We didn’t watch a lot of sports when I was kid. I’ve been to two professional sporting events in my life: Tigers-Yankees at Comerica in Detroit a few years ago, and Yankees-Orioles last fall in old Yankee Stadium. But when we visited Busia and Dziadzi, sports were on—Ernie Harwell calling the Tigers game on the radio; the Lions telecast on Thanksgiving; college hoops or football in season if my uncles and cousins were there, too.
At home, we didn’t pay much attention to sports unless a Michigan team was making a playoff run. I tracked the Roar of ’84 on black-vinyl-covered portable radio with a 9V power source and a hanger for an antenna. We watched the Motor City Bad Boys elbow their way to back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990, and watched the Wolverines bounce Seton Hall from the NCAA tournament in 1989. I had a big box of baseball cards, but didn’t know the three Don Mattingly rookies were worth anything until a kid at school showed me a photo in a collector’s magazine in junior high.
These days I get a lot of grief here in Minnesota for not rooting for the Twins and the Vikings, and a lot of grief all over the place for cheering for the Yankees. I have my reasons for the teams I cheer for, but none of them have to do with family ties or geographic loyalty. In fact, my reasons are only slightly better than colors and mascots. Here’s the breakdown:
MLB: Yankees (Runners-up: Twins and Tigers)
As I said, I grew up with the Tigers. I loved Chet Lemon for his name; Señor Smoke (Willie Hernandez) and Aurelio Lopez for their names, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson for being Sweet Lou and Gibbie, game-in and game-out. About the only non-Tiger I could name anywhere else in the league was Kirby Puckett, and I loved him, too, for his name, his frame, and his game. Now I live in Minnesota, and the Twins always seem to put together a solid team. You gotta respect that.
As I got older, I lost interest in baseball. It seemed monotonous to me on television, and it wasn’t until after I was married that I began to catch the subtleties of the game. In fall of 1999, Jodi and I and two-year-old Brendan were at her parents’ place in South Dakota. Her older brother Brad was watching the World Series, cheering hard for the Braves, so I took the other side—the Yankees—just to keep things interesting … besides, their shortstop, Jeter, is a West Michigan boy. And I like history and tradition. I like raucous home fields.
The next spring, when baseball rolled around, little Brendan said, “We root for the Yankees, right, Dad?” He told me his favorite player was Andy Pettite, because he wore his cap low over his eyes—and he began to do the same.
How can you argue with that? We’ve been Yankee fans ever since.
NFL: Packers (Runners-up: Lions and Broncos)
Barry Sanders was a class act. Crazy talented and all business: no spiked balls or touchdown dances. He’s the one bright spot I remember for the Lions. Ever. I grew up in Michigan, so I wished (and continue to wish) the Lions well every year. But my cousin Mel was from Green Bay, right across the big lake, and Lambeau was legendary. Again: I like history and tradition. I like raucous home fields. When the Lions washed out, I pulled for the Packers. That hasn’t changed.
However: the first game I ever remember watching start to finish was a Broncos game, with Elway putting on a show. When I met Jodi, I learned that she is the only member of her family who is not a Viking fan. Her uncle told her as a little girl to root for the Broncos. So Denver stayed on the radar, too.
NHL: Red Wings
Michigan team. Yzerman and Lidstrom. History and tradition. Raucous home fields. And when I went to college, they were deadly on Sega hockey. We played a lot of Sega hockey. ‘Nuff said.
To be honest, I watch very little basketball. But the Bad Boys, and the fact that my favorite soft-spoken superstar from those days, Joe Dumars, is leading the organization these days, means when I cheer, I cheer for them.
NCAA: It’s complicated
I went to Yale. Long tradition of intercollegiate athletics, but aside from hockey, not grabbing national headlines these days. Still, I pull for the Bulldogs. I grew up liking Michigan basketball, but also have great admiration for Coach Izzo at State and Coach K at Duke. I grew up liking Michigan football, but I now work for Minnesota, so I pull for the Gophers whenever I can (football, basketball, hockey, and wrestling). I’ve never followed college baseball. I also worked for Ferris State, and will cheer for them, except when they play the University of Minnesota or University of Minnesota Duluth.
That’s it. For what it’s worth, the kids like the Vikings and hate the Packers. And Jodi likes the Twins. To each his our her own. As I type, New York leads 7-1 in Game 6 of the World Series. Matsui-san is on fire. Go Yankees!