The Characterization of Fandom in the NFL

The Characterization Of Fandom In The NFL
M.D. Wright
Edited: 9.30.09

In this post, I will discuss the character of each NFL team’s fanbase. These are mere generalizations, so do not send me emails saying I am being judgmental or condemning one team’s fans LOL

AFC East

Buffalo Bills.

The Bills fan is one of the most loyal fans out there. I mean, you have to be, right? Half your games are played in below freezing temperatures. Many times, the zamboni guy has to shovel two feet of snow off the field before the game. They don’t brag much, as there isn’t much to brag about (unless you count the string of AFC Championships from 1990-1993 — and the subsequent losses in each Super Bowl that followed). However, you won’t find too many more loyal fans than these. And they do not have bandwagoners. Why? It’s Buffalo. Most people can’t locate it on a map, much less pull a quad muscle jumping onto the bandwagon. Restricted to people from Western New York State, northwestern Pennsylvania, southern Ontario and the transplants who have moved elsewhere throughout the United States.

Miami Dolphins.

Your typical Dolphins fan is of medicare age or a transplant New Yorker. Half of the people in the Miami-Dade area are from New York, right? Or does it just seem that way? At any rate, I can’t really say much for Dolphins fans. In the 10 years since Dan Marino (hereafter referred to as simply “Dan”, as is customary in my sports writs) retired, the franchise has been like a turnstile in midtown Manhattan. Several coaches, several quarterbacks, several runningbacks, several receivers, several offensive line (wholesale changes, that is), and the list goes on. The only mainstays from Dan’s days were Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, and they both left the team this offseason via free agency. Coming off a 2-14 season in 2007, I don’t know how I can characterize the Dolphin fan. One thing that DOES annoy me is that segment that is either old enough or likes to harp upon that 1972 team. When I encounter THAT group, I nearly throw up in my throat.

New England Patriots.

I will try to keep this brief. You have two sets of “FANS” when it comes to the Patriots. You have the Bill Simmons Patriot fan who survived the 1980s (including the Bears annihilation in Super Bowl XX) and endured the ups and downs of the 1990s (another Super Bowl loss, even more heartbreaking — to Brett Favre and Reggie White’s Packers), and you have the bandwagoner who isn’t from Medford, or Bristol, CT or even Manchester, NH — but rather from Cary, NC or Kernersville, NC or some other podunk hole in the wall — claiming they have been a Patriots fan for “life”. Yeah, and I am Tiger Woods, too. Most of these people can’t name five players on the team (mind you, they have three or four PERENNIAL Pro Bowlers) yet, they are fans. A couple of them even slip up and admit (inadvertantly) that they became fans in 2001. Whether they claim to be frontrunners or not, most Patriot fans outside of the northestern US are bandwagoners. Plain and simple. I will not argue about that. I feel very strongly about this.

However, for those who were truly fans before 2001, I can somewhat deal with them, much like I can deal with TRUE Red Sox fans. The latter are reasonable, almost pisspoor and woe-is-me in nature about everything. When the Red Sox won in 2004 and again in 2007, they did not gloat. The bandwagoners, however, will let you know in the midst of every conversation, be it about NFL, MLB or their busted catalytic converter — that the Red Sox are the best ever. Such is the case with bandwagon Patriots fans. I can do without them. They have some of the worst “fans” imaginable — as is the case with anyone who roots for a Boston-area team.

New York Jets.
Hey Jets fan, us Giants fans pity you guys. Your team has royally sucked for 35 years and although we look at you almost as little brothers — even sharing our stadium with us when the Giants aren’t in town, we cannot stand most of you. Fireman Ed Anzalone is the most visible and vocal Jets fan, but he doesn’t typify the majority of their fans. Ed is a guy you can watch a game with at a bar in Weehawken, or even attend a Giants-Jets game at Giants Stadium and not be annoyed by all his yelling. However, the majority of the Jets fans that I KNOW are from Long Island, the suburbs in New Jersey and Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties in New York. A bunch of elitists who root for a perennially sucky team. Note the irony.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens.

This team, at least the incarnation of it (1996-present) is rather new, so its fanbase is pretty much limited to the DelMarVa area and a few holdover bandwagoners who claim that Ray Lewis saved their life the night the Ravens defeated my Giants in January 2001. Whatever. As for the rest of the Ravens fans, these guys have to cheer on a team that underperforms when the expectations are high, and overachieves when the expectations are low. For the most part, they have proven to be loyal, but I would imagine it was a tough pill to swallow to have a coach, who for ten years (Billick) was your head coach and offensive “guru”, yet your offense barely ever moved the ball. If not for the Lewis-led defense, would this team even be a blip on anyone’s radar? However, most Ravens fans are likeable.

Cincinnati Bengals. Hah,

These ARE your father’s Bengals after all. Well, if your father was born in 1943 and he watched those 1970s teams fritter away alot of good talent and never do much. In the 1980s, they were annually very good and went to a couple of Super Bowls (1982, 1989) but never won — although they SHOULD have defeated San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIII. The 1990s were brutal on Joe Bengal Fan, with failed draft picks, QBs who were busts, running backs from Big Ten schools (never good) and a defense that could’ve been mistaken for the waters that stood in front of Moses and the Israelites. Until about 2004, the Bengals were irrelevant. Then a funny thing happened. They began drafting semi-wisely. Chad Johnson (as he was previously known). TJ Houshmandzadeh, Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson. They were doing alright. The defense still sucks to this day, which is why, for all their high powered antics on offense, the team never has accomplished much except draw attention from the major sports outlets for Chad Ocho Cinco’s antics. The Bengal fan isn’t a bad guy, mostly working class and doesn’t gloat. Most of them don’t even bring up the halcyon days of the 80s. I can’t hate them for that. Good bunch.

Cleveland Browns.

I feel for these guys. They (well USED TO — since most of them live in Richfield and other antiseptic suburbs now) live in a stinking town, with a former stadium that was dank and never held up well after October in Municipal Stadium and now, with the former Browns team moving to Baltimore in 1996, this incarnation of the Browns (1999-present) has a brand new life and optimism. After a few false starts (drafting Tim Couch and hinging all hopes of success upon a second-rate QB), they have finally gotten it right. Most current Browns fans are those who rooted for the original Browns. These are good people. They love to eat. They love to drink. And they love their Browns. They aren’t spiteful, and they aren’t bitter in defeat. Who can’t deal with that?

Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsbuuuuuuuuuggggg (as NFL Films’ John Facenda used to say it) has a rich history, a history that a few people who are not even old enough to remember(nor have any connection to Western Pennsylvania whatsoEVER) like to go on and on about while claiming to be Steelers fans. For those who are tried and true Steeler fans, I have no gripe with them. First of all, they are in the AFC. The Giants only play them every 3-4 years. But for what I have seen, their fans are loyal to the bitter end. They had that 26 year drought of winning Super Bowls that ended in January 2006. They have had countless Hall of Fame players. They know how to tailgate, that’s for sure. Personally, I haven’t come across too many bad Steeler fans at all. The only ones I don’t like are those over age 18 who just “became” Steeler fans and are historians of the team all of a sudden since the 2005 season concluded.

AFC South

Houston Texans.

This is a new franchise (2002). Not much interest outside of southeast Texas (as the rest of Texas is Cowboy country and Louisiana is Saints Territory… WHO DEY?) and a few people who have ties to the high draft picks and what have you. I can’t write much about them, but as their fortunes look good for the 2008 season, expect to hear a few people exclaim that they just KNEW Matt Schaub would be great when given the chance, or that they said all along that the Texans made the right move by selecting Mario Williams #1 overall in the 2006 draft over Reginald Bush — or even that they’ve known Andre Johnson since BEFORE he got to The U. (Univ. of Miami-FL), much less during his tenure with Houston. We will see in a few years. For now, I don’t have enough information to write on them. Keep an eye on the things I’ve said here, though.

Indianapolis Colts.

Joe Colt fan is pretty likable. Even when they won the Super Bowl, you kind of didn’t mind that a few bandwagoners came out of the woodwork. Besides, who didn’t like seeing Tony Dungy win it all after his son died? As many Peyton Manning haters as there are (of which I am not one), he finally justified all the praise that was given to him coming into the NFL. Marvin Harrison is one of the good guys (minus shooting a guy in Philly last summer) in the league and their team is all-around disciplined, well-coached and doesn’t pop up on ESPN for getting in trouble. That sort of typifies their fanbase as well. They just go about business and are easy to get along with.

Jacksonville Jaguars.

The JAGUWIRES, for all their high-flying success (although no Super Bowls) in the 1990s after entering the league in 1995) have a pretty local fanbase. Not too many people outside of northeast Florida claims them. They don’t even sell out any of their games. They’ve always been good (aside from a couple of 4-12 seasons and .500 teams here and there), so you’d think there’d be a few bandwagoners. There aren’t. And I’ve been to half of the states in the US, and a few places outside of the US. Not a sniff of Jaguar pride. I don’t even know a Jaguar fan.

Tennessee Titans.

The Titans (previously Houston Oilers) have an interesting fanbase. Some of their fans are new. Some of them are merely Tennesseans. Some of them came with the Oiler franchise. Some of the old Oiler fans (I liked watching the Warren Moon Oilers — they were fun to watch) swore off the team after it packed its rags and left for Nashville. I don’t know too many Titan fans, but they aren’t really that well spread out to get a handle on their conduct. They aren’t loud and boisterous at the stadium unless they get a 80 yd FG by that kicker of theirs who never seems to miss anything. They aren’t a bunch of rednecks or hicks from the backwoods of Tennessee, though (unless you know some like that who can actually afford the PSLs for Titans games).

AFC West

Denver Broncos.

I hate the Broncos. I hate their fans. I don’t even know why. Yes, they did (and to this day are the last team to) win Back to Back Super Bowls 1997-98, but it was just something about those teams I hated. Their fans are much like that. You wonder how some of them even like Denver. Yes, Elway is the GOAT of QBs (no apologies to Montana, Dan or John Madden’s Boyfriend who plays for the Jets now), but their fans are some of the most obnoxious out there. They always think they are going to win the division. Even this year, I have heard so many of them (and let’s not get started about what I have been hearing since the MNF game in Week 1 of 2008 — after they beat up on one of the worst/most discombobulated teams in the NFL in Oakland) exclaim that they are going to win the AFC West. How? By hoping that LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates joint Shawne Merriman on Injured Reserve? Please. That’s what it is — they make me hate them because they always think they are going to win it all. I mean, on one hand you should be optimistic, but let’s be real. Even after shutting Oakland out, they are still a 6-10 team at best.

Kansas City Chiefs.

It is a wonder Herman Edwards still has a job. If it weren’t for his buddy-buddy relationship with Carl Peterson, he wouldn’t. Chiefs fans have been eating a lot of humble pie and crow since the turn of the century. I do not pity them. They used to be arrogant jerks. Their teams were good, but they started bragging at the tailgate outside of the stadium and they traveled well — doing the same thing wherever their teams were playing. Now that they are going to be losers for the next 2-4 years, I don’t hate them as much.

Oakland Raiders.
I would suppose there was a time when their fans truly DID scare you with all that Star Wars get-up that they wear in the stands. Now they just look like attention-deprived clowns. To think, some of those people work desk jobs next to sane people? These guys have suffered alot since Marcus Allen roamed the backfield and Howie Long would club QBs in the head when he piled up sacks. I’ll give them a pass. They would still be the arrogant, loudmouth douchebags they were when John Madden coached them if they were only that good.

R.I.P. Gene.

San Diego Chargers.
The Charger fan has taken on a metamorphosis. They always want their team to do well. What team’s fans don’t (don’t answer… you know its a certain team in southeast PA)? They were loveable losers after Fouts left, to very hateable winners now that they have a potent team (2004-present). I am a Charger fan, but I am Giants first. I became a Charger fan because Marion Butts (FROM? Florida State.) played there. Then Natrone Means (FROM? Carolina.) went there. I liked Junior Seau (pre-Patriots) and I liked Rodney Harrison hitting guys late and headhunting as the Chargers’ free and later strong safety (pre-Patriots — now I hate him). Still, most Charger fans are grounded. Only a few loopy ones here and there, thinking this latest version of the Chargers will be the ones to win it all — have become downright obnoxious. I am not one of them. I will watch the team bubble for a while. Then we’ll see.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys.
Easily the most hated team and most hated fans on the face of this earth. Philadelphia Eagles (hereafter referred to as IGGLE) fans would take the cake, but they haven’t won anything, so they are much like pre-2004 Red Sox fans. You hate hearing them, but then you realize your teams (Giants, Yankees) have more titles than their team will ever sniff before Christ comes back for us — and they’re not as annoying. Cowboys fans brag so much, until a knowledgeable Sports Guy like myself knocks them back to reality by stating they haven’t won a SINGLE PLAYOFF GAME since 1996. Then they shut up for a second. Then they start talking about Romo and Owens. Then they realize this team is starting to look like the 1990s Braves — only they won’t have a 1995 season like the Braves had. I hate them. And who KNOWS how many bandwagoners have been mixed in there since 1971?

New York Giants.
With the Giants, you get the essence of your typical NON-RICH New Yorker. The New Yorker you see interviewed on the street. The New Yorker who has to hold down two jobs to get by. The New Yorker who will give you the bird, curse you out and then enjoy ribs with you at the game. Although the Boston-biased ESPN goons will hate the Giants until the cows come home, how many people TRULY hate the Giants and their fans? Who were 90% of America rooting for on Feb. 3, 2008? Yes, I thought so. Giants fans are amongst (if not THE) most loyal fans in the NFL and all of major professional sports. PERIOD. And as with all New York sports fans, they know their sports more than any other teams’ fans. I will not argue this. It has been proven.

Philadelphia Eagles.
Iggles fans are the scum of the earth. Maybe they are bitter they have never won. They finally got NEAR a Super Bowl championship and thought the world revolved around them. Then the player responsible for them getting there threw their QB Donovan McNabb under the bus and skipped town. They have been irrelevant ever since. I wish they would just throw them all in the jail underneath the stadium (or did they not build The Linc with one like The Vet had?) Another annoyance is that their fans believe the ESPN/FOX Sports hype that always perennially picks them to win the division every year. Wait. With THOSE WRs? And the “best” of them is hurt? They just cut another one? Yet their fans still think they are winners. They throw batteries, snow and other objects at their OWN PLAYERS — laugh when a player nearly gets paralyzed at the Vet. They are the scum of the earth.

Washington Redskins.
I hate Washington. I have always hated the Redskins AND their fans. They have won Super Bowls, so they are particularly difficult to deal with. They are irrational and regardless of the fact the Redskins have been irrelevant (as a Washington, DC area team can possibly be) for the past 15 years, you never hear their fans shut up. Some call that persistence and consistent fandom. I call it delusion and annoying. I have never in my lifetime known more than three likable Redskins fans.

NFC North

Chicago Bears.

Bears fans are okay. They don’t gloat about the ’85 Bears much, partly because most of the people who are old enough to remember that team are too old to resort to such childish things. The younger set are irrational, though. They have been deluded by Bears’ management into thinking they can win with 11 players instead of 22 — meaning they have NO offense whatsoever, and it’s almost always been that way — meanwhile relying upon defense. They are a likeable bunch, though. I haven’t met a Bears fan that I hate.

Detroit Lions.
These guys have it about as bad as anyone. They’ve never been relevant in the modern NFL era — except when Barry Sanders was dazzling us from 1989-1998. They cheer on a losing team better than most people. I can’t hate on that. They should get rid of Matt Millen though.

Green Bay Packers.
The Cheeseheads are some of the most loyal fans out there. In fact, some of their fans OWN part of the team. How’s that for fandom? They are legendary tailgaters, bratwurst mavens and can down some lager like no other. They invented the Lambeau Leap with the Packer players and cheer their team no matter what. They never turn on the Pack. One thing that ANNOYS ME GREATLY is that Todd Rundgren song they play whenever the Packers score a touchdown. What year is that song from? 1976? 1978? Why are they still playing this? Why are they playing a song that was on the charts back when the Packers temporarily disappeared from the NFL conscious? Anyway, Packer fans are alright with me — just the ones who haven’t a clue about the players past ex-Packer Brett Favre and seemingly have NO connection to Green Bay whatsoever. I know a few of them right now.

Minnesota Vikings.

These guys are brutal. Not in a bad way, though. Opposing teams don’t like playing in the Metrodome with their imported noise and such. However, Viking fans aren’t insufferable; partly because they’ve never won anything. I’ve come across a few of their fans here and there. They know their sports.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons.

Before Deion Sanders (1989-1993) and Michael Vick (2001-2006) the Falcons did not really have fans. They had people who showed up to the Georgia Dome to tailgate and socialize and have something to do on Sundays. That’s it. Now that Vick is doing time and definitely won’t be back in Atlanta, it’s back to that. Simple.

Carolina Panthers.

Panther fans are manifold. You have your fan who dips snuff, drag races cars, wears the same pit-stained shirt for weeks at a time and has black fingernails… to your office worker who just pulls for the team because it represents the first NFL team in North Carolina, and then you have your money makers and movers and shakers that live in Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham who are either transplants from New York or New Jersey and bend over backwards to fit into North Carolina’s customs while maintaining their “we’re still better than you” mindsets about North Carolinians. Makes for an interesting and rare fanbase. Considering the team is less than 15 years old, that’s what happens. There are only four teams whose fans I know more of than Panther fans (Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles). Part of that is that I currently live in North Carolina, I know, but it seems like EVERYONE in North Carolina is a Panther fan. That is a lot of people. I can’t hate on them — until they start trying to bash the Giants, which many of them like to do — as if the Panthers have won anything yet.

New Orleans Saints.

I love Saints fans. They are wild and boisterous. Everything surrounding the Saints is a party. Even before Katrina, these cats know how to do it. The Saints have been horrible most of their 40 years in the NFL, although they are looking good the past few years. Jim Mora (PLAYOFFS?!?!?!) made them somewhat respectable before his “we couldn’t do… DIDDLY POO OFFENSIVELY…” speech following a loss to the second year Carolina Panthers in 1996 and immediate resignation. They weren’t relevant again until 2006. However, the fans are great. Who can hate them?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bucs fans are somewhat similar to Dolphins fans, except they had an inferiority complex until the Bucs won it in 2002. It seems as though they are headed back to those days when they wore the sherbet jerseys and once went winless in a season (once Derrick Brooks… FROM?! and Jeff Garcia retire in the next year or two). I hate to say that, but they are not going anywhere soon. Once Gruden jumps (or gets pushed off) ship after this season, they are going to be bad. VERY BAD. Hope the Bucs fans enjoyed the ride with Dungy and Gruden winning with Dungy’s players. Bucs fans don’t bother anyone, though. Who has a problem with them? Even when the Giants came to town for the 2007-08 playoffs, they were bragging but were NERVOUS as well. They were nervous for good reason as it turns out. But since they have won a Super Bowl, they aren’t exactly Chicago Cubs fans LOL

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals.
These guys have to be masochists or something. They have never come CLOSE to winning anything. They still aren’t as of the 2008 season. How do they have fans? Have you ever known a Cardinal fan? I haven’t either. What is life like for them? Do they work as collections agents to offset the pain that the other 31 teams in the NFL routinely inflict on their team? I don’t get it. They have a brand new stadium and come close to selling it out, but I don’t understand it. They have even begun bringing high priced free agents and nice talent in through the draft lately, but it hasn’t materialized into anything but 8-8 seasons, as opposed to the typical 4-12, 5-11 seasons the Cardinals have had throughout my lifetime (except for the Roy Green and Neil Lomax years) and for that matter, their entire existence. I feel emo now.

St. Louis Rams.
The Rams fan is unique. The team was based in Anaheim for nearly 50 years before moving to St. Louis in 1994. The Los Angeles Rams had a decent history and their fans were loyal. The St. Louis Rams fans are fickle. They’ve jumped on and off ship like they were fishing by mouth. They were excited when the team came to town. Then they were losers for about five years. The fans left in droves. Then they snatched Marshall Faulk from the Colts in 1999 for the Colts to obtain the rights to draft Edgerrin James. Then Trent Green got blown up by Rodney Harrison and Kurt Warner, who had probably bagged my cousin Patrice’s groceries in Iowa at one time, came in and led them to a Super Bowl. Next thing you know, they have the Greatest Show on Turf! People were rockin’ Faulk jerseys left and right. The Rams had a lot of fans on the east coast, which is striking, given the east coast is where the NFL began and most people are entrenched in their fandom. Makes you wonder.

At any rate, the Rams are probably the worst team in the NFL in 2008 and will be for a while. We will see how this affects their fans. They are notorious for being fickle.

San Francisco 49ers.
I hated San Francisco growing up. I hated their fans, they were arrogant, much like Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice were. They thought they were better than everyone else. Secretly, the 49ers were PETRIFIED of ever playing the Giants in the 1980s and early 1990s. They were able to avoid playing the Giants several times, but whenever they did (aside from one playoff blowout) they lost. Lawrence Taylor & Co. had that effect on all teams, no shame there. Now that they are pitiful, I have no pity for them. Let them suffer. They never had to from 1981-2002. That’s a long time to never experience pain. And no, Joe Montana gettin’ knocked the F out by Leonard Marshall in the 1990 NFC Championship game like he played on “Friday” doesn’t count as pain. LOSING is pain. And you learn a lot more about yourself in losses than victories. So LEARN, 49er fan!

Seattle Seahawks.
Interesting bunch. They’ve never won. They’ve had decent teams. They’ve had horrible teams. They’ve been to the Super Bowl. They are loyal. But they are regional. Couple that with the fact they were rarely on national televised games, and you halfway wonder what a Seattle fan is like. Do they drink Starbuck’s at the game? Do they instinctively pack a parka, umbrella and galoshes by Osh Kosh B’Gosh for every game? They ought to send that bald guy from National Geographic to investigate Nils the Seahawk fan to get the pulse of the Hawk Nation. We hardly know ye.

Next time (school schedule permitting) I’ll be doing an NBA fandom characterization — along with 2009 NFL Week 4 Bettor’s Guide


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