Okay, here it is straight: I like sports. Traditionally, women are supposed to only tolerate sports, sighing deeply and rolling their eyes while boyfriends and husbands spend hour upon hour in front of the television, leaving us “sports widows” to our own devices.
I never did have much use for tradition.
This is one my favorite weekends. Not because of Labor Day, not because of the return to school, and not because of the sales.
I love this weekend because it’s the start of another season of college football.
This makes me a happy girl.
I went to the University of Florida determined to stay focused on my studies and not get all swept up in the hype of all that school spirit nonsense. All that went out the window when I attended my first Gator game at the Swamp (officially known as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field.)
The smells, the booming cheers, the sounds of the players yelling and hitting and grunting – it was all so exciting. I had no idea how irresistible it would be. The roar of the crowd on game day in Gainesville could be heard for miles. The energy in town each fall Saturday made a person’s hair stand on end. When our Gators won a game, all 75,000 of us in the stadium were on a high for hours and didn’t even care about being herded like cattle down the walkways of the stadium.
I fell totally and irrevocably in love. And I fell hard.
If that weren’t enough, I was watching a team that featured legendary running back Emmitt Smith in his last college season. In fact, I nearly ran him over one day while driving on campus. It was his fault. He gave no warning that he was about to step onto the road – not on a crosswalk, mind you – to cross the street. If it hadn’t been for my quick reflexes and the 20 mph speed limit on campus, his career could have been over right there. I figure I own 10% of his knees but have never collected royalties.
You’re welcome, Emmitt.
And this is where I do get a little stereotypically female. I choose my favorite team based on emotion and sentimentality. Such an exciting and meaningful part of my life is forever associated with the Florida Gators, which means that no team will ever supplant them in my heart. I do, though, have other favorites – just perhaps with a few more qualifications.
First and foremost, I love my hometown teams. Rooting for New York teams is tricky, however, since there are more than one for each major sport. Because I became aware of baseball just when the Yankees were bullying dominating the league in the 1970s, I chose to support the Mets, even though, to be honest, I don’t pay attention to baseball that much. Any sport that requires a song and a stretch to keep their fans awake is immediately suspect in my mind.
Of course, there was a second reason to choose the Mets. Being a word nerd, I couldn’t ignore that the Mets rhymes with the Jets, and so I chose them over the Giants at a very young age. Of course, there’s even more reason to support them now that they have signed former-Gator Tim Tebow (whom I’ve watched since he was a freshman. He may be struggling in the NFL but he performed magic on the college field: two national championships, multiple broken records, and the first player ever to win a Heisman as a sophomore.)
Finally, the third rhyming team, the Nets, got my support over the Knicks, at least until they became the New Jersey Nets in 1977. Now that they have returned to become a Brooklyn team, I will forgive their defection and happily cheer for them. Well, if I ever decide to watch basketball again. The last time I followed the NBA, Larry Bird was still playing, Dennis Rodman wasn’t all inked up yet, and Michael Jordan was making history-making switch-hand layups against the Lakers.
As for hockey, it could only ever be the Rangers. Not only did I not grow up on Long Island, thus ruling out the Islanders, but my older sister used to tutor Anders Hedberg in computer science. That’s the kind of random detail that would often gain my approval for a team. The Rangers continue to get my undying loyalty and ice hockey is still my favorite sport after college football.
Beyond geographical loyalties, I still have reason to be emotionally tied to certain teams. I have fond memories of my time in Pittsburgh, so I support the Steelers as well as the Penguins (unless they are playing Rangers, natch!) Buzz comes from a U.Michigan family, so I cheer for the Wolverines and hiss at Ohio State. And it was always so fun to watch Michael Jordan play that I hope the Chicago Bulls have good seasons. This doesn’t carry over to other teams, however. An ex-boyfriend loved the White Sox, but as he fell out of favor, so did his team.
When it comes to soccer, the sentimental plays an even bigger part in my team choices. When it’s big tournament time, it’s easy to choose the Portuguese national team to root for, or the Turks and Americans if they ever make it far enough. However, it’s harder to develop team loyalties during the regular seasons of the various leagues around the world.
In Portugal, I placed my loyalties again with the home teams: Braga and FC Porto. Lisbon’s Benfica was too far away, and they were also the dominant team in the country, which also triggered my dislike (I like the underdogs, remember?). Some people became turncoats when Braga or Porto weren’t doing well. They strutted around in Benfica colors and bragged about “their” team. I prefer to stay loyal to my teams in both good times and bad. I think Red Sox fans might relate to this.
But I’ve never been so swayed in my sports team preferences by one single person as I was when it came to Galatasaray S.K.
In my first year in Istanbul, there was a boy named Fatih in one of my 8th grade classes. I’d been told that he was a problem student – unfocused, rude, and lazy. What I saw instead was a bright, energetic kid, small for his age, who possibly had an undiagnosed disorder like ADD or OCD, but who had a quick temper. He just didn’t know how to handle his anger at being teased for spending 5 minutes arranging pencils, or rewriting notes because he didn’t like his handwriting on a few words.
Once again, my lifelong defense of the underdog was activated and I developed a bit of a soft spot for Fatih. Because I allowed him his rituals and routines, and defended him against bullies, I quickly became his favorite teacher.
One day, the bully at the back of the room asked me what team I supported. He was an outspoken fan of Beşiktaş, which strengthened my resolve against that team. I caught sight of Fatih out of the corner of my eye. He had his eyes closed and his hands at his mouth as if he were praying, and he was silently repeating “Galatasaray, Galatasaray! Oh please say Galatasaray!”
Of course, I instantly knew where my support would go.
The look on Fatih’s face sealed it.
He jumped up and yelled at the kids in the back of the room, nearly getting himself into yet another fight they taunted back and got him angry. I told them all to settle down, and Fatih went back to his seat, smiling for the next 50 minutes. At the end of the class, he presented me with his yellow-and-red Galatasaray worry beads which I will always carry with me.
And that, folks, is how it is.
What is your favorite sports team?