Becoming a Fan
Hard to believe, but I think it’s true
By Marianne Aleardi

So apparently, I am now a sports fan. I’m not sure how it happened, but last year I attended 2 Phillies playoff games – and found them exciting. And then this year, as the Eagles advanced in the playoffs, I found myself making plans around the games because I was eager to watch. That’s crazy. Who am I?

Not only was I never a sports fan, but I think it’s fair to say I had some anti-sports opinions. A million years ago, I went to my first Flyers’ game with Joe, who has always been a loyal Philly sports fan. But I found that night to be more of a spectacle than anything else – and I don’t mean that in a good way. I just kept thinking if all these people had gathered to do something positive or useful, some good could have been put into the world. And on a more personal note, I was freezing.

If I was telling you this story and Joe was with us, this is the part where he would jump in to say the Flyers were down 3 goals that night when we left early because I was pretty miserable. And on our way out of the stadium, the Flyers scored. As we crossed the bridge, we heard them score again on the radio. We could hear the crowd go wild both times. And by the time we got home, the Flyers had won.

Joe has never mentioned going to a Flyers game again.

For years now, ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio has been writing for the magazine, and in that time, I’ve expressed to him my early thoughts about sports. “No, no, no,” he told me, “we need sports. People need sports.” Sal said that sports is a pastime that helps people forget, just for an hour or 2, any stress or troubles they may have. It brings people together and makes them part of something as they share a common love for their team. Sal is clearly a sports fan, football especially, but at the time, I wasn’t buying his message.

But maybe, just maybe, I do now.

It probably started when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. SJ Mag had covered the team quite a bit, so I was paying attention to how the season was going. I was very aware of how cohesive the team was, and how Doug Pederson’s leadership seemed to foster that unity. It was compelling to watch, and the win just made it better.

I also remember how happy everyone was during the week leading up to the game. It was a special time, simply because this one team we all loved was succeeding.

And then last year, as the Phillies started to do well, that feeling started coming back. Normally, I find baseball to be boring, but for some reason I started to understand the strategy of the game, which I found interesting. I also started to feel excited when a really good player, like Rhys Hoskins, would come up to bat when the Phillies were down by 1 or 2 runs and you knew that he could hit a home run. The suspense, the hope, the 100% focus on this one moment – I started to understand what SalPal had been explaining.

And now we have the Eagles with another impressive season, and I watched it all. I even watched the games that determined who the Eagles’ opponents would be in the playoffs. Although honestly, I wasn’t all that interested in those games. I tried to be, but I think my new role as a sports fan has its limits.

My other deficit as a sports fan is I don’t have a strong dislike towards other teams. If Joe sees someone wearing an opposing team’s jersey, I sometimes think, based on the comments he makes to me, that he’s personally offended. I don’t even notice what hats or jerseys other people wear. Maybe you need to have a long history as a Philly sports fan to have this internal alarm for opposing teams’ merch.

What I have discovered over these past few months is that sports connects people who may have nothing else in common except an adoration for a team. And when you watch a game, you can block out everything to focus on supporting your team. You hop on the fan rollercoaster, and everyone goes for the same ride. I’m starting to see how exhilarating that can be, and no one is more surprised by that than me.

We’ll see how far this goes. Who knows. I don’t think I’ll be yelling “Go Birds!” to a stranger any time soon. But if I hear someone who does, I’ll smile. Because yeah, I get it.

Read more “Wide Awake” by Marianne Aleardi

February 2023
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