Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Origins of an NFL Fan

Funny thing about the National Football League, it doesn't have a franchise in Montreal. For a kid who grew up in the 514 with the Habs and Expos, I found it really hard to latch on to an NFL team. Without a local squad to get behind, I just dismissed the NFL was an American obsession. Obviously, that meant I should follow the Canadian Football League. Remember that marketing campaign from the late 90's when the CFL dubbed itself "Radically Canadian" and had shirts that said "Our Balls Are Bigger"? Well, I was their target demographic and bought into it hook, line and sinker.

Once the Alouettes returned, I took them in with open arms, finally embracing my destiny as a football fan. I would argue that the Canadian version of the game was clearly superior to the southern brand. That the athletes were just as good and the stars could easily crack an NFL roster if only given a chance. Then, in what would become a regular occurrence throughout my adolescence, I woke up one day and realized I was an idiot.

No longer blinded by patriotism, I started watching more NFL games in appreciation of the higher quality of play. However, I still had the problem about who to root for. I can't speak for anyone else, but I need an emotional attachment to truly delve deep into a sport. After a few years as an NFL nomad, looking for a good fit, nothing felt right. Knowing how I stick with the Habs and Expos through thick and thin, I realized the only solution was to commit. It was time to go through my own pathetic version of The Bachelor: NFL Edition.

About six years ago on a road trip with a friend of mine and time to kill in the car, I came up with my own formula to choose a team for life. Through my completely arbitrary system, I continuously eliminated teams I could not and would not be a fan of. Here is the criteria I used:

1. NO BANDWAGONS. I cannot root for a team that has won a Super Bowl in the last ten years. Hate bandwagon fans.
2. NO EXPANSION TEAMS. I love the mythology of a franchise's history. Thanks Habs, for making me a snob.
3. NO RELOCATED TEAMS. I hate it when teams relocate. If I remember a relocation, can't be a fan.
5. PREFERENCE GIVEN TO NORTHEASTERN CITIES. Obviously. But these last two rules really worked against each other.
6. INTANGIBLES. Have I been there? Any favourite players? Pretty jerseys?

It essentially came down to the following teams:

Chicago Bears
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns (Not really expansion. In fact, extra points awarded for getting their team back.)
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings

The Bears already felt bandwagonny. The Bengals always feel too cartoony. That left the Browns, Lions and Vikings. And once it came down to the finalists, the choice was surprisingly easy. I was a Detroit Lions fan. A long history, a whatever-the-opposite-of-bandwagon-is, sweet unis, and clear memories of jaw dropping Barry Sanders highlights.

My friend, a long suffering New Orleans Saints fan, listened to me talk myself through this agonizing process for probably an hour. Unsurprisingly, he almost veered into oncoming traffic to put himself out of his misery. That is, until I suggested we come up with a convoluted life long wager. Each season we would have to pay for however many more wins either the Lions or Saints had than each other. The stakes would be doubled for head-to-head matches and would continuously double with every playoff win. Lions and Saints! Two laughingstocks to battle for our wallets for the rest of eternity!

Roughly thirty seconds after we made this bet, the Saints acquired Drew Brees. Since then, they've been pretty darned good, culminating with a Super Bowl victory in 2010. This was only one season after the Lions set a league record with 16 negative-wins. Also known as losses. All said, I've owed my friend a few hundred dollars since we made the bet.

When people ask me why I'm a Detroit Lions fan, I usually just say "Barry Sanders" and they get the gist of it. But looking back, I can't think of a better recipe for becoming a fan of a team from another city. And tonight, after years of racking up gambling debts and watching lots of bad football, I'm hoping the Lions will reward me both emotionally and financially for the ridiculously poor choices I made in that car so long ago.

On the other hand... if I put enough money on the Saints today... I could break even...

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