1. What Dad says goes. If you grow up in a family where your father is a sports fan and follows certain teams, you have no choice. This is in the #1 slot for a reason. It trumps all other rules. My father grew up in Chicago and I believe he grew up a Cubs fan because that’s who his father followed. I think. (I need to go back and read Tuesday’s Child.) When he left home and joined the Air Force, he eventually met my mother, a Northern California native and, after a couple of relocations, returned to Northern California. My family has been rooting for the San Francisco Giants ever since. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 years. We went to Giants games on a semi-regular basis, but never the A’s. What Dad says goes.
Corollary: Apparently, if you are a girl and you get married, what the husband says goes. My sister, charming and talented though she is, has questionable allegiances now. Her husband is from Southern California. When they graduated from college, they moved to Southern California, where they spent the next 20 years or so. When the Anaheim Angels faced the Giants in the 2002 World Series, I believe she was rooting for the Angel since they were her husband’s team. The rest of the family has never really known what to do with this. I mean, my God, she even bet me when the Sacramento Kings were playing the Lakers in a post-season series — and she took the Lakers.
2. Geography matters. If Dad doesn’t follow a team or a sport, you are free to follow your heart, but the first priority is the local team. There are more corollaries to this than there is space to cover them. But I’ll cover a few.
Corollary #1: First in matters. Here in Northern California, for the first 15 years or so of my interest in sports, the Golden State Warriors were the only NBA team in the area. As a result, I was a Warriors fan. This was a sport my dad didn’t care much about. As he frequently said way back when — all you have to do is watch the last two minutes of an NBA game to see what matters. As a result, Rule #1 never applied anyway. I went with geography and followed the Warriors through years of misery. Trust me, misery. In the late 1980s, the Kings came to Sacramento. Geographically speaking, in the heart of my hometown, you know. While I became a fan of the Kings, I continued to follow the Warriors and when they played each other, I always have rooted for the Warriors. Because … yes, first in matters
Corollary #2: You know your enemies by where you live. Growing up a Northern California sports fan has meant one simple thing. It is the 11th Commandment. It is as basic to me as needing air to breathe, food to live, and beer in a glass, not a can. Thou shalt never root for a Southern California team. Ever. Thou shalt wish that nothing good ever happens for any Southern California team or its fans. Hence, any team south of the Tehachapis might as well reside in Hell. The Dodgers, the Angels, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Los Angeles Kings and now the Rams and Chargers in the NFL. Truthfully, San Diego is south of the Tehachapis but the hate isn’t as strong with those teams because … let’s be honest, San Diego teams never actually win anything. So, we feel a little sorry for them.
But back to the hate. For a NoCal sports fan, it doesn’t even matter what the sport is and whether you care about the sport. Nothing good can happen for those teams. Nothing. Ever. Did I say that already? Nothing. Ever. It should be the same for Cubs fans and the White Sox. Dallas Cowboys fans and the Houston Texans.
Corollary #3: There can be extenuating circumstances. I grew into being a sports fan in the 1970s. My dad didn’t much care about the NFL, so Rule #1 didn’t apply. The 49ers and Raiders were the local teams. But here’s the deal. The 49ers absolutely sucked back then and the Raiders were … well, the Raiders and I couldn’t be a fan of them. So, I looked around. The Steelers had characters and a run of success no team has ever had — winning four Super Bowls in six years. I started following the Steelers and have been with them ever since, even if they are 3,000 miles away. Yes, I chose to ignore Rule #2, but I have complied with Rule #4 ever since. I should get credit for that.
3. You also know your enemies by who your team is. As a Steelers fan, I have teams I hate — all of the teams in their division (Bengals, Ravens, and Browns). Why? Because. That’s why. And then there are other teams — they are the teams that take away my team’s success. And for years, that team has been the New England Patriots. My dislike, my seething anger at the Patriots rivals the same feelings I have for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s strong. Similarly, the Anaheim Angels are not only a Southern California team, but they beat the San Francisco Giants in that 2002 World Series — they shall forever be on the no-fly list for me.
4. Once you pick a team, following these rules, there is no going back. You can’t change your mind because your team sucks. You can’t change your mind because that other team is so good or because your favorite player left for other parts. No, you follow your team through thick and thin. Except for one exception — when your team leaves you.
This all leads to the conundrum I have for today’s Super Bowl, and my final rule.
5. Sometimes you just make this shit up. Based on geography, I can’t root for the Los Angeles Rams. Based on being a Steelers fan, I can’t root for the New England Patriots. But … the Steelers are the only NFL team to win six Super Bowls. It is a mark of distinction that has held them above all other NFL teams for decades. As a result, I root against any team that gets close. If the Patriots win today, they will have won their sixth Super Bowl. That is simply unfathomable. As a result, I will be rooting for the Rams. But I think the Patriots are going to win and that this is the year when somebody matches the Steelers in this hallowed category for the first time in forever.