All of this talk about hate and haters from a certain quarter (largely an exercise in projection, I’d argue), got me to thinking …
Many fans of the four big North American professional leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA) love the sport being played and have passionate attachments to teams. Everyone knows, for example, that I root for the Yankees, NY Giants, and Islanders, although not necessarily in that order (I remain first and foremost a hockey fan, with baseball a close but distinct second). I also take at least a passing interest in other teams, although that changes over time, and that’s largely restricted to hockey. For example, when Brad Park was on the Bruins, I hoped they would do well except when they faced the Islanders; it was not until the 1993 playoffs that I had to choose between an interest in the Pens spurred by several acquisitions in 1990 and the Islanders, because the two teams did not meet in an important game until that spring (I chose the underdog Islanders, and I chose well). I also liked the Avalanche during the Sakic years, and there are the Arizona Coyotes to follow (except, of course, when they play the Islanders).
Oh, yes, that passion is stronger at some times than at others. I was annoyed at the Yankees for the 1975 and 1976 seasons, because the team traded away Bobby Murcer (I hate to admit it, but Reggie Jackson’s signing brought me back, so the 1976 season, aside from the ALCS that year, remains a blur, although I got a taste of the SF Giants and the Cubs while Murcer played for those teams). I don’t think a fan is obligated to support wholeheartedly a poorly-run team (I’m talking to you, Cubs fans, although that may have changed at last), so I can explain my unhappiness with the Islanders for nearly a decade in three words: Mike Milbury’s Fishsticks. That rule also applies to Don Mattingly’s Yankees: George Steinbrenner’s greatest contribution to the resurgence of the Yankees in the 1990s was being suspended. Nor can I recall much about the Giants in the Yale Bowl with Norm Snead or when people thought Scott Brunner was better than Phil Simms. But these things happen. I’ve never confused rooting for a team with choosing to torment myself.
However, we all have teams that we would never support, except perhaps in the most extreme of circumstances (think the Philadelphia Flyers against Soviet Red Army in 1976). For me, in football those teams are the Cowboys and the Raiders; in hockey the Oilers come to mind. Yes, I know, I know … I’m supposed to hate the Red Sox, but I don’t (although I have an extreme dislike for some of their fans … success has turned them into weak versions of obnoxious front-running Yankees fans (we are about to see who’s really a Yankee fan AJ [After Jeter]). I can’t even bring myself to hate the New York Rangers, because once upon a time they were the only team in town, although I had no use for the Blueshirts from the release of Rod Gilbert until the arrival of Henrik Lundqvist. Surely the Rangers, Flyers, and the Pens (thank largely to the venomous sarcasm of John Hennessy) rank near the bottom, but the Oilers have always had a home there. Yes, I liked Paul Coffey, largely because he played the game as if it was a pick-up effort (and he anticipated video game play), but I knew he couldn’t play defense a lick, so he’d never be Denis Potvin, who sacrificed some of his individual game to contribute to team success (like Steve Yzerman). I could respect Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, but I preferred Bryan Trottier as a more well-rounded player.
The Cowboys are easy to explain, and so I won’t, although I know have in-laws who are passionate Cowboys fans, which has ramped up the rivalry. As for the Raiders, when I was a boy I also rooted for the Jets of the Namath era (I lost some interest in the Giants after Fran Tarkenton returned to Minnesota). Back then I didn’t know you couldn’t root for both New York teams (although that became evident when the Islanders joined the NHL). The Raiders were dirty then, and as a game I enjoyed the 1968 AFL championship game even more than Super Bowl III.
As for that New York rule: yes, I rooted for both the Giants and Jets from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s, when I lost interest in pro football for about eight years; and as a boy I rooted for the Mets as well as the Yankees, because we were clearly a divided family (Dad leaned to the Yankees, while my mom, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, transferred her allegiance to the Mets). Even then I preferred the Mantle/Murcer Yanks to the Seaver/Kranepool Mets. Still, I predicted that the Mets would overtake the Cubs and make the World Series in 1969 in the pages of our junior high school paper, and some forty years later at least one cantankerous cousin, a lifelong Mets fan, exploded when Newsday interviewed me about the 1969 Mets (living well is the best revenge). Back then I actually cared about the NBA (the Knicks) and the ABA (the Nets were first a Long Island team). As for the Rangers, as a kid I followed the Rangers, met many of them, and attended a hockey camp run by Rod Gilbert and Park, so the transfer of allegiance was a bit more challenging, although it was completed by the 1974-75 season (many of my Exeter classmates still think I’m a Rangers fan, largely because of the 1972 and 1973 playoff confrontations with the Bruins).
Thus, it’s hard for me to “hate” the Mets (easy to pity them) or the Jets (ditto), and I just don’t care for the Knicks (aside from a surge in the 1990s, you can date that from acquiring Mr. Sprewell) or the Nets (since they unloaded Dr. J as they fled to New Jersey). But I have no problem saying that I despise the Oilers, Cowboys, and Raiders.
How about you? Which three pro sports teams (or five, if you have a hard time restraining your bile) would we find at the bottom of your list? Which teams do you always root against? And it’s cheating to list college teams (or even semi-pro teams such as the University of Spoiled Children in SoCal). Nor can you invoke the Epperson quibble of debating the question instead of answering it.