I’ve been fortunate, lately, in the teams I root against.
Rooting against a team delivers the same thrills and agonies as rooting for a team, in slightly muted form. As a Mets and Giants fan, I have the particular honor of rooting against the most hated/loved franchises in professional American sports: the Yankees and the Cowboys.
Some people argue that it is silly for Mets fans to root against the Yankees, since they do not compete with the Mets for divisional crowns or league championships. These people are morons.
Rooting for or against a team is never rational; it is driven by sheer emotion. The emotion that drives Mets fan to hate the Yankees was best articulated by the great Roger Angell, who described the peculiar fate of Mets fans, forced to live in a city surrounded by the smug exuberant hordes of Yankee fans.
Further, the Mets don’t have natural rivals. The only team that has shared a division with the Mets since 1962 are the Phillies, and until recently the Phils and Mets haven’t been good at the same time. The Mets rivals of the 80’s – the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates – are all in the NL Central now. The Mets chief rival in the Wild Card era, the Braves, spent the 70’s and 80’s in the NL West.
But the Yankees…they are always with us…
Hank from Tampa
And I’ve really been enjoying the Yankees lately. It’s not because they are in 4th place, behind the Tampa Rays. It’s not because A-Rod has joined Posada on the DL. It’s not because their young starters, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, are 0-6 with a combined ERA higher than the guy selling incense sticks at a Dead concert.
Don’t get me wrong – these are all wonderful things. (Well, maybe not Kennedy’s ERA, since he’s on my fantasy team…). But they are short-lived things. True Yankee-haters believe, even more than dedicated Yankee fans, the Yankees will always turn it around. Last year the Yankees had a much worse start, and still made the playoffs.
(Incidentally, it is the success of teams like the Yanks and the Boys [and Duke and Notre Dame, and recently, the Patriots] that makes it so fun to root against them. Rooting against the Clippers or the Arizona Cardinals has no thrill, since there’s no exquisite pain to put the joy in sharp relief.)
No, what is making the Yankees such an enjoyable spectacle is the wit and wisdom of Henry “Hank” Steinbrenner.
The Sports Guy has nicknamed him Tommy Boy, but that’s not quite right. Tommy Boy is too fun-loving, too gregarious. He’s also been called Mr. Hankee, Little Boss, and Yammerin’ Hank.
But I call him Hank from Tampa. It’s not very catchy, but I think that Hank Steinbrenner is the first professional sports franchise owner that has the same blustery, ill-informed, sometimes-accidentally-on-the-money opinions of a sports radio caller.
Mad Dog: Hank from Tampa, you’re on the FAN.
HfT: Hey Mad Dog. This guy who buried the Red Sox jersey in Yankee Stadium? I hope his co-workers kick the sh*t out of him.
The Yankees have been harder to hate lately. The team’s biggest jerks are gone (Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens). The October humiliations have lasted through the entire Bush Administration. The original Boss has become almost lovable with age. And the Yankee fans’ continued lack of appreciation for A-Rod almost makes you root for their best player.
But with Hank from Tampa, the magic is back.
Pacman to the Cowboys
As for the Cowgirls…it seems to me that Jerry Jones, who has always resembled the Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, had a meeting a couple years ago. It went something like this:
JJ: Here’s the plan. We need to assemble a roster of players that is most guaranteed to piss off this blogger, Keatang, who writes this thing called FreeTime.
Sycophant #1: Yes sir.
JJ: First, we need a pretty-boy quarterback with a name that sounds like he’s in a boy band.
S # 2: Right.
JJ: Then, after he wins a few games, we need to make sure the media goes overboard praising him, starts calling him a legend before he’s won a playoff game.
S #1: I’m on it.
JJ: Then, we need this pretty-boy to start serial-dating air-headed celebrities. And if we can get American Idol contestants involved somehow, that would be perfect.
S #2: Great idea, boss.
JJ: Also, we need to sign a selfish, loud-mouth, wide receiver. Chad Johnson or Randy Moss, maybe. Actually, no, make it Terrell Owens. We must have T.O. Keatang hates T.O.
S #1: You’re a genius.
JJ: Yes, I am. What else…oh, then we need to find a bona fide criminal. You know, someone with a long rap sheet, preferably involving strip clubs and guns. And he has to be really stupid. Ideally, it is someone whose best game ever came against the Giants.
S #2: It’s an honor to work for you sir.
JJ: Yes, well. This should all make us good enough to make the playoffs, where hopefully, horrible things won’t happen to us…really horrible things...