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March 2012

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The Aftermath of a Sports Divorce

Written by , Posted in General

Jerry Seinfeld famously joked that the frequency with which athletes change teams these days means fans are reduced to cheering not for people, but for laundry.

In principle he’s right–your team is your team, even when they sign Milton Bradley to an ill-advised $30M contract.  Likewise, Carlos Zambrano didn’t have a lot of fans ’round these parts, but that didn’t make anyone less of a Cubs fan, or less interested in seeing him succeed for the good of the team.  The same would go for the near-universally reviled Ryan Braun–if he was traded to the Cubs tomorrow, we might not like him, but we’d want him to play well for the sake of the Cubs’ success.  In that regard at least, we are cheering for laundry.

But not always–sometimes fan loyalty transcends the uniform.  We got a good reminder of that on Wednesday when the Indianapolis Colts parted ways with Peyton Manning.  If you listened to sports radio or watched ESPN you probably saw tearful testimonies of fans vowing to burn their Colts gear and never return to Lucas Oil Stadium until Peyton comes back to “kick the Colts’ butts.”  Others were too busy to grieve as they pre-ordered their (future Hall of Famer) Andrew Luck jerseys.  The divorce between the franchise and the franchise quarterback marks a tipping point for many Colts fans–should they stay or should they go?

I feel a lot of sympathy for Colts fans caught in the middle of this sports divorce.  The business of sports isn’t often sentimental, and watching one of your favorite teams push one of your favorite players out of town can feel like a cruel betrayal.

I’ve felt it myself in the past when the Cubs parted ways with some of my favorite guys.  I felt like I’d been punched in the gut when they let Mark Grace’s contract run out and he left for Arizona.  And I wanted to punch Jim Hendry in the gut when he didn’t resign Kerry Wood in 2008–even if he did it so Wood could sign for more money than the Cubs could afford to give him.  And I felt it again when, for the second time in two years, the Cubs denied Ryne Sandberg a coaching job.

I can tell myself that it’s just a business decision, and that I should be as dispassionate and unsentimental as professional sports have become.  But that usually goes out the window the minute I see one of my guys in another team’s uniform.

My solution wasn’t–isn’t–to burn all my Cubs gear and vow some sort of proxy revenge on the team.  I’m not sure what it would take to make me quit the Cubs–whatever it is, if it even exists, they haven’t done it yet.

But that didn’t keep me from being  fan of Grace, Wood, Sandberg, and others after they left the Northside, either.  I’ve never cheered for a non-Cubs baseball team the way I rooted for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 playoffs.  If Grace couldn’t win a ring with the Cubs, I wanted to see him make the most of his chance with Arizona.  And I shed a few happy tears when he singled off Rivera to kick-start the Diamondbacks’ ninth-inning rally, and hoisted the World Series trophy a few minutes later.

I was similarly pulling for Wood to get a ring in 2010.  It didn’t matter that it meant cheering for the Evil Empire, or that A-Rod and Jeter would also add to their collection of postseason hardware–if Wood could win a World Series, I wanted to see him do it.  And I was bummed for him when he didn’t.  The same goes for Ryno–if he can’t coach or manage the Cubs yet, then I want him to succeed with any teams that do want him (so long as it’s not the Cardinals).

As Seinfled’s joke illustrates, that kind of deep attachment to a player is becoming rarer and rarer in sports.  The rise of sabermetrics can lead us to viewing players dispassionately, more in terms of cold stats and rankings (don’t get too worked up guys–I know some of you still have hearts).  Fantasy sports can further divide your loyalty–heaven help you when your ace is pitching to your best hitter, or your lockdown defense is facing off against your most productive receivers.

Free agency, roster turnover, salary caps, and all sorts of other factors have aligned to keep fans from closely identifying with any one player or players these days.  Instead the fans who are crushed when their favorites leave look like simpletons for caring too much.  The jaded, dispassionate sports world would tell us we have only ourselves to blame, and our disappointment is the price we’ve chosen to pay for getting too attached in the first place.

So while I feel a lot of sympathy for Colts fans this week, I don’t pity them.  They’ve had more than a decade with one of best quarterbacks to ever play the game.  He helped build a semi-dynasty, carrying the team to the playoffs with Braves-esque frequency.  He helped win a Super Bowl, and took them to another one.  And he revived a dead-end franchise and helped make Indianapolis one of the (surprisingly) great NFL cities.  And the love affair doesn’t have to stop here–they can follow him throughout whatever career he has left.

Instead, I’ll pity the sports fans who never get attached enough to a player to have their hearts broken like that.  They are the ones who are missing out.

  • Seymour Butts

    SET YOUR CLOCKS AHEAD SATURDAY NIGHT!

    • If you don’t, you’ll be late for church!

      • BLPCB

        But Homer Simpson doesn’t care about church!

    • BLPCB

      Lousy farmers costing me an hour of sleep!

      • Eddie Von White

         But at least you didn’t go to bed hungry.

      • BLPCB

        I’ll be thanking our lousy farmers in November when I get an extra hour of sleep.

      • Eddie Von White

         At least you won’t go to be hungry in November either.

      • BLPCB

        Clearly you never saw that Simpsons episode

      • Eddie Von White

        Clearly not

      • BLPCB

        They’re lousy because they don’t know ec

      • Eddie Von White

        The government does not have production quotas on farmers. They produce as much as they want. The price floors are just enough to keep the poorer farmers in business, thus keeping them producing cheap food for the consumer. Take away the welfare payments to the farmer and let the market hold it’s own- and the consumer will pay on average 28% more for their groceries in the store – like it should be. The government has no business in the private sector.

  • Seymour Butts

    I was rooting for the Yanks to lose, but Kerry to pitch well in 2010. You are absolutely right about rooting for the laundry. This year will put that in very plain view. Manning was a no-brainer, Neck injuries, especially with multiple surgeries, mean retirement or paralysis.

    • It’s not that kind of neck injury – especially now as they say the bone they put in there is stronger than the one he had originally. I think besides Theriot, the player I hated leaving was the Professor – Greg Maddux. This eclipsed the Lou Brock debacle tenfold.

    • BLPCB

      I wanted the Yankees and Braves to win that year bc of Woody and Lee

  • Nice read JJ.  Seinfeld’s observation matches my view of rooting for a college team that is not your alma mater to a tee.  

    • BLPCB

      There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in America. Less than 75 of them participate in big-time football. Not every last person who is a fan of these teams went there. In states like Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, or Alabama, the college football teams are their states identities. I highly doubt that every person in those states went to those schools.

      However, those who root for one team in basketball and another in football, I don’t get.

      • Rooting for laundry, to which Jeremiah’s lead-in aptly alluded.

      • BLPCB

        So I’m rooting for scarlet and gray laundry every football Saturday because I didn’t go to Ohio State? What if I go there for grad school? What if I was originally from Ohio? What if I has family that went to Ohio State or played for Ohio State? I’m still cheering for scarlet and gray laundry?

    • BLPCB

      Another Jerry feels the same way
      When Michael Jordan returned to the United Center with the Wizards, Jay Mariotti asked PA guy Ray Clay how he was going to introduce Jordan. Clay said he wanted to introduce him like he did when he was with the Bulls, but Reinsdorf ordered him to introduce him like any other visitor. Clay was fired at the end of the year

  • Eddie Von White

    Getting attached to players is not good. Even the most favorite home town guy will turn his back on his fans and enlist with the enemy if it he has something to gain – Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Brett Favre to name a few.  Indianapolis could have offered Manning a position in the front office or something, but they didn’t.

    • Eddie, I can see that in the future when Peyton indeed retires – he ain’t finished yet and he certainly did not turn his back on the fans .  Lebron could learn a lot from the classy way Peyton handles himself. James tries so hard to be loved but kept shooting himself in the foot from a PR perspective.

    • BLPCB

      Favre wanted to come back with the Packers, but they said no. I hate how people criticize guys who starred with one team play for someone else. Because they want to play the game they love, and someone wants to sign them, but the team they starred for doesn’t want them anymore, it makes them an idiot?

      • Mrbig

        It’s not the fact that he left, as a Packer fan I was fine with him going to the Jets, it was when he went to Vikings.

      • BLPCB

        Why? Because he wanted to play the game he loves, and they had an opportunity to win the Super Bowl? Everything was lined up perfectly for him to go to Minnesota. His coaches from Green Bay were there, he built the scheme they were running, and he was the final piece for that team.

      • Eddie Von White

         Theoretically speaking

      • BLPCB

        Are you telling me that that team is an ill-advised pass away from the Super Bowl with Jackson or Rosenfels? Please. I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.

      • Eddie Von White

         It wasn’t meant to be.

      • BLPCB

        What? If Favre doesn’t throw that last pass in 2009, the Vikings are going to the Super Bowl

      • Eddie Von White

        Like I said, it wasn’t meant to be.

      • BLPCB

        We’re arguing 2 different things here.

      • Mrbig

        Yeah I suppose it was the same thing with LeBron James.

      • BLPCB

        Totally different. The Queen was a FA in his prime. Favre was at the end of his career, and the Packers didn’t want him anymore.

    • BLPCB

      I’m sure Manning will have a position with the Colts when he retires. I believe Favre will still get something with the Packers soon

  • Buddy

    Don’t feel sorry for fans. They don’t own or work for the team. I love sports more than anyone I know, but this isn’t life or death. Players move on. Big deal. 

    • Eddie Von White

       Buddy – exactly!

    • Gymjok

      I thought about posting this a few articles ago during the fake Cubs win the world series celebration posts- but I didn’t want to rain on the parade.
      When the Cubs do win it, I have a bad feeling someone will be seriously hurt or killed in the celebration.
      I sure hope I’m wrong.

      • BLPCB

        There will probably be lots of riots just like there were when the Bulls won their titles in the 90s

  • Actually it is a big deal, Buddy. When I got married 30 years ago, my wife hated sports. She liked playing softball as a kid but being a sports fan of any team or player was nowhere on her radar.  Then she married a Cubs fan and an alum of Indiana University so bam bam there were two spheres of interest infused immediately into her life. In 85 came the Bears and so we added football, now there were three sports, covering the year roun. When the Colts left Baltimore I don’t remember switching allegiences immediately but by the time Peyton joined, we were all in – including my wife.

    I must admit she has taken this divorce much harder than myself. She is poised to become a Dolphins or Cardinal (Arizona not St. Louis) or Bronco fan, wherever Peyton goes and I’m not sure she will ever cheer the Colts again. It matters Buddy. It matters.

    • Buddy

      Of course personnel moves matter, they’re just not life or death. Players get traded. Players get cut. Players retire. Players leave via free agency. I wasn’t happy when Maddux went to Atlanta, but the world didn’t end. 

  • Gymjok

    “Don’t cry because it’s over.
    Smile because it happened.”
    Dr. Seuss

    • Nice epitaph. you can put that on my tombstone.  Or hey, I was also thinking ‘I told you I was sick!”

      • Gymjok

        How about-
        It was the walks.

    • “Live, laugh, love.”

      Some teenage girl

      • Buddy

         “Never pet a burning cat.”

        –Buddy’s friend Todd

      • BLPCB

        Unless you’re Jose Canseco rescuing one from a burning house

      • Gymjok

        LOL

      • Gymjok

        that LOL goes to Buddy

    • Jeremiah Johnson

       Great quote, Gymjok.  Perfectly sums up what I was trying to say.

      • Gymjok

        Thanks. It’s one of the sayings I have on my desk.

    • BLPCB

      Im putting that on my facebook

      • Gymjok

        Great.
        Spread the word.

  • BLPCB

    I’m putting that on faceb

  • Mark Strickler

     I’m not a Peyton Manning fan, I respect the guy and hope he retires before he gets a serious injury that puts him in a wheelchair or causes chronic pain injuries.  He’d be a great QB coach now and possibly a future head coach.

    • BLPCB

      Better to leave a year too late than a year too early. Leave no doubts

      • Tommy

        Sorry, I don’t think any of us want to remember Willie Mays as he was in his final year, feeble and embarrasing. We’d like to remember only The Catch.