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Back in my day

May 5, 2006

I don’t have children yet, but I know that a day will come when I’ll be explaining to a young EOB-er how much better things were when I was a kid. It’s hard for me to believe that I’m even old enough for nostalgia. With a glance around the sports landscape, I must confess that sometimes I wish for things the way they used to be.

There comes a time in every young sports fan’s life where he or she decides on their own (or with a little help) which sports teams they will be cheering for, likely for the rest of their lives. The Age of Reason. I’m borrowing the term from religion, but I think it applies equally to this concept. At some point, the football game your parents watch on the weekend becomes something different. What once seemed to be a bunch of strangely dressed guys running around on television, now makes at least a little sense to you and you join in the fun with the adults. You cheer when things go well, and feel an odd sense of disappointment when things turn sour. You have become a sports fan.

How do we know which team we are supposed to support? When I was growing up, you took cues from your parents. Having been lucky enough to have four parents (I’ve grown up to strongly feel this way), I had a lot to choose from. On one hand, I had a set of parents who grew up and continued to live in northwestern Ohio. They supported the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Browns, and the Michigan Wolverines. On the other hand, I had another set of parents, one who grew up in northwest Ohio and the other who grew up in western Ohio, with whom I lived in Columbus. They supported the Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Following the examples set forth, when I reached my own personal Age of Reason I followed the Reds and Tigers in baseball, the Browns in football, and (for a time) the Wolverines in college sports. The Bengals never caught on with me. I imagine this is because I spent many weekends with Mr. & Mrs. EOB Sr. watching Cleveland play football. The Wolverines phase lasted until high school. Once I realized that I’d probably be going to college in Columbus, and given the sports climate in Buckeye crazy central Ohio, it was pretty easy to cheer for the Buckeyes.

It was easy to root for both teams and players when I was growing up. While free agency was around in baseball, it wasn’t as big a force as it is today and it was not surprising to see quite a few players stick around on your team from year to year. I spent many Saturday evenings at old Tiger Stadium, watching Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker turn the double play (hopefully against the despised Indians). I also remember many hot nights in Cincinnati watching Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, and Chris Sabo pound whatever unlucky National League foe was in town. With the Browns you could depend on Bernie Kosar and Clay Matthews to provide a good show. I had the good fortune to have reached the Age of Reason when all these teams were doing fairly well in their respective leagues. The Tigers did well through the end of the ‘80’s, the Browns got close a few times, and the Reds won the Series in 1990. I think this undoubtedly helped form a bond between myself and these organizations. While I still think that the geographic tie will hold in spite of a losing team, there’s nothing like a good team to cement a fan’s devotion.

These days, I still follow the Browns, Reds, and Buckeyes faithfully. I’ll check the box scores and see how the Tigers are doing, but my feelings on the American League (maybe I’ll write a column on this someday) combined with a string of absolutely terrible years have left Detroit at the bottom of my list. As all three followers of the blog know (both from the writings and knowing me personally), my major sports obsession of the last six years has been hockey. For quite a few prior years, I had been a casual hockey fan. With Columbus icing a team in 2000, I took to the game immediately and have done everything possible to learn about the sport. I went to games, watched on TV, read books. Heck, I even spent a quite a bit of cash and learned how to ice skate just so I could play hockey for a few years.

With any sport today, it takes an orientation period at the beginning of each season to figure out who is playing for your team. Realizing the power and effect of free agency, I’ve made a personal choice to cheer for teams rather than players. In my “old days”, you could have a favorite player because it was likely he’d be with your team for quite awhile. Now, I can’t decide what name and number to put on my Blue Jackets sweater because whomever I pick might not be with the team in two or three years. I may still have favorite players, but I don’t attach a long-term emotional weight to them. When a fan favorite leaves one of my teams I’ll often wish he does well wherever he went, but I know it will never be the same.

The marketing aspect of professional sports has changed from a localized effort to a national blitz. When I was growing up you’d see players on TV pushing spray paint, local credit unions, burgers, etc. Most of the products were locally produced (or at least the commercials obviously were), and you had your local heroes on the tube as spokesmen for products that ensured you knew where they played. Now, professional sports is a much bigger business and it seems that more and more national products are using athletes to market their wares. Cars, food, you name it and it’s being sold by an athlete who is probably not on your favorite team.

To get a team jersey in the “old days”, you either had to go to a game or find a big department store that had a big sports section. Now, every decent sized mall has some kind of sports store where you can find jerseys not just of your local teams, but of many of the teams and players from across the country. When I was growing up, it was hard to find someone who didn’t like at least one or two of the teams I did. I don’t have any scientific studies, but it looks to me like kids these days are expanding their reach beyond the traditional borders. Kids next door to me have Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings jerseys and pennants. I imagine this has a lot to do with the star power of Randy Moss and Donovan McNabb. Now that Moss has moved on, will I see Raiders paraphernalia next door? I can’t imagine changing teams like that, but it doesn’t seem as big a hurdle for some of the younger generation.

What will the professional sports climate be like for my children? Will they take cues from me and have a few teams for life? Will they latch on to a few players and follow their careers through multiple teams? Or *gasp* will they think I’m a bit weird for caring about sports at all? Whatever the interests of a future EOB, I’m sure I’ll join the legions of past parents when I chime in with “it was much better when I was your age.”

Round Two of the Stanley Cup playoffs starts tonight. The Reds are leading the National League. The Tigers are a game and a half back of the Sox for the division lead. The Browns have reportedly had a very good draft, and the Buckeyes are a good thought for the pre-season #1 football team. It’s a good time to be at the End of the Bench.

Thanks for reading, come back soon.

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3 comments

  1. Nostalgia… you old man. Having lived in fact in the same house that you lived in for most of my life, I’ve gotten to share my sports growth with you. From my personal love of the Cincinnati Reds and the Ohio State Buckeyes to the loathing of distasteful management decisions and life on the losing end of sports fanatica. I have come to realize about the “younger” generation… who happen to share part of my own age bracket… that its not really that they don’t care about a team… its that noboby these days care about a team. You don’t hear about the great team play of the Philedelphia Eagles… you hear about Donavan to Terrell and his crazy dance in the endzone. That’s what dominates sports illustrated and ESPN and Sports Center. Its not their fault they can’t stick with a team… its America’s lust for stars.


  2. Good point. I suppose that we can “blame” some of this on SportsCenter and the highlight culture. I’ll fully admit to watching five or six episodes in a row during summers in my youth, so I know I’m somewhat affected as well.

    For example: I used to be able and willing to watch an entire baseball game start to finish. Anymore, I just don’t have the patience to sit through a whole contest. I’ll allow that the SportsCenter phenomenon has something to do with this, but I think the baseball strikes/lockouts in the ’90’s have more to do with this for me. It was hard to come back to baseball after that.

    All that said, even though the [smart and rich] sports are marketing stars rather than teams, I still think that there is a place for a team fan in America. It will be harder to maintain this fan than in the past, but I have hope that they will not go the way of the dodo.–>


  3. […] But if you’re going to hold my team (and remember, I stick with teams, not players) hostage, you can take a hike. […]



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