On Being a Fan

My wife, Nancy, is a sports fan par excellence, especially the Celtics. And she is pretty good at it. There is a post-game feature in Boston called Tommy and Mike’s Mailbag. Listeners write in questions and Tommy Heinsohn's and Mike Gorman’s handlers choose the best. Last week they aired two in a row from Nancy in Cambridge. That’s my Nancy. You’re probably wondering what the questions were. You can check that out at http://csnne.platformicstaging.com/pages/tommy_mike_mailbag. (I sent in one of my own: Is Dwight Howard a dirty player? They aired it, too. Just call me Samuel in Cambridge.)

Fandom (or is it fanhood? fanship?) is an interesting state of mind. What makes Nancy a fan? Has she declared her loyalty to Paul Pierce, KG, Perk, Rajon and the rest of the team? Well, yes. But that isn’t what being a fan means since all of those guys can retire or be traded and she would still be a Celtics fan. Being a fan means declaring your loyalty. Not to individuals but to the group. That’s what people mean when they talk about being a part of the Red Sox Nation. You don’t get a passport. You don’t pay taxes. You don’t vote. You simply declare your membership in the tribe.

Why in the world would anyone do that? I found out when, following my wife into fan world, I declared myself a member of Celtics Nation. Here’s what happened. Whenever we won, I felt elated. If it was an afternoon game, I walked around with a bounce in my step. If it was an evening game, I slept like a log. But if we lost, then I was as sad as a sunflower in a dry season, head drooping, morose, poor appetite and heavy on the vodka martinis.

I have a friend who lives two houses down from us. Bob is also a Celtics fan. In fact, we spend a lot of our time together ordering Chinese in or pizza and watching the game. He is also a psychiatrist and therefore tailor-made to explain the mysteries of fandom. One night I asked him why I react the way I do. After all, it is just a game and it is played by guys bringing down huge sums of money. It is surely no skin off their noses if they lose. As the saying goes, they are losing all the way to the bank.

My friend said, “You react the way you do because you let yourself care.”

Well, that is certainly right. Becoming a fan is tantamount to my saying what is happening on the floor of the Boston Garden (a.k.a TD Garden) matters.

That’s when I realized that being a fan is a bit like falling in love. There is a big difference, of course. Being a fan is “falling in love-lite.” When your team wins, you feel great. Like winning at the slots. When your team loses, you hurt. Like stubbing your toe. But unlike real love, where breaking up is hard to do, the feelings, high or a low, don't last. It's like lighting a match. T
here's the heat and the light when you win. And when you lose, well, there's that wrinkly bit of charred wood.

It's an emotional jolt,
a quick fix that passes as quickly as a cloud on a windy day.

Go Celtics.