Taylor: Searching for fanhood in the NFL

Jan. 14, 2013, 11:59 p.m.

I know that it is a little bit late in the game, but I have just two weeks to find an NFL team.

For the first time ever I intend to really watch the Super Bowl this year. I realize that this admission doesn’t do much for my sports fan credentials on either side of the Atlantic — over here, that it has taken me five years on the Farm to get round to doing this, and over there, that I’m going to spend five or so hours of my life watching American football — but sometimes the truth is inconvenient.

The one previous time I did watch was several years back from the U.K., but I don’t feel I can count that attempt. The time change meant kickoff was not until the small hours of Monday morning, so surprisingly I didn’t have much company for the game. Worse than that, though, I was subjected to British-voiced commentary — I’m still not confident I can trust a British person’s football knowledge — and all those breaks in play for the famous Super Bowl adverts were filled with either dead air or, worse, more insight from said commentators.

As much as I have been sucked in by U.S. college athletics, professional sports here haven’t managed to win me over. This past season, my record of Stanford football games attended stood at 12-2 and since basketball tipped off in November, I’ve probably already spent a couple days solid in Maples Pavilion. In comparison, I’ve still failed to go to a single live NFL, NBA or NHL game — though I gather not many people have been to pro hockey games in the last couple of months — and my last MLB game was maybe ten years back.

Even as I write this column, when perhaps I should be paying attention to the NFL divisional playoff action, I’m sitting in the upper-level media desk at Maples Pavilion watching the Stanford women’s basketball team.

Part of this is simply a question of time. Not only do I have some serious sports commitments back home, including following the mighty Reading FC — my struggling English Premier League affection — , but I’m also supposed to be writing a Ph.D. dissertation.

However, it’s barely mid-January and I’m not yet quite ready to give up on my New Year’s resolutions. I’m also having college football withdrawal symptoms, and my brother is heading across the pond to come visit me the week of the Super Bowl, so I’m desperate to try and entertain him with a hefty slice of Americana.

The problem, though, is that I just don’t really know which team I should support. I cheer for Reading FC because I was born and raised almost within spitting distance of both the old Elm Park ground and the new Madejski Stadium, and nationality puts me squarely behind any English or British teams. My allegiance to Stanford is the result of too many years spent on the Farm and too many hours spent watching various Cardinal teams and covering some of them for The Daily.

I don’t have a strong connection, though, with any of the 32 NFL teams. The Dolphins have the illustrious honor of being the first I’d ever heard of as a kid and the first player I was vaguely conscious of, defensive lineman William “The Fridge” Perry, played for the Bears. Just knowing who someone is, though, is hardly an exciting justification for my devotion, especially when the reason for that is mostly their amusing nickname.

Perhaps I should cheer for New England on the basis that I’m from “Olde England.” However, it would seem a little unpatriotic to go for a team whose name appears to celebrate a rather famous — and victorious — war against my home country.

I could maybe go with Cardinal allegiance, picking either the Colts or the Vikings — now home to Stanford’s recent Heisman runners-up, Andrew Luck’12 and Toby Gerhart’10, respectively — , or perhaps just copy the majority of my football-watching friends, and go with the Packers.

Green Bay doesn’t actually seem like the worst choice. My European socialist leanings make it quite appealing to want to support any team that is owned by its local community, and it would be intriguing to be in some small way part of that.

And finally there are the local teams: the Niners and the Raiders.

Much as I might want to dress in black and pretend I am a marauding barbarian, though, I just can’t bring myself to support Oakland. From my limited knowledge of the history of the NFL I know one thing for certain: that the Raiders once committed the ultimate sports sin, deserting their fans and running away to Los Angeles in search of greener pastures. That they eventually saw the error of their ways and came crawling back doesn’t absolve them of this crime. I have nothing against Oakland fans — in fact I am humbled by your ability to forgive — but if the Raiders had been my team, burning in hell just wouldn’t be punishment enough.

Which leaves San Francisco. As my closest team, it is maybe the laziest answer, but the 49ers do tick a lot of boxes. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has Cardinal blood in his veins and of my friends that don’t support the Packers, there are a healthy number of Niners fans. It’s also nice that they haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 1994 season, because locals will be extra hungry, though at the same time, the one drawback to their past record is an unnatural winning efficiency. In title games that have featured San Francisco, the team is five-for-five. I’m just not comfortable with that sort of sporting certainty.

Except that all of this carefully weighted analysis is a little bit too late anyway. As I finish this column, from those 32 teams, just four are left: the Atlanta Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens, the New England Patriots and, yes, the San Francisco 49ers. It seems that attrition has made my mind up far quicker than I could.

Go Niners!

Tom Taylor is already taking major heat in The Daily’s office for epitomizing the evils of bandwagon fandom. Send him your grief at to[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.

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