Why root for a team that sucks?

You can ask this question to any present-day St. Louis Rams fan, New Jersey Nets fan or NBC fan, and they tell you it’s because there’s always next year. They root for the next year, the next great draft prospect, the next Conan (after he picked himself up from a morass of perpetual lameness in the wake of the Conan-Leno feud). They root, in short, for a turnaround.

I’ve gotta be honest: Over the past few weeks, I’ve been so caught up with the whole junior-year job search that I haven’t really paid much attention to the sports world. Plus, I’m still (believe it or not) deflated from our fourth-and-22 embarrassment at the hands of the Cantabs. In fact, my dad had to call me and make sure I was watching this past weekend’s Vikings-Saints playoff game. Here’s an actual transcript of our conversation during that game:

Dad: What are you doing right now?

Me: Uh … I’m doing work. Trying to prepare for this interview, doing research on this firm that I applied to.

Dad: Hmm … are you actually preparing for an interview? Or are you “preparing for an interview” while locking yourself up in your room and “doing ‘firm’ research” on “Girls Gone Wild”? There’s only one thing you like better than football, and remember our talk back when you were first going through puberty? Remember what I—

Me: DAD! NO!

Dad: OK, even if it’s true, or maybe not true, that you’re doing work, you should watch the NFL. There’s a great game going on right now.

My point is, even Daddy Song was a little, um … concerned, that I wasn’t watching football and actually encouraged me to get away from my work for a second.

When I actually paid attention to the game, I realized there was a similarity between the consulting practice case I’d been pouring over and the attitude of a sports fan rooting for a bad team: the turnaround. The Vikings were a team that, up until a few years ago, had essentially no star players and hadn’t made the Superbowl since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints almost left the city in the aftermath of Katrina and in the wake of bad attendance records. But irrationally, the fans stuck around and we ended up with a game for the ages.

One of the first things that astounded me when I was introduced to sports was the fact that even bad teams have fans. My high school was a prime example of this. Nestled in the rough streets of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., Stanton College Preparatory school was a magnet school of nerds situated in the middle of a state filled with athletes.

Each year, Jacksonville (and the entire state of Florida) sends oodles and oodles of athletes to some of the top football and basketball programs in college sports. Ever heard of that Tim Tebow fellah? Yeah, he played quarterback for the Florida Gators and has a media storm of cameras and NFL scouts following him around at this week’s Senior Bowl. Oh, and my high school friend played little league with him.

Ever heard of Cameron Philipp-Edmonds? I never would’ve either — if he didn’t happen to be my friend’s little brother. Oh, he was also quarterback for our football team. Our football team was so bad, they asked ME to try out. If you ever wanted to hear a locker room talk about improper integrals and William Faulkner, we were the school for you.

Our best season over the course of my senior year? Two wins, 12,756,781,651,827,365,876 losses. OK, more like 10 losses. But still, half the school showed up every Friday, and we had a grand ol’ time. Why?

Because of a potential turnaround. There’s something primal about human beings where we always want to be the first. That gets multiplied when we get to be the first to say “I told you so.” Our team wasn’t the greatest, but with each passing year, you could see the players get better and say, boy, next year, we might make it to .500.

That’s the mentality of the sucky-team sports fan. The Nets fan can say, “Hey, we’ve got John Wall coming, and we’re owned by a Russian millionaire. I love Popov — this is gonna be awesome!” The St. Louis Rams fan can say, “Hey, we’ve got Ndamukong Suh coming! Maybe sometime in the next decade, I’ll learn how to pronounce his name! Next year’s gonna be awesome!” The NBC fan can … Well, the NBC fan can just hope Jeff Zucker (NBC’s head honcho and mastermind of the whole Conan-Leno fiasco) will be defenestrated from his cushy corner office.

The point is, sports doesn’t always make sense. The good teams don’t necessarily always sell out (next time you see an Orlando Magic home game, look out for how many empty seats there are), and the bad teams don’t necessarily go fanless. (Raiders fans still come out to see Jamarcus Russell sit on the bench and chomp on cheeseburgers.)

So fans of Yale football, keep your chins up. Go to a hockey game. There’s always next year.

John Song is a junior in Berkeley College.