From what I can tell, as the Bruins prepare to take on the Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals this Saturday, there are three types of fans emerging in our wonderful city:
1. The optimist enters the sports bar, sees Sidney Crosby on the menu, grimaces, and sips from a mug that’s half full, while half-heartedly saying, “We’ve already won a cup this decade and how about Game 7 against the Maple Leafs?! We’ll always have that!”
And hey, they would be right.
2. The pessimist is a wiser, perhaps older, fan. This person knows you only get so many chances with a young nucleus; like Tom Brady once famously said, their favorite championship is the next one. The glass isn’t necessarily half empty, but it certainly could be topped off.
This fan, too, would be right.
3. Finally, there is the third person – the bandwagon fan. They don’t have a cup to drink from; hell, they just discovered the damned bar. To top things off, they bring all their friends, crowd up the joint, and cause the previous two subgroups to have to wait for their drinks.
The final person would, umm, be … present?
Traditionally speaking, the first two contingents can’t stand Bandwagon Fans. They don’t bleed black and gold; red, white and blue; nor do they realize there is a difference between the color green and Celtic Green. They yell the loudest at the happenings of critical games, despite having the smallest to gain or lose from the outcome. Worse, they make the viewing process more excruciating. Bandwagon fans don’t know the rules or minutia of the sport they are watching. They adulate or demean the star player without any cogent understanding of what is actually happening. And forget about comprehending the minor quirks and details of the team’s role players.
There is actual purpose, an ulterior motive, beyond ranting and raving like lunatics as some of us are apt to do, to how Bandwagon Fans operate. They watch sports like they watch the news – to stay informed and carry a conversation at the upcoming cocktail party, or business meeting. Real Fans perceive this as sleazy and superfluous. They argue that fandom and loyalty should be interconnected. But loyalty takes commitment, which is antithetical to the nature of a Bandwagon Fan. Instead, they are like your non-committal college hookup; they come and go as they please. If you’re looking good after a few beers, then, magically, they appear; but if there is something better to do, then, well, you get the picture.
This particular situation goes deeper, of course. There is a general feeling in sports fandom that to appreciate glory, you must first suffer. And remember, before the turn of the century, Boston fans did a great deal of suffering. It wasn’t just the 15 year championship drought; it was the way the respite transpired. To review: Bill Buckner’s error; Len Bias’s tragic cocaine overdose before ever donning Celtic Green, and Reggie Lewis suddenly dying shortly after; The Tuna, Bill Parcells, saving the Patriots, then, almost overnight, fleeing to coach the Jets.
Hopelessness isn’t the word, because there was hope, and, in the long run, that probably made matters worse. Every positive moment was concurrently met with an offsetting loss. I mean, we threw Ray Bourque a parade because he won a Stanley Cup for a different team. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about that 15 year stretch, I don’t know what will.
That changed, rather quickly, after the Tuck Rule, Cowboy Up!, The New Big Three, and Tim Thomas. But still, there is resentment in what has become a divided city in terms of its fanbase. The first two camps feel Bandwagon Fans weren’t there for the low points; yet, whether deserved or not, don’t mind enjoying the convivial atmosphere while the home teams are winning.
But you know what? I’m all for the Bandwagon Fans. To me, the bitterness has never particularly made sense. It’s all so silly though, isn’t it? Like claiming you were a fan of a popular indie rock band before they blindsided mainstream audiences with a hit radio single.
Everything that occurs in between the lines of professional sports is exclusionary. You win, you play on. You lose, you go home. Heck, just to participate, you have to be in the top 99.999 percent of your craft. So none of the people we meet in everyday life will hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals, raise the Lombardi Trophy, or kiss Lord Stanley’s cup. That’s a given.
But fandom should be inclusionary, inherently rampant, and encouraged to grow. And whether or not the payoff is temporarily shared among the masses, it will always have greater impact and lasting effect on real fans. In the meantime, forget the petty stuff, high five the Donald Trump sycophant at the bar, and appreciate what’s happening in front of you. Take solace in that because fandom offers such little returns other than those few glimpses at triumph; besides, a 15-year drought could be right around the corner.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__