The Tribalism Inherent In Being A Sports Fan

Last night we attended another Colorado Avalanche hockey game. It was a fun one too. The Avs, who have already clinched their spot in the playoffs, were on fire. The Avs scored 4 points in the first period, while the LA Kings scored none. By the end of the game, the Avs had gone up 9 to 3, and the fans were treated to a hat trick. It was the first time our son got to witness, as an adult, the unmitigated joy of other grown-ass adults tossing their baseball caps onto the ice.

As we were standing there, cheering after yet another Avalanche goal, Luke leaned over and said something to the effect of, “Oh, what a wonderful display of rampant tribalism.” He’s a funny kid. I had never thought of hockey fans as a tribe, but he is correct. There we were in our Colorado Avalanche uniforms (emblazoned Avalanche sweatshirts and hockey sweaters) chanting along and waving our fists in the air after every goal, so I guess we were definitely contributing to the tribe mentality. As part of the Colorado Avalanche tribe, I try to be decent. We had some Kings fans sitting to our left, and I did not do any taunting or trash talking. I let them suffer their humiliating loss in peace.

I began thinking about how many tribes there are. We often refer to our friends as our tribe, but there are other tribes too. You might have a tribe of people you associate with from your church or your child’s sports team or your office. I love the band The National and I’m part of their official fan club, so I am part of The National tribe. There are many tribes to which an individual may belong, intentionally or unintentionally.

I think it’s important, though, to differentiate between being part of a tribe and contributing to tribalism in a negative way. Being tribal, in its most basic sense, is actually a good thing. Tribes foster a sense of community. Ever seen how fiercely a tribe of friends will rise to help another friend who is sick or struggling? Tribes also create a sense of belonging, and that can be crucial to dispelling loneliness and depression. Tribalism provides the feeling that we are all in this together. When politicians speak of tribalism negatively, I think they are missing the point. It’s not tribalism that created our political divide but factionalism. On September 10, 2001, we were a fairly divided country. We’d emerged from a contested election, the outcome of which had been decided by the Supreme Court. We were split into factions: those who thought the Supreme Court should have allowed the recounting to continue to a satisfactory conclusion and those who were happy the court had decided to stop the counting and award the election to the person who had the most votes at that point in the process, George W. Bush. But when the United States was attacked by terrorists the following day, those factions quickly, albeit temporarily, dissolved. We united as one great American tribe. American citizens of every faction came together to aid in the clean up and recovery in New York City, to comfort each other in a time of deep sorrow and loss, and to donate blood. For a brief period of time, we united against a common enemy, terrorism. We proved how strong the American tribe can be.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian NHL players have been booed and jeered at during games and have received threats against themselves and their families for something they have nothing to do with. This is sports tribalism gone wrong. NHL fans need to do a better job differentiating between the actions of leader Vladimir Putin and the position of the Russian citizens who have been dragged into this war, some of whom are losing their family members in battle. We can do better.

Tribalism is a good thing that can have negative consequences if the power of the tribe isn’t applied judiciously. I’ve seen some impressive, positive sports team tribalism in recent years. When the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens on December 31, 2017, it put the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. As a show of gratitude, Buffalo Bills fans donated $442k to the Andy and Jordan Dalton foundation for ill and disabled children and their families. When the Bills were defeated in the playoffs this past season by the Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs fans donated over $300k to the Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo where Bills fans had previously raised over $1M to honor Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother after her death in 2020.

All we need to do is realize both the positive and negative powers inherent in being part of a tribe. We can use our tribes for good or not so good. So, when you’re part of the tribe at your favorite sports team’s event and they’re winning, be kind to the members of the opposing tribe. As with pretty much anything humans do, we can unite around good or evil. Make the right choice. As former First Lady, Melania Trump, put it, “Be best.”

Oh, how I love a good hat trick

Dammit, Dammit, Dammit, Bills, Dammit

I know spectator sports are not meant to be taken too seriously. Certainly, there are more important things in life, like health, love, food and shelter, and dogs…all the dogs. In every game, one team has to lose. I understand that. I try to keep it in perspective. But, for the love of pete, I am a Buffalo Bills fan and have been my whole life. Tonight’s loss, like the loss last year to the same, stinky Kansas City Chiefs, sucks. It SUCKS. As a Bills fan, I know that each season I am subjecting myself to an endless run of hitting my head against a wall, but I keep hoping. Always and forever hoping that I won’t have to go to my grave without the Bills winning the Super Bowl.

Tonight I made a big old charcuterie platter for the game. We opened a bottle of Beaujolais. I was prepared to lose, but was really hoping we would be able to celebrate. Steve, the boys, and I all cheer for the Bills. As we were watching the game, my mother-in-law said she was rooting for the Chiefs. Wait, what? Excuse me? I should have ejected her from the living room right then and there, but I decided to let her stay and eat. I’ll never know for sure if her misguided support for Kansas City changed the trajectory of the game, but I am still looking for someone to blame. So, there’s that.

Now I will be all in on Team Cincinnati next week. Go Bengals. And at the end of the day, I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl, just as long as it’s not the Chiefs.

About the only good thing to come out of today’s NFL games is that even if the Bills aren’t moving on, neither are Tampa Bay and the insufferable GOAT, Tom Brady. In the absence of a Bills win, I’ll take a Brady loss. Being a sports fan means always trying to keep things in perspective.

If you need me, I’ll be doing this

Bills Mafia For The Win

I was born in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. In 1977, when I was 8 years old, my family relocated to Littleton, Colorado. Most of our family still lives in New York, primarily in the Buffalo area. Although I’ve spent 75% of my life in Colorado and feel as close to a native Coloradan as one can get, one part of Buffalo has always remained with me. I am a Buffalo Bills fan. I know. I know. The Bills can’t win. You think I don’t know that? I was a Bills fan back when they lost four Super Bowls. I am well aware of their history. So, what keeps me a Bills fan despite all the heartbreak? Two things: first, I like an underdog, and second, Bills fans are resilient and have huge hearts.

Don’t believe me? Last weekend, the Bills suffered a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by Tom Brady. Many Bills fans believe the loss was due at least in part to missed calls by the NFL referees officiating the game. So, what did the Bills Mafia do? Did they sit around and whine about it? No. They found a constructive way to shed light on their loss by donating $17, reflecting the number Bills QB Josh Allen wears, to a local charity for visual impairment. Yep. Bills fans from across the nation and the world have been donating to Visually Impaired Advancement and trolling the NFL refs while doing it. It’s genius. And it reflects how passionate and big hearted Bills fans are. Thus far, Bills fans have raised over $40k for this charity through their generosity.

So, while the Bills may have lost their game last weekend, they haven’t lost their sense of humor or their kind, generous hearts. Bills fans, when encountering another Bills fan, no matter where or when, always shout out “Go Bills.” It’s exactly that camaraderie that makes being a member of the Bills Mafia an honor. Some people cheer only for a winning team, but Bills fans show up win or lose, season after season, always hopeful, always devoted, always involved.

The King Of I’ve-Got-This

He has the smug look of a Patriots fan down pat.
He has the decidedly smug look of a Patriots fan down pat. I’ll give him that much.

Although I wasn’t born here, I’m a Colorado gal. I’ve lived here 33 years, which is approximately 72% of my life if you’re into numbers. People here love the mountains, the sunshine (over 300-days a year, baby), and the micro-brewed beer. Above all these, though, there is one universal truth to life in Colorado. People are a bit crazy about the Denver Broncos. Families who are fortunate enough to have season tickets hang onto them for decades and leave them to family members in wills. And on the Friday before a game, it’s commonplace to see all kinds of folks of all sorts of ages, shapes, and sizes decked out in team colors. We are United in Orange, it seems. Well, most of us are.

It’s Friday, so this morning I reminded the boys that they might want to pull out their orange jerseys for school. When they were showered and dressed, I discovered only one of my sons had complied. Joe was wearing a Manning jersey. Luke? Well, he went another route. Luke came out dressed in jeans and a Patriots t-shirt, which was of course covered by a Patriots sweatshirt. For years I’ve tried to convince myself that Luke is both a Broncos and a Patriots fan, like I am a Broncos/Bills fan, but I’m starting to suspect that may have been wishful thinking. I think Luke has gone over to the dark side entirely.

“Luke, are you really going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered plainly.

“You know you have Broncos stuff you could wear, right?”

“Yep,” he said again, clearly nonplussed by my line of questioning.

“The other kids are going to give you hell for that,” I prepared him.

“I know. That’s the point,” he replied. “I like this.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had not needed to prepare him. Not only was Luke okay with wearing the Patriots gear, he was choosing to wear because he likes it and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He was not at all afraid of the idea of conflict. I stood there and stared at him for a few minutes while he continued to get his backpack ready for school. He sneered at me. Okay. Maybe it was more of a smile, but it’s so hard to tell with those defiant Patriots fans.

I thought about Luke and his choice as I drove them to school this icy morning. Luke may be the second smallest in his class. He may seem cute and cuddly (and he is). But underneath all of that he is a force to be reckoned with. I’m not exactly sure where he got his compunction because neither his father nor I have it. It’s one of those cases where nature gave him a gift. The kid has had a confident, can-do attitude since birth. As a toddler, he was the King of Me-Do. In his preteen years, he’s become the King of I’ve-Got-This. He knows that he can do anything, be anything, achieve anything. He knows his talents. He never has to be told or praised. He never questions the how or why of it. He simply knows it to be true. He is awesome.

I am working on myself this year. I am struggling to improve my self-esteem and my self-confidence. I’m focusing on positivity and goal setting. And I’m watching Luke for tips because, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.




Sour Grapes Just Make Bad Whine

Go Broncos!
Go Broncos!

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”       ~Vince Lombardi

So, we’re Broncos fans in this house. As you can imagine, the Super Bowl tonight was not exactly the game we were hoping for. We started off hopeful, quickly became disillusioned, slid right into disappointment, and from there rapidly devolved into depressed. And that was all before the end of the first half. Our sons, especially, were not handling the game well. At one point they vowed to stand out in the freezing cold yard until the Broncos scored. After 15 minutes, they gave up and came inside after hearing me drop a particularly fervent expletive. I guess we were all having a rough time. The game continued from bad to worse to appalling. The Broncos were handily outplayed. Seattle and their incredible defense had their best game, while Peyton Manning and the Broncos had their worst. Anything that could have gone wrong for the Broncos did. I started hoping the zombie apocalypse would interrupt the game and save us further disappointment but, alas, it did not.

As it became increasingly apparent how the game would end and as our entire family began spiraling into the pit of despair, I made a choice. I decided that if I wasn’t going to watch my team win the big game perhaps I could turn it into a win all the same. Instead of getting more upset, I reined my emotions in and modeled the attitude of gracious loser. I reminded the boys that every game has a 50% chance of ending in a loss, and today was not our day for a win. I reminded them to Look for the Good and Keep a Grateful Heart, just like our family mission statement urges. We talked about ways to do just that. So instead of ending the game with sour grapes, when the clock finally ran down and the blue and green confetti rained on MetLife Stadium, we ended it happy for Seattle’s first-ever Super Bowl win and grateful for a record-breaking season with Peyton Manning at the helm of our Broncos. Are we sad that the Peyton didn’t get to end his unbelievable season with a Super Bowl win? Absolutely. Are we bummed that we won’t get to enjoy a victory parade in Denver for the team that worked so hard for its fans all season long? Of course. But it isn’t the end of the world, and acting like it is would be an unfair example for our sons. Life is full of defeats, some of them crushing losses like the one the Broncos suffered tonight. Teaching our kids to accept disappointment is every bit as valuable as celebrating victories with them…maybe more so.

Our guys didn’t win the Super Bowl, but tonight I feel like we had a little victory all the same. Peyton Manning is not a failure because he didn’t get this Super Bowl win. He still had an unprecedented season that is worth celebrating. We have a tendency to focus only on the outcome and not the journey, and that’s not right. We don’t all get a Lombardi Trophy to hoist and we can’t all be Super Bowl MVP. After tonight, though, I hope our boys are on their way to becoming gracious losers because in this day and age it’s harder and harder to find those. Next year though, just for the record, I’ll be perfectly okay with it if we have to teach them to be gracious winners instead. The world could use some more of those too.

Thanks for a great season, Broncos!

Hey Coach Fox…Some Risks Are Worth Taking

The boys' first Broncos game back in November.
The boys’ first Broncos game back in November.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  ~Wayne Gretzky

Like many Denver residents, I’m still shaking my head about yesterday’s painful playoff game between the Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos, 9-point favorites going into the game and odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl, somehow managed to lose the game during an overtime period that might not have even been warranted if Coach John Fox hadn’t had Peyton Manning take a knee with thirty seconds left in the game. Now, I’m not a great armchair quarterback or anything (although my Fantasy Football team did finish second in our league this season), but Fox’s choice prompted me to shout a few choice words at my television. If the Broncos, with the ball on their twenty yard line and two timeouts remaining and one of the most successful fourth-quarter quarterbacks ever at the helm, had taken their chances they might have won the game outright, just as they were expected to do. But the coach, for his own reasons, didn’t want to take the risk. Consequently, I’m still shaking (and scratching) my head.

When I was younger, I was fairly conservative with my choices. I was not foolhardy. I held things close to my chest. I was careful to protect myself from possible disappointment. I avoided pain at all cost. You know…better safe than sorry, right? Well, as I’ve gotten older and been able to enjoy the unsweetened benefit of hindsight, I have come to realize that my only regrets in life are a direct result of the chances I did not take, opportunities I did not seize because I was cautious. I understand that you only get one go-around, so when an opportunity presents itself now, no matter how frightened or uncomfortable I am, I try to take it. It’s better to give something your honest all, to put yourself out there, and go balls-to-the-wall, than it is to spend the rest of your life wondering what if. Second guessing yourself is a worse fate than failure.

Today as I sat shaking my head about Coach Fox’s game decision yesterday, I found myself wondering if he is already second guessing his choice. If he’d let Manning play those thirty seconds and try to put together a drive down the field, we might have lost the game in regulation. Manning could have been picked off or there could have been a fumble. It might have ended badly. But, what if it hadn’t? What if Manning had pulled out another one of his clutch performances? Thirty seconds is still plenty of time in a football game when you’ve got a competent leader at quarterback. Perhaps we’d been have been able to give Matt Prater a second shot at a crucial field goal or maybe Manning would have been able to hit Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker for a touchdown? We’ll never know. I believe, as Alvin Toffler said, “It’s better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” In the end, people respect those who dare. And, those who dare never have to wonder what if.


Putting The “Fantasy” In Fantasy Football

I coach the Cougars. No. It’s not ironic.

In 2008, I signed up to play Fantasy Football with some girlfriends. My first year as coach and I drew the second spot for the draft. While the top three draft picks were all running backs, I decided to skip the usual protocol and draft Tom Brady as my quarterback as my first round pick. I thought it was a move of pure genius. The previous season, Brady had led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season before losing the SuperBowl by 3 points to the Giants. Despite their disappointing loss, I knew Brady was a two-time SuperBowl MVP. And, not to sound totally girly but, I had always thought he was reasonably handsome. I figured that if I’m going to be watching football, I might as well be staring at someone worth looking at, right? I ended up with a fairly decent team, and I could not wait for the season to start.

Then, as my stupid luck would have it, midway through the first quarter of the first game for my fantasy team, Brady was hit by Kansas City Chiefs’ safety, Bernard Pollard. Brady limped off the field assisted by two trainers and did not return. The news was bad from the get-go. Matt Cassell would be starting for the rest of the season. Seriously? I wasted my first round draft pick on Brady and he was done in 7 minutes? I was deeply, bitterly upset. He’d given me 7 lousy minutes and he was gone. Typical man. From that moment on, Tom Brady was dead to me. The next day, still fuming, I hastily backtracked. I dropped Brady as my QB and picked up Aaron Rodgers who was stepping up to replace Brett Favre. I’m smart that way.

Ever since that game in early 2008, I’ve lived to root against the Patriots and, most especially, Tom Brady. I’ve reveled in every single loss they’ve had. The day that the Buffalo Bills beat the Patriots, I jumped off my couch, screamed, and ran around my house hooting and hollering like a hillbilly who just found two possums in one possum trap. People have tried to reason with me. They’ve told me that Brady didn’t intentionally leave me high and dry. They’ve told me it wasn’t personal. It’s just a game. I wouldn’t listen to them. The bottom line was that I went out of my way to choose him and he’d let me down. It’s hard for a guy to come back from that in my book.

This year, I went into our draft with the same game plan I’ve kept all four years. Draft quarterback first. The past two seasons I had drafted Brees and Rodgers. This time, I had second draft pick again. I was thrilled. I counted on the number one pick being Arian Foster. That was going to leave my go-to QB, Aaron Rodgers, open for me. Guess what? Rodgers was the first draft pick. I was reeling. I thought about picking up Foster, but I really believe it’s more important to have the best QB you can get. So, I made a big decision. I swallowed my pride and drafted Tom Brady. It was epically disappointing to have to do it, but I’m a coach. You can’t let personal feelings get in the way of your team’s success, and Brady was the second best quarterback pick, in my opinion. It had to be done.

Well, so far this season, Brady has done okay. He’s not been knocking my socks off, but at least he’s managed to play without acquiring with a crippling injury. (Knock on wood, fingers crossed.) Today, though…today it occurred to me that perhaps Tom Brady and I are like some unholy union spawned in hell. My team won last week. Brady had not put up nearly the points he was predicted to, but at least it wasn’t dismal. I was feeling optimistic as the projected scoreboard for my fantasy match-up this week had me winning by 12 points. We’re not 5 minutes into the first quarter and I check my scoreboard to see Tom Brady actually has a negative 2 points. Are you kidding me? We’re cursed, Tom Brady and me.

I quickly whipped off a text to my friend, Andrew.

Me: You know…if Tom Brady was determined to screw me, I could think of a nicer way for him to do it than Fantasy Football.

Andrew: You’re giving a whole new meaning to a fantasy league.

Me: Hahahahahaha!   (Then I thought about it for a minute…was that a cut?)   Hey….he could do worse!

But, seriously, of all the ways for Tom Brady to screw me, his performance on the football field thus far this season is not what I had in mind. I could come up with myriad scenarios that would be infinitely preferable. And, you know, he could do worse. I mean, I know he’s married to a stunning, lingerie supermodel and….wait. Where was I going with this?

Tom…if you’re listening, picking you for my QB this season was a colossal leap of faith on my part. It required a level of forgiveness of which I wasn’t sure I was capable. I know the fate of my entire team doesn’t fall squarely on your shoulders, but it sure would help if you’d step it up a bit. I’ve got lots of fantasies involving you, but the best one was the one where you actually take my silly team to the championship game.





Not a Fantasy

"Win some/Lose some" is a lot less enjoyable of a sentiment when it comes to the playoffs.

Sometimes things are harder than they should be. I had all these grand plans to be good about writing every day. And, now here it is, 10 p.m. and my blog lies neglected. In my defense, it was a busy day. Spent my morning cleaning the house to host hubby’s birthday dinner. Later there was grocery shopping, shoe shopping for the boys, preparing food for dinner, wrapping gifts, picking up cupcakes, and then entertaining Steve’s family for dinner. And, don’t even get me started on clean up afterward.

But, sometimes no matter what you put in place things just don’t work out the way you plan. Today, for example, Aaron Rodgers (my #1 draft pick and star player) was supposed to lead the undefeated Green Bay Packers to yet another victory, this time over the sub par Kansas City Chiefs. Aaron Rodgers was supposed to score mercilessly multiple times on Kansas City so I could eke out one last game for my fantasy football team this season. Apparently, Aaron Rodgers didn’t get my memo. The Colorado Cougars went down in a football of flames.

Like most people, I have a tendency to get frustrated when things don’t go the way I had hoped they would. I handle sadness, anger, and rejection better than I handle disappointment and frustration. I’m starting to realize, though, that there are only two ways to handle unexpected roadblocks: 1) find a new way to your destination or 2) sit down, catch your breath, and enjoy the scenery from your current location. So, tonight I’m whipping my way through 350 words just to keep my promise to myself to publish something every day for a month. And, tomorrow, I begin my forced early retirement from fantasy football with a promise to myself to enjoy the rest of the ride to Super Bowl Sunday with my players even if it’s not for the win. It’s all good.

I’m going to work harder on focusing not on my setbacks and struggles but on finding the most appropriate way to deal with them. Maybe with a bit of patience I will be able to avoid becoming one of those people who complains about the things that happen “to” them instead of making other things happen “for” them? Maybe I can even get to the point where the end of my fantasy football season doesn’t even faze me? Oh, fine. I’ll start with a smaller goal. 😉

My Tebow Two-Cents

Is forced Tebowing for a blog photo considered an act of child abuse?

Tim Tebow. In Denver (and probably in other places in the west where the Broncos are the “local” team to root for), Tim Tebow is a big deal. I can’t go a day without hearing his name, seeing his face, or reading an article about him. When the Broncos acquired Tebow, a raised eyebrow was the only interest I could muster. Before last season when he allowed his teammates to shave his head monk-style, he got a bit of my respect for being willing to make light of himself and for being an unbelievably good sport. Then he was only allowed to QB three games last season, and he fell back to the recesses of my brain. This year, however, is a different story. He is everywhere, and I am loathe to admit that he’s gotten my attention. I’m sure I’d be sick to death of him and all the hype surrounding him if he wasn’t just so dang interesting.

The man is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He completes an average of 37.5% of third quarter passes, but somehow pulls together in the fourth quarter to average 61.3%. His plays aren’t pretty to watch, but his competitive spirit gets the job done. His teammates truly believe in him. He stands on the sidelines singing Christian hymns, congratulates the opposing team when they make good plays, and shrugs off even the toughest physical blows with minimal complaints. His post game interviews are textbook. He’s sloppy and yet capable of being smooth. I don’t get it.

I’ve gone back and forth on my opinion of him as a player. Like most of ESPN’s Sport Center guys at the beginning of this season, I wasn’t sure that Tebow’s QB style would be effective in the NFL. Now I’m not sure that his last-minute, come-from-behind victories this season are indicative of the fact that he will prove the naysayers wrong and become a great NFL quarterback. However, like many of ESPN’s Sport Center guys today, I’m no longer willing to say that he won’t either. I simply don’t know what to think of his potential, and I’m not crazy enough to take any guesses or place any bets on his ultimate success.

The one thing I am willing to say about Tim Tebow, though, is that he sure seems like a good person. If you have doubts, watch this. Even if you don’t believe his outward expression of his Christian faith has any place in the National Football League, you have to admit that he is a refreshing change from quarterbacks (not mentioning names but have some in mind) who will drop the F-bomb on the field when things don’t go their way. What Tebow has is a positive attitude and a deep faith that gets him through whatever he faces. I have to admire that. He’s an underdog, and I’ve always rooted for the underdog.

I have no idea how the Broncos will end this season. I have no clue if Tim Tebow will go down in the annals of NFL history as a top-notch quarterback. And, there is no way you will ever catch me Tebowing. Ever. But, for the spirit he’s brought to the Broncos this year, for the way he’s energized the fans, and for his constant examples of kindness, optimism, and good sportsmanship, he’s got my respect. I wouldn’t mind one bit if my boys looked up to him. And, that’s the best endorsement I can give him.