I don’t really have favorite sports teams. I’m not a huge sports fan to start with — I find regular season games too low-stakes to pay them much mind, though I always tune in for the playoffs in pro basketball and the NFL. Like I do every year, I’ve been watching football for the last few weeks and am looking forward to watching the Super Bowl (the game, not the commercials or the halftime show) this Sunday.
But it presents a small dilemma, because I don’t know who to root for. Usually, since I don’t have favorite teams, I always root for Drama. That is, whichever team is behind, I root for to catch up. If they catch up and get ahead, I start rooting for the other team. My primary desire as a spectator is for sudden-death double overtime Drama.
But this year I happen to have connections to both the teams. I lived just outside Baltimore from 1985 to 1995, and I lived in San Francisco from 1995 to 2001, so both the Ravens and the 49ers have a legitimate claim to my loyalty. But from there it gets complicated.
When I was a kid I was a much bigger football fan than I am now. My family lived outside Cincinnati from 1978 to 1985, and when I first tuned into football, when I learned the rules, it was during the 1981 season, when the Cincinnati Bengals just happened to go to their first Super Bowl where they played… wait for it… the San Francisco 49ers, led by an ascendant Joe Montana. Since it was 1981, and I was a little kid, I developed dual loyalties in my first season as a football fan: to the Bengals in the AFC, and to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC (the latter long since cured). After the Bengals beat the San Diego Chargers in what came to be called the coldest game ever played (people wore sleeping bags in the stands), the 49ers vanquished the Cowboys in the NFC championship game, murdering my dream of a Bengals-Cowboys Super Bowl.
Through the first half it looked like the Bengals would win their first championship — they led at halftime and had looked great throughout. But as history has amply recorded, it was Joe Montana’s year, and he brought his team from behind to beat my Bengals and win the title. Best quarterback ever? No question. But I still never liked Joe Montana. Especially because, seven years later when the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl for the second and last time, they once again met Joe Montana’s 49ers, they once again led at halftime, and they once again lost in the final minutes, largely because they could not score on a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. (Nobody said being a Bengals fan was easy.)
In 1985 my family moved to Baltimore, and I’m sure I would have happily shifted my loyalty to the Baltimore Colts, one of the most storied franchises in the history of the game, but it was that same winter that Colts owner Jim Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis under cover of night — the footage of the Mayflower moving trucks leaving Memorial Stadium was ubiquitous on local TV that year — thus leaving my new hometown without a football team.
After I graduated from college ten years later, the Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, but with the stipulation that the Browns’ name, colors, and logo (or lack thereof) stay in Cleveland, so the team was renamed the Ravens, and Baltimore once again had its own NFL team, just in time for me to not care about it at all because I didn’t live there anymore — I’d moved to San Francisco. (Also, the nature of the transaction never sat right with me. Cleveland was never a great team, but they had the most loyal fans in football.)
As much as I loved living in San Francisco, I was never able to make myself a 49ers fan. My youthful dalliance as a Cowboys fan (I know, I know), coupled with their two defeats of the Bengals in the Bengals’ only two Super Bowls, soured that deal.
So who do I root for this year? I have to admit, watching the NFC championship game two weeks ago that this kid Colin Kaepernick is really fun to watch. Tall, lanky, very distinctive throwing motion. I’m happy that they finally went back to their classic Montana-era plain red-and-white jerseys, after years of experiments with ugly drop-shadows on the numbers and a drift into burgundy hues. (As much as I hated the 49ers, I always liked their uniforms.) Also, my Facebook feed is absolutely loaded with 49ers fans, to say nothing of my social circle — I have at least five full-on San Franciscans coming over to watch the game. Then again, if you know any San Francisco sports fans you know that they are absolutely insufferable in victory. (See: 2012 World Series.)
On the other hand, Baltimore is my hometown. I went to high school there, I went to my first rock shows there, I had my first dozen unrequited crushes there… it’s got a special place in my heart. But, I keep flashing on the image from just before the AFC championship game of Ray Lewis ostentatiously bawling his eyes out, hollering about Thank You Jesus, and staring into the sky, and coupled with the big dance and the way-overdone eye black and the flamethrower entrances… I just can’t root for that dude. And wasn’t he the wheel man in a murder like 15 years ago or something? Plus, I absolutely hate everything about the Ravens’ uniforms. I hate the colors, I hate the fonts, I hate the logo, and most of all I hate the numbers.
Yeah no, I’m rooting for drama.