As I was kickin’ back in my common room Monday night, watching Drew Brees single-handedly decimate Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense, I decided to start a Christmas wish list to send to my parents. The first item, an authentic New Orleans Saints football jersey, with “Brees 9” on the back (although after my behavior over Thanksgiving break, coal might be more realistic). My suitemate immediately accused me of jumping on the bandwagon.
I obviously defended myself, as everyone in my position always does. I like the Saints for a number of reasons, all of which I rationalize as legitimate. Star wide-out Marques Colston hails from my hometown and local high school, I have family roots in New Orleans, and certainly not least of all, Brees is my fantasy quarterback, and while I am 10th out of 14 in the Yale Swimming fantasy football league (it is worth mentioning that I have the third highest point total), a manager must support his players.
Okay, so maybe these are ostensibly some pretty weak reasons to root for a team, and my suitemate is certainly not the only one who would criticize me for wanting a Saints jersey this year when they’re 11–0.
I am here however, to defend myself and countless others that wrongfully face the nasty accusation of being a “bandwagon fan.”
There is a difference between rooting for a team like the Saints versus rooting for their Monday night opponent, the New England Patriots, despite their common successes. Understanding this nuance helps avoid misuse of the b-word.
The Patriots have appeared in the playoffs 16 times, winning their division 11 times, their conference six times, and the Super Bowl three times. The Saints, by contrast, have reached the playoffs only six times. While the Saints are the better team at the moment, New England has been football’s dynasty this decade. Wouldn’t donning a Tom Brady jersey be worse? Come to think of it, my brother wears one often, so maybe we’re just bandwagoners by nature.
Regardless, nothing excuses anyone from wearing a Derek Jeter jersey.
It is an indisputable fact of the modern world that big markets are likely to have good teams. It is not by coincidence that the Lakers are perpetual NBA finals hopefuls, just as the Yankees and Sox will always get those AL East and Wildcard spots.
So when a team from a town with a smaller sports market is successful, isn’t it all the more compelling to cheer them on? Who wouldn’t support a Memphis Grizzlies run to the NBA finals?
New Orleans only got its second major sports franchise, the Hornets of the NBA, in 2002.
Let’s also not forget the powerful emotional motives for fandom. Even the most staunch Yankee-haters had to have been somewhat moved by the Pinstripes’ post-9/11 run to the 2001 World Series, and the impact this had on the city and its fans.
So yes, part of me wants to see the Saints succeed because only four years ago, the Superdome in which they play their home games was used to house families displaced from their homes wrecked by hurricane Katrina. Since then, they hired a new head coach and have added a number of new players, including Brees, who, with his wife, is highly involved in helping underprivileged youth in his community. The Saints’ first playoff appearance with this new staff ended in a loss in the NFC Championship game in the 2006-’07 season, but anyone watching remembers how electrified the city of New Orleans was.
Now, with a few more years of experience, the team is set to make another playoff run, and Monday’s win against the Patriots was the first test of their legitimacy as a championship contender.
And so we arrive back at the initial debate, the inner “true fan” in me berating the “bandwagon fan” for wanting that Brees jersey so badly after watching him play Monday night.
I admit it, it’s fun to root for winners. Part of the reason I love LeBron James is that he has made his team a winning one. Getting excited over an athlete’s skills and his or her effect on their sport should be natural to all fans.
Winning is not everything, and it is even more inspiring when a star athlete plays a large role in his or her community, or sponsors a charity, or perhaps a prep school like my buddy Andre Agassi.
Essentially, there are countless reasons why anyone would choose to love or hate a player, and while many are not legitimate in the eyes of others, fandom should be personal.
Ironically, a commercial during the game advertised coverage of a new mini-series about “Real Fans” upcoming during the season. Let’s dispel the idea that the more body paint, the better the fan. Moreover, let’s abolish the concept that being a true fan requires memorization of their defensive playbook or every available statistic. What’s to say that one game isn’t enough to inspire a newly devoted fan? We should base our support on how much that team or player inspires us personally, rather than where we live or how long we have followed their seasons.
So for now, I will go ahead and get my hopes up that Santa will stuff a Saints jersey in my stocking rather than a Central Penn Piranha jersey (although they are the winningest team in Minor League Football Histoy at 215–14), because I look good in black and gold.
Sam Goldsmith is a junior in Branford College.
Correction: Dec. 2, 2009
An earlier version of this column misstated New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ jersey number. It is 9, not 8.