wings are clinging to a one-goal lead. It's purely a matter of superstition, a sports fan's creature comfort.
2. In sports, it's important to pray
One of my earlier sports memories involves a prayer circle and Super Bowl XXV. Our New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills in a 20-19 thriller. The victory had nothing to do with the fairly long distance of Scott Norwood's failed 47-yard kick or the pressure of the moment. No, there was a prayer circle in Yonkers, New York, where 12 grown men, my 10-year-old brother and an 8-year-old, me, locked arms, took a knee, and prayed Norwood would miss that damn kick. And it worked. On the ride back home to Poughkeepsie in our 1986 light blue Toyota Tercel, we blasted WFAN's postgame coverage and my brother and I rolled down the windows and shouted with joy at fellow riders. That's when I fell in love with sports radio.
3. It's OK to be a front runner
I think. I still toil with this one but I've come to terms with it. The Red Wings fandom comes from my father's school days in Detroit and the Giants because we're New York natives. It pains me to reveal that he's been a Patriots fan since roughly 2001 (he loves Belichick and Brady), a San Francisco 49ers fan at one time, a Dolphins fan for a few minutes and there's other stains on his record. At least he sticks to one team at a time. But he will readily admit that he's indeed a front runner. Sports are about watching and enjoying the competition and if he gets that despite changing alliances, who am I to judge?
4. Be willing to drive any distance, at any hour, to go to a big game
Being a geographically incorrect fan does have its drawbacks, chief among them typically living a long haul from the team's stadium. My dad's home in New York is about 280 miles or 4.5 hours away from Gillette Stadium. But when he and a couple buddies sniffed something special before the Patriots-Ravens Divisional Round game in January 2015, they decided to make the drive for the game that would start at 4:35 p.m. ET. Of course the Patriots won a thriller that didn't end until nearly 9 p.m., which got him back home close to 2 a.m. -- and then back to work around 8 a.m. as usual. And then they made the same trip for the Patriots-Colts game the following week.
5. Sometimes, you just have to rage
Back to the Toyota Tercel and the New York Giants. The season before the Giants won Super Bowl XXV, the Los Angeles Rams ejected them from the playoffs in pretty devastating fashion. In my household, we called it the "Flipper Anderson Game" because Anderson, a second-year wide receiver at the time (January 7, 1990), ruined the Giants in a 19-13 Divisional Round game with two touchdowns -- including a 30-yard score that ended it in overtime.
Anderson famously ran directly into the tunnel after the score and shortly thereafter, my dad, infuriated, stomped into the garage and got in the Tercel, intending to get some air. Then he jammed it in reverse and inadvertently separated the side mirror from the car when he flew out of the garage. Then he pulled right back in. Probably not his proudest moment, but that was a really devastating touchdown.
6. Risk your well-being to honor a commitment
When it became time to retire from the 35-and-up men's baseball league and moved further upstate in New York, he wanted a new sports activity, so he took up curling. Snowstorms don't often faze residents in upstate New York but one night a particularly horrific blizzard dropped a winter bomb and actually resulted in a few members of the curling club to miss their games. Not my dad. I urged him to skip it but he insisted on driving through zero-visibility conditions so he could stand with his teammates on the ice indoors for a couple hours.
7. Teach your children how to gamble
It was not what he set out to do, I'm quite sure, but when he and my mother took my brother and I to Circus Circus in Las Vegas when we were about 12 and 10, I think that's when our passion for (responsible!) sports wagering really took off. On that trip I learned about horse racing, the difference between table games and slot machines, how to throw a coin across glass plates to win a prize, and various other valuable, puritanical lessons.
8. Don't be a dumbass
Not quite "insane" but certainly important (as Barry Bonds can attest). On Sunday, July 27, 2014, my favorite baseball player of all time, Greg Maddux, was set to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. My father and I had said we'd go to Cooperstown for the induction probably three years prior, but I was having a really bad week as the day approached and floated the idea of just staying home to chill and watch it on TV. "Brett, your favorite player only gets inducted into the Hall of Fame once." It was a statement of fact and hit me like... a Greg Maddux fastball. Only about 88 miles-per-hour but with fatal precision. Clearly, he returned me to my senses and we attended and I got to be there in person to hear Maddux make a fart joke at his enshrinement.
9. You don't always have to keep score
We've gone golfing a bunch of times during my maturation from a 12-year-old booger to present. When I was young, I'd want him and everyone to carefully keep score, I'd compete with my brother and count strokes and inevitably argue about it. But my dad has never really cared about his score on the golf course or anyone's. I think he just enjoys being outside for a few hours with the right company. It took me a little over a dozen years after my first round to fully absorb that one but eventually it sunk in. Unless we're betting on it, of course. In that case I'll keep your damn score.
Thanks for all of it, Dad.
(And a shout-out to my mother, who deserves much praise for shuttling my brother and I to scores of games and practices over the years, and probably sustaining trauma to her eardrums from our crazed shouting at the TV.)