Fandom is a unique aspect of the human experience, a primal instinct that motivates people to throw caution to wind and passionately devote themselves to a cause, person or team. When mixed with football, fandom can evoke the greatest feelings of exuberance or frustration, sometimes within a single game. Each football season is a progression of emotions, filled with enthusiasm, angst, pleasure and agony. Only one team emerges victorious at season’s end, and when the victor is not the team you root for, you’ll find yourself coming to terms with the five stages of football fandom.
After an offseason of positive strides, this is your team’s year. You’ve spent countless hours watching spring practices, researching your team’s draft picks, and monitoring the free-agent acquisitions. The “talking season” of summer interviews, media days and training camp sound bites have filled you with a renewed sense of hope that this season your team will take the next step towards success. This delusional sense of hope is what helps most football fans navigate through the dog days of the baseball-filled summer, but is also the most precarious of the five stages of football fandom. As the wise prisoner Red, from the acclaimed 1990s cinematic prison drama The Shawshank Redemption, points out to fellow inmate Andy Dufresne, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” You’ve been warned.
The season has arrived, and your team is winning. A mixture of expert play-calling by the head coach, and maybe a lucky break or two, has your team in the driver’s seat through the first few games of the year. All of your offseason hopes and dreams seem to have been confirmed with the stellar play of both your team’s wily veterans and fresh-faced rookie studs. Each victory begets celebrations of epic proportions, and you party as if the winning will never cease. You begin to make plans to attend postseason games and start clearing your calendar for the imminent championship parade. Nothing can stand in the way of an undefeated season (or at least a playoff run).
It’s mid-season and your team encounters its stiffest test of the year and falls short. Doubt begins to creep into your subconscious. This sudden apprehension makes you question every previous game this season, while simultaneously contemplating the team’s future. Was this loss a fluke? Will history repeat itself? Can I get a refund on those postseason hotel rooms and plane tickets?
The losses begin to pile up, and worse yet, your rival emerges victorious week after week. Once hopeful about your team’s prospects for a successful year, you’ve come to the realization that your team continues to flounder in a cycle of mediocrity. The days in between your team’s weekly gridiron battles seem to slowly drag out, and you dread what the next result may bring. Your zest for pregame rituals, tailgate food and game day festivities is gone. The preseason seems like a distant memory.
For all intents and purposes, the season is over. Your team has been knocked out of playoff contention and now plays the role of spoiler for the final few weeks of the season. With nothing left to root for, you pay more attention to your fantasy football league, hoping to salvage the football season by winning bragging rights and a few bucks from your friends. Instead of watching your team hoisting a trophy amid a shower of confetti at the end of season, you’ll be sitting on your couch watching two other teams (probably your most hated rivals) reveling in yet another championship. You rationalize that if not for an unforeseen injury or terrible officiating, your team would be in the playoffs. Silent curses hang on the edge of your lips as highlights of every other successful team’s season inundate your favorite sports television shows and social media feeds. Your mind shifts to the offseason, and you begin to scour the incoming draft class and upcoming available free agents. You discuss with other fans the merits of firing versus keeping certain coaches and players. As you accept your team’s fate this season, you anticipate that greatness is on the horizon next year. Clinging to the tiniest sliver of faith, you take solace in Andy Dufresne’s encouraging response to Red’s previous pessimism at the end of The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” There’s always next season.