As I sit in the Hooters restaurant on the club level of FedEx Field waiting for my wings and for the start of the Redskins/Ravens football game this afternoon, I find it interesting that I’ve spoken to some Ravens fans who used to follow the Redskins. This brings up a topic that’s probably rooted more in psychology than in the sports arena. Why do fans switch allegiances?
In my view it’s kind of a new phenomenon. Perhaps it’s not as new as I might think, but I feel like the kids that I grew up with in the 1980′s (and generations before) never switched their allegiances. Again I might be way off in saying that, but it’s just an observation. If you rooted for the Redskins and you lived in the Baltimore area, I can understand starting to root for the Ravens. The same is true in reverse if you were a Baltimore Orioles fan and suddenly you went to the Nationals. I can understand it, but that’s not to say that I would do it or have done it. I grew up a Redskins/Orioles fan; believe me, I do pull for the Ravens wholeheartedly as well, just not when the two teams play each other.
However let’s keep in mind that teams relocating or expansion is also a variable. I’m not really talking about situations like that. In the Orioles’ case I think that we started to see the fan base shrinking over the course of the 14 consecutive losing seasons. Many people say that folks just stopped coming to games, and I think that the attendance towards the end of the season and in the playoffs would back that up a bit. But I talk to a lot of people who tell me they used to be Orioles fans, but they got so sick of the losing that they pull for the [insert team] now. If you live in Northern Virginia and you grew up an Orioles fan but now pull for the Nats, I get that. I might disagree with it, but I get it. However to decide to root for another team because the team you grew up with falls on tough times…?
To me, that reeks of elitism to a point. I know a guy that grew up rooting for the Bills and the Astros. Now suddenly he likes the Ravens and Nationals. And what’s worse is that he’s starting to engage in revisionist history in the sense that he’s trying to pass it off as if he’s always kind of liked the Ravens. If the Ravens played the Buffalo Bills, he’d probably have a tough time figuring out for whom to root.
Ultimately people can do whatever they want I suppose, and in this age of college sports being so huge there are many sports fans that will stick with athletes that went to their schools. (I see a few RGIII Baylor jerseys, for instance.) But speaking for myself it should be all about who you grew up with. I know of many old Baltimore Colts fans (my Dad for instance) who never really got into the Ravens because they weren’t the Colts. Many of them root against the Colts to this day of course, however I suspect that had they gotten the name back when the Browns moved here all of those folks would have been on board. (And for the record, they should have gotten the name back. The BALTIMORE Colts were/are as much a part of the sports landscape in this region as the Redskins or Orioles, and shame on the Irsay family for holding the name hostage for money in 1995-96.)
If you randomly decide to switch allegiances simply because the team is losing, that’s certainly your decision. However the fact is that you can never replicate the memories of growing up watching that team as a kid with your family. I can still see my late grandfather and my uncles sitting in the basement of their Bethesda, MD home watching Joe Theismann, John Riggins, and the Redskins when I was a kid. And the same is true with the Orioles as well…I have very fond memories of listening to Chuck Thompson do the games deep into the Cecil County night when I’d be at my grandparents’ farm in the summertime. If you dump the team you grew up with, suddenly all of those memories are null and void.
Ultimately people have the right to pull for whomever they want, but again I would submit that the memories and the history with that one team should come before anything else. If you just randomly decide to go for another team, you’ll never be able to replicate those memories. With that said, I’m looking forward to a good football game this afternoon!