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Just The Sports: Time To Face Reality

Just The Sports

Friday, April 07, 2006

Time To Face Reality

It is a well-known fact that the word fan is short for fanatic. What is not a well-known fact is that fan is also short for disillusioned moron. Fans of one particular team, die-hard fans especially, live in a vastly differently world than that of the objective observer. In a fan's warped sense of reality, every call that helps his/her team is a good one, every call that hurts his/her team is a bad one, the players should love the team as much as the fans do, and every game is one that the team should have won, regardless of the actual talent the team possesses.

The last aspect of the fan's warped sense of reality is what I want to deal with in this post. Living in New York City, I have been inundated with sports coverage of the New York professional teams and have had to listen to how the fans of the respective franchises react to victories and losses. What has amazed me is the sense of entitlement fans seem to have. They seem to think that simply by virtue of being New Yorkers, all the teams they root for should win every single game. Why they think that is beyond me since, outside of the New York Yankees, New York franchises have been notorious underachievers when it came to winning championships.

This got me to thinking about other fan bases who may be just as disillusioned about the true state of the team they root for and need to be introduced to a little thing I like to call reality. The list I came up with is: UCLA Bruins basketball fans, New York Jets fans, Philadelphia Eagles fans, and New York Knicks fans.

UCLA Bruins fans

Ask any Bruins men's basketball fan about UCLA basketball and watch his/her face light up as he/she tells you about the eleven national championships, more than any other college basketball program, and how John Wooden is the greatest college basketball coach to ever grace the sidelines. Then watch this fan become even more animated as he/she recounts the 88-game winning streak from 1971 to 1974 and how the likes of Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Reggie Miller once donned the Bruin blue.

But watch the same fan's face slowly fall when you ask them if UCLA is supposed to be such a dominant college basketball program, why is it that UCLA has only managed to win one championship in 31 years, the same as the likes of Arkansas, Maryland, and Florida.

There is no denying that winning ten national championships in twelve years is an impressive feat, especially since no other college basketball program has managed to do it. However, one must be careful not to overstate the difficulty of doing so.

When Wooden was winning his numerous titles, the world of college basketball was far different than it is now. Parity was non-existent as only a handful of teams had an actual chance to win a title. UCLA was like Tennessee in the infancy of women's college basketball where the Tennessee Volunteers had complete dominance over the sport.

Another thing to remember is the NCAA Tournament format at the time. For nine out of the ten championships UCLA won, the tournament field consisted of sixteen teams, meaning teams only had to win two games to get to the Final Four and another two to win the title game. It was not until 1975 that the tournament field increased to 32 teams, adding one to the number of a games the national champion had to win.

Compare that to the present day where the tournament field is now 65 teams and the talent margin between the lesser-known teams and the well-publicized teams is decreasing each year. This makes it exponentially more difficult to win a championship, let alone repeat what UCLA did during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the last team to repeat as national champions, Duke's '92 team, did it fourteen years ago. It's a different era of college basketball and the quicker UCLA fans learn that, the better.

UCLA still has a competitive basketball program, but it is no longer the dominant force it once was. In fact, it will never again be that dominant.

New York Jets fans

With the track record of the New York Jets, it is a wonder they have any fans at all. But the fact they do is a testament to the fact it is easier for a fan to root for the team closest to them. Despite the track record, Jets fans are still so disillusioned as to the team they are rooting for that they are surprised when the Jets lose.

Let's take a look at the history of the Jets in the NFL. There have been forty Super Bowl games played. The Jets have won a total of one, in 1969, and have not even appeared in any others. So the pinnacle of the Jets franchise occurred thirty-seven years, a game the majority of Jets fans probably do not even remember.

Since then the Jets have been wallowing in mediocrity and bad decision-making. When they are not wasting 1st round draft picks on the likes of Jeff Lageman (over Steve Atwater), Roger Vick (over Harris Barton), and Kyle Brady (over Warren Sapp), the Jets have found time to be essentially fired by their head coaches. In a league where head coaches rarely get to leave teams on their own terms, the Jets' last four head coaches have all quit on the franchise. One coach, Al Groh, left the Jets to coach the University of Virginia's football team. Another coach, Bill Belichick, quit on the New York Jets after being head coach for a day.

And to make matters worse and confirm that the New York Jets are a joke of a franchise, they do not even play in their own stadium. They pay rent to play in a venue called Giants Stadium, home of New York's other football franchise, the New York Giants.

If anything, Jets fans should expect to lose more games than they win. Throughout their history, their success on the football field has been minimal at best while their success in making bad executive decisions has been stellar.

In other words, Jets fans should stop their complaining and face the reality of rooting for a dead-end franchise.

Philadelphia Eagles Fans

Whereas the New York Jets have at least won one Super Bowl title, the Philadelphia Eagles have won none at all. They have appeared in two Super Bowls (1981 and 2005) only to lose both of them. Yet, the Eagles fans still boo. They boo their own players, they boo the opposing players, they boo the referees. The fans try to pass off their booing as a sign of being passionate about the game, but it is really an indicator of stupidity.

Booing implies that one expects more from the person he/she is booing. The Eagles have done very little throughout their history to warrant any fan to expect them to be a great team. A person can try to point to their current era and say the Eagles are a great team right now, but they would be wrong. True, they made it to four straight NFC Championship games from 2002-2005, but they only won one. Even the Buffalo Bills, who went on to lose in four consecutive Super Bowls, won all their AFC Championship games.

No matter how many games a team wins in the regular season or early rounds of the playoffs, a team is not a great one until it wins a championship. Then to continue to be great, the team must sustain its success over a long period of time. The Philadelphia Eagles sustained a fairly high level of play over a few years, but with no championships to show for it, all the wins are for naught.

Now the Philadelphia Eagles are on the cusp of entering a dark era. Their owner, Jeffrey Lurie, refuses to pay top-dollar for his players, so he is losing out on top free agents. They have no credible wide receivers nor do they have a durable running back. On top of that, the defense continues to rely on players who are getting older and are unable to perform at the level they did two or three years ago. Chances are Eagles fans have seen the last of the Eagles' quasi-success, at least for a while.

New York Knicks Fans

New York City has long been known as the Mecca of college basketball. It has one of the most famous courts in all of America in Rucker Park and can boast that some of the nation's best basketball players all hail from New York City. What the city cannot boast is a championship-caliber NBA team.

The last time the New York Knicks won an NBA title was in 1973, thirty-three years ago. They were involved in two other NBA finals, losing in game 7 to the Houston Rockets in 1994 and losing in 5 games to the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.

Despite the Knicks' many playoff appearances, they have not been able to get over the hump in recent memory. They were unable to take advantage of a Jordan-less NBA when Michael was off striking out for the Chicago White Sox. The fact is since the 1972-73 season, there have always been teams that were better than the New York Knicks.

Their recent failures make it even more surprising how fans are reacting to this season where the Knicks have only won twenty-one games out of the fifty-four they played. They really should not be shocked at all. The year before this one the Knicks went 33-49 and the year before that one, their record stood at 39-43. When a team does poorly three years in a row, it is no longer an anomaly. It is a reflection of the state of the franchise and all signs point to the fact the Knicks are regressing. Knicks fans would do well to remember that and stop thinking their team should win just because they pay money for tickets and cheer them when they do well.


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