Seinfeld was right: You’re rooting for the jersey

devils_jerseyI lived my entire life in the great state of Meechigan rooting for the hometown teams – Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons, Detroit Express and even the Michigan Panthers. I remember running out to my parents car in 1984 to honk the horn after the Tigers won the pennant, cheering for the Bad Boys when the Pistons won back to back (however how that tied in to MC Hammer is beyond me) championships, I remember watching the Wings and Leafs on a black and white TV in my room on CBC, getting a page full of autographs from the Detroit Express soccer players and seeing the Lions/Packers at the Silverdome. Life was good as a Detroit fan.

But then something happened. The Lions went into a woeful drought after Barry Sanders retired. The Tigers changed owners and things were managed down to the penny — and bottom of the standings. And the Red Wings got the snot beat out of them and the only players willing to defend them were those putting things back up their nose.

And it was during the many nights of watching Hockey Night in Canada that I realized – I’m a tool. I am cheering for a team, that is essentially a business where the CEO chooses to their spend money wisely for top talent or squander their annual budgets to hopefully gain a return. And it was at that time that I first turned my eyes to another team, one from outside of Michigan. Now don’t get me wrong, I could never root for the Packers, Twins and Bulls, but while each caused heartbreak as a youth I don’t really hate any of them anymore. Because, as Al Davis said, “Just win, baby.

So with that as a backdrop and the stars aligning, the St. Louis Blues traded future Hall of Famer Scott Stevens to the New Jersey Devils. A team from a state I’d never visited that used to wear green and red and wasn’t really on my radar until my local team let me down by playing finesse hockey and losing to lesser opponents. Stevens was, to put it concisely, a man among boys and had one of the most bad ass hips (and elbow) checks in all of hockey, as Eric Lindros can attest to.

It was because of severe disappointment that I ultimately stopped rooting for the home team. I couldn’t take the heartache anymore. I wondered, “Why can’t the players just try harder and make me happy? Why must every season end in disappointment?” Eventually I would go on to college, learn about business and realize that the owners of any said franchise or team are also business people and that their goal is to make money – not to win. Sure, some will pay luxury taxes and pay high salaries to hire the right coaches and GMs to win, but a lot of teams haven’t seen glory days in years. And as a fan I was just tired of it.

Stevens laying down the law; from Gorilla Crouch
Stevens laying down the law; from Gorilla Crouch

Ironically enough, I’ve moved to New Jersey and haven’t adopted a new NFL team. Maybe it’s because I watch sports with rose-colored glasses now. Or maybe it’s because players have come and gone, money has changed hands for the “newest” version of the vintage jersey that’s now been un-retired in favor of the newly designed jersey that came out last year, the players are all interchangeable and you realize that college and pro athletes are just adults looking to get a few bucks before their body eventually gives out.

Checking in on my roots, the Lions are still god-awful, coming off of the league’s first 0-16 season. The Pistons, while not title-worthy this year, at least had a good run and have put the right people in charge (Joe D) to lead me to believe that there’s a plan to win. The Tigers came awfully close to making the playoffs and, with some rule changes and roster moves, the Wings turned the team into perenneal winners after getting swept by my Devils in 1995. The other teams, due to a shrinking population in the area, have left or their leagues have folded. I haven’t completely given up hope that my hometown teams can win or will win, but I do .realize that this is a money making business and unless I’m gambling on the games or playing fantasy football for money it’s no different than the stock market, except in this game you only get the personal satisfaction of knowing your local team was better than the other guys. Even if he may or may not be from the market he’s rooting for.

So don’t judge when the kid from Michigan wears his Devils gear around town, and I won’t judge you when you wear your jersey. Oddly enough it just so happens to be where I live now.