First Person / Zen and the Steelers fan
Share with others:
I called my father a few minutes after the Steelers' last Super Bowl victory. Amid friends jumping up and down and high-fiving, and the kids complaining about the adult noise, I asked my dad what he thought.
"It was a good game," was his reaction to the historic win. "But that offensive coordinator, he's an idiot. They should fire him."
My father is a true Steelers fan. A true Pittsburgh fan.
With all due respect to the people tailgating in Steelers' gear and singing "Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl," they are not so much fans as enthusiasts (personally, I fall into this category). Enthusiasts hope to win -- they even expect to win. They want to have fun. Lifelong fans regard enthusiasts indulgently, like small children. Perhaps they will come to wisdom in time and become true fans.
True fans understand that loving a team means suffering. After a lifetime following a team, don't hope for brilliance or miracles. It is better to expect bad decisions, last-minute fumbles and 80-yard drives that end in interceptions. Don't be surprised that the offensive linemen assume the football has been whistled dead and watch a defender scoop it up. Assume from the outset that every time you run a reverse you will lose yardage.
The suffering of true fans is not limited to the Steelers.
"The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score," wrote British author Nick Hornby in his memoir "Fever Pitch," about his years following the Arsenal soccer club. An American is once said to have told Scottish soccer fans after a defeat that it didn't look like they had much fun.
'What makes you think it's supposed to be fun?" was their answer.
My father is also a lifelong Pirates fan, which explains a lot. He has followed nearly every game since the 1940s, including the last 18 losing seasons, never expecting them to win, and often predicting accurately the inning in which they would blow a lead. But watching each game to the bitter end.
True fans reach a Zen state. They have valuable lessons to teach.
Buddha taught that wisdom begins with the realization that life means suffering, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly. Expect defeat and disappointment and you will not be disappointed. Victory is almost always a brief prelude before defeat. Winning the Super Bowl is a temporary high moment that presages a bad draft and a lackluster season.
For enthusiasts, this outlook seems depressing, even disloyal. Far from it. It is unquestioning love and commitment. Break my heart, it says. Disappoint me. Trample my hopes. I will never leave you. I will come back time and time again.
True fans live the kind of masochistic love the Supremes used to sing about.
My father has passed his wisdom along. My brothers and nephews watch Steelers games in a state of agony, expecting disaster and folly at every turn, even if they allow a sliver of optimism about playing the Jets rather than New England. They have no illusions -- but they will never turn away.
First Published January 22, 2011 12:00 am