My brothers played football. My dad played football. As did his father, and his father’s father before him.
Ok, so that’s not true…except the part about my dad and my brothers. They did play. I grew up in a football household. I can remember watching CU/Nebraska games when I was too young to spell “rivalry.” I watched John Elway go from troubled rookie to Denver Football God. While I knew other sports existed and even attempted to play a few of them, football had my heart.
In 1995 a new team came to Denver. They changed their name from the Quebec Nordiques (where is Quebec, anyway? And how do you pronounce it?) to the Colorado Avalanche, and the bell of fate tolled. I began to hear unpronounceable names of players who, I came to discover, were every bit as skilled as football players, with one notable exception: they played on ice and strapped blades to the bottoms of their feet.
This brand new team gave Denver its first championship in the spring of 1996, and a bandwagon hockey fan was born. She wasn’t the most knowledgeable, or the loudest. She didn’t get to go to the Cup parade to see a young Joe Sakic hoist the Cup in his jersey and shorts (her parents wouldn’t let her take the car downtown). But she paid attention to the players with the strange names, especially the cute ones, with more passion than she ever followed football. Her entire opinion of the club was based on who the attractive players were, since all she knew of the game was that the goal seemed to be to get that frozen piece of rubber into the net, and hit as many people as you can on your way to said net.
In short, she was a little embarrassing.
This girl (me, in case you haven’t seen through my thin disguise as yet) followed the “hot hockey boys” casually over the next 7 years. She based all of her opinions about teams and players on looks, with a gradual metamorphosis into favoring those with the talent to score goals or make big hits. She went to her second Avs game in the fall of 2003. Not only did they flash the face of Marek Svatos (yum) on the Jumbotron, but the team was hyptnotic. The speed, grace, and violence of the skaters, combined with the beauty of the game, completely won her over. She started to actually watch games on her own, paying special attention to Svatos’ play, and went to as many games as she could.
In 2005, our bandwagon fan began teaching at a high school with a hockey team. Not only did the school have a team, but hosted many transplants who played AAA Midget Major hockey. By talking to these players, watching hockey with knowledgeable people (players, ex-players, and parents of players), the love of the game took root and began to grow. A few years later she bought season tickets for the Avalanche and never looked back.
I am a success story. I began as a bandwagon fan only interested in these tough-yet-graceful macho men who flew on the ice and looked like models off of it. But given time and the input of actual fans, I developed a true appreciation of the game with an insatiable curiosity about the sport and those who play it.
Long time, loyal fans are always quick to badmouth bandwagon fans. Bandwagoners talk about the team with the same passion and “knowledge” as loyal fans, but have only been following the team since its latest series of wins (or a big championship win). Loyal fans retort with muted guffaws and eye rolls and perhaps a brief rambling speech full of statistics. If all else fails, they will throw in a “yeah but I was there for The Worst Game Ever, so my opinion counts more than yours.” Female fans shake their heads in disbelief at the young girls who hold up “Marry Me, Matt Duchene” posters at practices and act jealous of every other woman who gets his signature afterward. These new, often somewhat clueless fans certainly say some crazy things and perhaps support the sport/players for less-than-pure reasons. But guess what? They’re still talking about hockey. They’re still supporting the Avalanche.
This is why I will never think badly of the bandwagon fans that show up at the Pepsi Center annually after the newest Peter Forsberg Return rumors. Young girls are in love with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly? Awesome. Sell them a ticket or twelve. Better the Avs than Justin Bieber. (Besides, who isn’t just a little in love with those two?) The boys on the ice can’t distinguish between the cheers of the bandwagon fans and those of the loyal fans. The money spent by the two groups on merchandise and tickets certainly doesn’t look any different. Since the media will follow the attention of the masses, the team needs masses to show up at every game. “Loyal” fans alone aren’t getting it done. Quite frankly, the Avs need some bandwagon fans to show up. Not everyone will be convinced by the game itself. Some people need to be enticed into following the sport. Hopefully the majority of these bandwagoners will stick around long enough to become true fans of the sport and will support the team through thick and thin. In fact, this has to happen if the Avalanche are to earn the respect and place in Colorado sports that they deserve.
But seriously, girls: if you’re gonna make signs, at least be creative enough to make this ex-bandwagoner laugh. It’s harder to mock you through laughter.