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One For Not Necessarily All

Moving article by Mitch Albom [1] in this week’s SI about the woes facing his Detroit, what with the Lions having gone 0-16 and the car makers doing measurably worse. He described an idea he had for a column nearly twenty years ago, getting together the main men from each of Detroit’s four big-time sports teams — the Pistons, the Red Wings, the Tigers and the Lions — for an evening out and how each guy (Joe Dumars, Steve Yzerman, Cecil Fielder and Barry Sanders) was pretty much a regular bloke and how they all got along and what a Detroit thing that was. Albom said he imagined you couldn’t do that in one of your bigger cities, mostly meaning New York.

My thought was why would you want to? We’re not like other cities. I don’t mean that in a parochial, pretentious way. I mean from a sports standpoint. We don’t all band together. Sometimes I think it’s too bad. Most of the time I don’t.

I’m not a huge Giants fan when measured against my Metsdom, but I’ll be watching them and rooting for them to advance this Sunday. Even if I wasn’t any kind of Giants fan, I’d be rooting for them. They’re playing the Eagles.

And I hate the Eagles. You know why? It has almost nothing to do with the Eagles. It has to do with the Phillies, specifically the afternoon of September 7, prior to the first pitch of the day portion of the Mets-Phillies day-night doubleheader at Shea. There was a generous helping of Phillies fans in Queens that day, which is like saying there’s a generous helping of gonorrhea amid one’s genitals. Anyway, one of them is talking to another of them and I hear them confer on the Eagles score, that the Eagles are winning, and that they approve.

Damn, I think, we’re in the midst of a pennant race and you’re here, in a baseball stadium far from home, and you’re worried about a football game? Of course you are. That’s the way you people seem to function. You’re all in it together with all of your teams as one. Wasn’t the overblown subplot of the Phillies’ eventual World Series triumph that it broke the streak of Philadelphia teams not winning championships? That it had been since 1983 since the 76ers did the trick and poor Philly, it waited through 99 separate seasons of missing out in the interim?

What hogwash this struck me as. How did one team become four teams? What the phudge do the Phillies have to do with the Eagles with the Sixers with the Flyers, other than they’re all detestable in their own way and they all play on the same block? Yet that’s how it goes in other places where all they’ve got is one team in every sport. Even in those places where they’ve got two teams in some sports, like Chicago, they tend to rally around one team for everything else. Cubs fans and White Sox fans may differ greatly (only one of them counts a president in their ranks), but they’re all pretty much Bears fans from what I’ve noticed.

That doesn’t happen in New York, does it? There will be Mets fans like me watching the Giants and rooting for them on Sunday. I imagine there will be some Mets fans who are Jets fans doing the same. I also know there will be Mets fans who are Jets fans who, even if they hate the Phillies, have had enough of the Giants being Super Bowl champions. And that’s fine.

We’re not Philadelphia or Detroit or Chicago or wherever. We do what we do here. We may love New York, but our civic-mindedness will not be dictated to us. Oh, it’s been tried. Goodness knows we were told what great nights we were party to in certain suddenly long-ago Octobers, and most of us didn’t buy into it one little bit. We’re in a nonagon in terms of sports around here. We order à la carte, maybe one from Column MLB, one from Column NFL and one apiece from Columns NBA and NHL, if, in fact, we need more than one team, period. Whatever we are, we are not all in it together.

Good for us. Good even for those who don’t like who I like and like who I dislike. I thought it was tasteless, for example, when the Bill Shea video tribute ran at the top of the closing ceremonies on September 28 and, when his role in birthing the Islanders was noted, chants of “POTVIN SUCKS!” and “LET’S GO RANGERS!” were in evidence. Tasteless, but real. Real New York fans don’t suffer the existence of New York teams that aren’t theirs. Shoot, it was all I could do to tap the brake the other day at the sight of a couple of strangers in Rangers sweaters crossing my path on foot.

Is it because we as New Yorkers are more selective than sports fans elsewhere? Or is it simply a function of population? We’re selective because we can be? Or are we built to be discerning? How many of you have had to explain to friends from elsewhere that everything they assume about New Yorkers is at least half-wrong? That “just because I root for [team in this sport] doesn’t mean I can stand [team in that sport]“? That “as soon as I get done detesting [your local team in Sport ‘A’], I will join you in cheering on the demise of [the team from my home region I can’t abide in Sport ‘B’ regardless of what my birth certificate and/or driver’s license indicates]“?

It might work for Detroiters and Philadelphians and such to band together for common sports purpose, but it’s nice, somehow, that we don’t. It’s reassuring from a perspective of both critical mass and individuality that we don’t feel compelled to do so, no matter the forces (like local brain-dead media) that attempt to compel us in that direction every time Modell’s has limited-edition merchandise to hawk. On the other hand, it is convenient to know that if the Giants beat the Eagles, then almost every Phillies fan will have his or her Sunday ruined.

And no matter what happens in that game, this guy [2] now officially sucks like everyone before him [3] on such an occasion has sucked.

For the inside scoop on why Mark Teixeira chose the path he did (rather than the one containing a succulent feast of his favorite food), head this very minute for The Dugout [4].