I’m terribly biased, but I do happen to believe that New York City boasts the best sports fans in the world. Yes, a broad, bold statement, based on sentiment and lots of hometown exposure, and certainly not scientific, agreed upon or provable. But hey, it’s my opinion based on my person sample size, so we will go with it. As an example, I read and see a lot on the news about the rabid nature of international soccer fans with the accompanying hooliganism, death threats, kidnapping, etc., so I suppose there is a whole extra gear beyond what we see here in the United States in the four major sports with respect to fanaticism, but factoring in that I’m not all that interested in soccer and have no firsthand experience in fans beyond our borders, we’ll stick only with the states. One-plus states adding in North Jersey, really. Oh, and Long Island, which is more of a sovereign nation
When I think about what attributes constitute a great sports fan, I start with a deep knowledge and understanding of the game. Then add in passion (rabid passion even better), objectivity, a solid grasp of franchise history and key defining moments both good and bad. All that along with any unique characteristics that allow the collective group to stand out above and beyond the ordinary, run of the mill fan base, and we arrive at my definition of awesome.
Like most grading systems, this one will be both subjective and biased, with an emphasis on reinforcing all the stereotypes I’ve built in my own mind over nearly 50 years of rooting for (and against — yes, brace yourself Yankees fans) New York sports teams. So for instance, the elegant simplicity of “Let’s Go Mets” is without question a plus, while the whole Judge’s Chamber charade gets scored down significantly. Likewise, I applaud the Islanders fans long-ago chant of “19-40” for both it’s effectiveness in cutting to the bone of their arch-rival Rangers fanatics, while also showing a tip of the hat to their knowledge of NHL history (bummer Messier had to come along and blow up what was the absolute best chant in the NHL back in ’94).
In deference to those Yankees fans who may elect to read this post in its entirety before deleting my blog for good, I’ll approach the list in alphabetical order, starting with:
Brooklyn Nets: About the only positive I can see in their move to Brooklyn a few years back is that it moves them to first in the alphabetical listing of New York sports franchises. Gotta finish first in something, I suppose. They’ve been everywhere — Long Island, East Rutherford, Piscataway, the Meadowlands — and other than the Dr. J run of the ABA ’70’s, which precluded one of the most disastrous and shameless sell-offs of talent in professional sports history (essentially casting a lifelong pox on the franchise that even the Jason Kidd-fueled run of the early-2000’s couldn’t erase), the Nets have been all about cellar dwelling. And they do the cellar big, with not just poor but often league-worst type records. The gypsy routine has made it hard for the fans to gel and pull together an identity. No signs of that changing any time soon. Grade: D
New Jersey Devils: In the early-’90’s this franchise and it’s fans faced the potential of a dank future much like that of the Nets. However, Lou Lamoriello, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur forged a complete 180 for the franchise, delivering multiple Cups to Exit 16W and as one would expect, the fans responded favorably. However, three Stanley Cups, a model organization and annual title contention should engender a more rabid following, even in the current lean years, and the apathy of late doesn’t reflect well on the fans. Not sure how I feel about the move to Newark and the Prudential Center, but it doesn’t seem like it’s helped in any way. The team has also totally blown it by not playing up one of the all-time great urban legends — the Jersey Devil. The fact that this exceedingly creepy and mysterious creature’s tale is basically unknown to most of their fans (and EVERYONE not from New Jersey) is a huge swing and a miss by their marketing department. Grade: B-minus
New York Giants: Self-proclaimed gold standard of all New York sports fandom. They are great fans, no doubt — passionate, knowledgeable, steeped in the history of a terrific franchise, tickets handed down from generation to generation. But isn’t there just a touch of a smug feel to all of this? I mean sure, it’s easy to feel superior when you play in a division that boasts barely-literate fans of the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys, but the Maras didn’t invent the darn game for God’s sake. Not to mention that there’s this whole lack of clarity as to whether they belong to New York or New Jersey (and oh yes, it matters). Add in the whole taking themselves too seriously vibe that permeates so many aspects of the organization (I’m sorry but I just didn’t care that much that Eli Manning’s streak was broken, or that Odell Beckam Jr. may need a talking to from the owner…). Okay, maybe these are just nits, because the legacy of Kyle Rote Sr., Jim Lee Howell (great trivia answer, by the way, to the question “who was the head coach that had Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi as his defensive and offensive coordinators”), through Tittle, Gifford, Huff, Tarkenton, Spider Lockhart (had to include since he had one of the cooler names in NFL history), LT, et. al. make it hard to begrudge the collective pride of these terrific fans. Grade: A-minus
New York Islanders: I lived on “the Island” for two years in 2004 and 2005. Went to one game at Nassau Coliseum. Against the Rangers. The Islanders were terrible at the time. Standing room only. They won and the fans went absolutely batshit. In a word, it was “awesome.” Bring them back home to The Island from Brooklyn — now. Grade: B+ (only because I’m no longer a hockey fan — see Rangers section below)
New York Jets: Okay, full disclosure I’m a Jets fan. My history as a football fan defies some of my own fundamental principals around franchise allegiances (and the hypocrisy of changing lanes past the age of 12), but what can I say? J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS. Living off the fuel of selling an organization’s soul to steal Super Bowl III from Unitas and the Colts, this group of fans gets after it every Sunday. They’re crass, rude, uber aggressive and sometimes cross the decency boundaries, but they are also knowledgeable, realistic in the failings of the organization (and the fact that the curse probably will outlive all of us rooting today), and live and die by even the most seemingly inconsequential front office maneuverings (cue to those scenes of Jets fans absolutely losing their collective minds year after year back when the NFL held it’s draft in NYC — can anyone say “and with the 14th pick, the New York Jets select Jeff Lageman, Defensive End out of the University of Virginia”) of their beloved Gang Green. Slight point deduction for the deification of Fireman Ed, but nobody’s perfect. Grade: A-minus
New York Knicks: DEE-FENSE! Why is it that the most severe of the nether rings of Dante’s Sports Fan Inferno are reserved for those that least deserve to be tortured? The NBA fixes the damn 1985 draft lottery just to restore relevance to their dying New York basketball franchise and drops Patrick Ewing in our collective lap (yes “our” — I’m a Knicks fan if you haven’t guessed), only to see Michael Jordan come along and rip our heart out every year of Patrick’s prime (and then pass the baton to Hakeem Olajuwan for a year while MJ was off on his gambling-motivated baseball holiday). As a diehard fan, this one hurts me the most, mainly because my earliest memories of basketball are the spectacular three-finals-in-four-years, two-championship-winning Knicks of the early-’70’s. The organ, the deafening chants, Willis, Clyde, Red (hell we even loved Dean Meminger and Harthorne Wingo!), nightly sellouts for the fans to enjoy a clinic on team-first basketball, only to give way to Starbury, Eddy Curry, Big Chief Triangle failing as an antiquated, overpaid team President and most fatally He Who Shall Not Be Named — yeah, James Dolan. It is hard coming to terms with the fact that 8-year-old me may be the last me to witness the Knicks win a title. Certainly can’t blame the fans. Grade: A
New York Mets: C’mon we’ve got a jingle for gosh sakes! “Meet the Mets, meet the Mets…” (Yes, “we” — for those of you scoring at home, the Knicks, Mets and Jets share favored nation status among franchises in Sportsattic posts.) “East side, west side, everybody’s coming down…” The Mets were created to fill the void of the departed Giants and Dodgers but became so much more than that. From Casey’s lovable losers to Gil’s Miracle Mets to the Tugger’s Ya Gotta Believe to Darryl, Doc, Kid, Mex and Davey’s swagger and 116 (counting playoffs and World Series) wins in ’86, the fans ooze uniqueness and character. Another curse resides here though, as we all traded our collective souls to the baseball Gods as Mookie’s ball rolled down that first base line toward Billy Bucks that October night in ’86 (and oh by the way — I’d do it again tomorrow, even if does mean we’ll never get another parade). And now here we remain, through the mismanagement, bad trades (Nolan, Amos Otis and Singleton — even if it did get us Rusty in return), and last place finishes, we keep coming back for more, optimism always brimming. We’re 4-1 this year, so clearly this is our year! Grade: A
New York Rangers: Disclaimer here — hockey is the achilles heel of the Sportsattic arsenal of sports knowledge, history and opinions. I’ve only been to two Rangers games, rooted against them from across the Hudson as a Devils fan during the ’90’s, and stopped following hockey (other than an occasional check of the standings — are the Devils actually in the playoffs this year?) after the league flushed an entire campaign during the strike season of 2004-2005. All that being said, I have always admired the intensity and depth of Rangers fans from afar and if I reenter the hockey fan stratosphere one day, this could be my adopted team. Grade: B+ (only because I’m not a hockey fan–see grade for Islanders above)
New York Yankees: The Evil Empire. They are like rooting for the S&P 500. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Too easy for their fans. Has been for years — Ruth/Gehrig, Dimaggio/Dickey, Mantle/Berra/Maris, Reggie/Thurman, the Core Four…puh-lease? Are you kidding me? Try being a diehard when Willie Montanez and Steve Henderson are the big bats in the middle of your lineup, then we can talk! (Sorry, rantings of a scarred and bitter Mets fan.) The sense of entitlement among the Pinstripe Faithful makes hating them easy for the rest of us. Yes, I see all the banners, but Michael Kay and John Sterling alone take you out of the “A-grade” category. Add in the obscene ticket prices in the lower bowl and the fact that you TORE DOWN the House That Ruth Built? I’ll stop there, as there is a lot of fodder for future posts here and I need to keep some powder dry. As my math teacher once said to me as I attempted to argue a grade during my senior year of high school — “it’s a C and you’re lucky to get that.” Grade: C
Remember, subjective and biased, but also collectively the best fans in the world (or my world, anyway).