I have a theory, which, given my qualifications as a sociologist, is undoubtedly half-baked.
But the theory is this: That a sports fan’s fandom is forged by losses, not by wins. That true passion develops through struggle and disappointment. That you aren’t a real fan until you have your heart broken.
Championship teams, of course, always will have their share of bandwagon fans. But those fans will come and go, and they won’t know true love until they experience soul-crushing loss. Think you’re a Duck fan? I’m not sure it counts unless you cheered for them through the 1980s and through Bill Musgrave’s broken collar bone.
As somebody named Anonymous once said, “Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop.”
And that applies to sports.
It’s easy to root for a team that you know is going to contend for a championship (I’m looking at you, Laker Fan). It’s gutsy to root for a team that you know is going to disappoint you (respect to you, Blazer Fan).
The latest corollary of this is the collapse of the Boston Red Sox, who tortured fans for a month and then imploded in spectacular fashion Wednesday night. Boston blew a nine-game lead in September and a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning of the final game, then watched Tampa Bay rally from a 7-0 deficit to keep the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
For Red Sox fans, this is old-school stuff. Boston, after all, lost the seventh game of the World Series in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986, winning nary a title along the way. It blew a Ruthian-sized division lead in 1978. It watched the ball roll through Bill Buckner’s legs in ’86.
When it comes to spleen-splattering disappointment, no franchise in sports can match the Red Sox, which is what made the World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 so meaningful.
And that leads us to ponder the nature of fandom. It’s silly, really, attaching so much devotion to a bunch of guys who you’ll probably never meet and who will be with another team in a couple years. But it’s what we do, because we love sports.
We love the drama. We love the intrigue. And, yes, we love the disappointment, understanding that it enriches the soul.
Consider this: Would you rather be a Red Sox fan or a Cubs fan? The Cubs have had their share of pride-shattering moments, but most years they enter the season having utterly no chance of winning. Is it better to be resigned to mediocrity or to risk having your heart broken? Is it better to avoid the effort or better to risk the loss?
Somehow, in a sports world where failures outnumber triumphs, we know it’s better to risk the suffering.
As Tennyson wrote, “ ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Even more poignantly, as the Bruno Kirby character in “This is Spinal Tap” says about Frank Sinatra, “When you’ve loved and lost like Frank has, you know about life.”
Which, I guess, is the whole point. You learn about life. And when it comes to life, sports is a more unforgiving teacher than love. We keep hearing that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, but only about 3 percent of pro sports franchises win a championship in a given year.
If you root for the Mariners and Seahawks, that number is infinitely lower. Which, according to the theory, means that Seattle fans are as robust in their fandom as they could possibly hope to be.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “Like” him on Facebook, search for “Greg Jayne – The Columbian”