Look up the word "sports fan" in the dictionary of your choice, and you just might see my picture. In 1997 and 1998, I was very lucky -- the Gators win the national
championship in football in January 1997, the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup twice, and the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series. Even the women's soccer team at the University of Florida stuns the world by beating North Carolina -- the preeminent team, year in and year out -- to win the 1998 National
Championship. The downside is that it will never be this good for me again. But I'll continue to cheer! These are the teams that I cheer for, listed in the order that I
started to cheer for them.
Growing up in Miami in the 1980s, when the Miami Dolphins (schedule) were the only game in town, I became a
fast fan. It didn't hurt a bit when they went to Super Bowl XVII and Super Bowl XIX, too. For much of my life, the Dolphins usually made the playoffs, but lost along the way to the
Having friends and family back in Detroit, a second home
for me -- of sorts, I also followed the Detroit Lions (schedule). But for the vast majority of the time I've followed them, they've really needed improvement.
They still do...
In 1984, I got into baseball for selfish reasons. The Detroit Tigers (schedule), the major league team in my second
home (and my only real team to root for, because the state of Florida didn't have a team at the time), was doing really well. 104 wins. The 1984 Detroit Tigers hold the record for most games in first place in one season... with 162. (That's right... the whole
season.) To win the 1984 World Series, they won the A.L. East, swept the Kansas City Royals to earn the pennant, and then they beat
the San Diego Padres in five games. (In my parents' generation, the Tigers also won the 1968 World Series. At least they lived in Detroit back then, whereas I was cheering for the '84
squad from Miami.) In the 1990s, they sucked rocks, but slowly improved. In 1997, the Detroit Tigers completed a remarkable one-year turnaround by finishing 79-83, third
in the American League East. Unfortunately, Detroit lost 109 games in 1996... and, in 2003, they came this close to tying the record for futility in the majors.
(They lost 119 games; the 1962 New York Mets, in their first year in existence, lost 120. Comparisons simply make me ill.) And while I miss the hallowed grounds at the Corner of
Michigan and Trumbull, Comerica Park looks like a fantastic ballpark.
In 1988, I got into basketball for the same reasons for baseball
-- selfish reasons. The Detroit Pistons (schedule), my second
home's NBA team, were playing the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title. The Lakers finally won in seven games, but the Pistons got
revenge. The next year, the Pistons swept the Lakers in four games for the 1989 world title, not three months after the men's
basketball team at the University of Michigan won the NCAA championship. Southeastern Michigan was the basketball capital of the
world that summer... and the Pistons repeated in 1990 by beating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games. Awesome. The teal-colored
uniforms didn't catch on, and they kept the new logo while reverting to the old colors: good old All-American red, white, and blue. Many thought that the loss of Grant
Hill would mean the team would suffer in mediocrity for a few more years... but in 2002, they claimed the NBA Central Division title. (Let it be known that I cheered for
'em in good times and bad!) And in 2004, they shocked the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals to win the NBA title!
In 1988, the NBA's presence in South Florida began. By the fourth year,
the Miami Heat (schedule) made the playoffs. After years of languishing,
the team began to figure out what it needed -- a great facility and a marquee player. The Miami Heat now have American Airlines
Arena, an NBA title... and a losing record.
I have cheered for my beloved Florida Gators (schedule) since 1991, which was
the first year I studied at the University of Florida. I have been to nearly every home game from 1991 to 1996, including the wins over Tennessee in 1991, 1993 and 1995;
the 35-0 win over Alabama in 1991; the heartbreaker to Auburn in 1994 (and the revenge two years later); the domination over Georgia in 1994 (the only appearance the Dawgs
have made in Gainesville in over six decades); the 35-24 defeat of Florida State in 1995; and the regular blowouts over the rest of the Southeastern Conference... Did you
know that the Gators lost only four times at home in the 1990s?
Much of the success can be attributed to Steve Spurrier, head coach of his alma mater from 1990 to 2001. We never knew how good we had it until he left... until
Urban Meyer came along!
ROAD TRIP! I can claim to have seen four Florida-Georgia games -- all huge Gator victories -- in four different kinds of stadiums. (Stadiaa?) I saw them win in
1991 in the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, the aforementioned 1994 thrashing in the Swamp, in 1995 in Athens (yes, I went to the game, and Athens is beautiful... but all
the cheerleaders are dawgs!), and in the refurbished-for-the-NFL Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in 1996 with Marty Gold. (It's since been the victim of naming rights, so
now it's properly called Alltel Stadium.)
I love the Florida
Marlins (schedule) dearly, because my beloved sport of baseball finally came to my home town in 1993.
The Marlins slowly progressed and transformed into one of the best teams in all of baseball. The glimpse into excellence began in the winter of 1997, with the signing of
Jim Leyland as manager, and then the Fish began to win games. They answered all speculation in the team's fifth year of existence by winning the World Series, but then the massive fire sale that fall proved that the 1997
Marlins were the best team money could buy. (Then again, I think the Yankees, from 1998-present, exemplify that a lot better than the Marlins did. But I digress.)
They went from first to worst in 1998 -- the fastest nosedive for a defending professional sports champion in modern world history. Ouch. Nonetheless, I cheered for them
in good times and bad -- and I saw the 91 wins in 2003... I saw the wins over the Giants into the Division Series... I saw the wins over the Cubs in the NLCS. I saw the
wins over the Damn Yankees in the World Series. We shocked the world! 2003 World Series Champions! (And there's no fire sale this off-season!) God bless the wild
What do I do when the Marlins and Tigers play each other? Well, they are in different leagues, so it's somewhat rare. When it does occur, I do what George
Carlin does: I cheer for injuries!
I've followed the Jacksonville
Jaguars (schedule) since they were announced into existence in 1993, when I was still in my
undergraduacy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Jacksonville is closer to Gainesville than Tampa is, so Gainesville turned
into a Jaguars town very fast. I attended a preseason game in Miami in August 1995 between the Jags and the Dolphins, and I went cheering for both teams. Hey, this
was Jacksonville's first-ever game in its home state. Wouldn't you know it -- they won on a last-second field goal, 24-21. Who knew that they would play for the AFC Championship in only their second year? However, they've fallen in recent years, and I hope
I had been a passing fan of the Detroit Red Wings (schedule), primarily because my father had
season tickets for years when he lived there. I was a passing fan because there was no hockey team in Florida. And then the 1995 season came upon us; since that
year's Stanley Cup finals, I have forever cursed the New Jersey Devils. I used to think that the Wings needed to learn how to play playoff hockey, but winning the 1997 Stanley Cup, in a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, proved me
wrong. And then they did it again, in another sweep in 1998, this time against the upstart Washington Capitals. (It's funny... the running joke that year was: "So what's your prediction for the Stanley Cup Finals?
Detroit in five? Detroit in four?" "No! Detroit in three!") And they did it again in 2002 against a surprising Carolina Hurricanes group. (Because the 'Canes moved to Raleigh from Hartford in 1997, I still hear the Brass Bonanza when I see them play.) Yes, the Detroit Red Wings' claim to three Stanley Cups in six years ain't bad at all...
Hockey purists probably passed a brick when they saw
Tampa Bay and Miami get NHL teams. Hockey? In Florida? HA! But then the crowds came. And they learned the game. And they loved it. And they stayed. In
1996, the third year of the Florida Panthers (schedule),
they were outstanding; they advanced to the 1996 Stanley
Cup Finals before Game 4: a heart-wrenching triple overtime game in Miami that resulted in a sweep by
the Colorado Avalanche. That's the best hockey game I've ever seen. Roy and the Beezer were stellar in net in that 1-0 game; they combined for 118 saves. And, since that
game, I have forever cursed the Colorado Avalanche.
I got into college hockey when I began my
studies at a hockey school. Yeah, most top-tier tech schools usually don't have a Division I men's hockey team, but Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute is not like most top-tier tech schools. (Heck, ask any alum about that, and they'll agree.) RPI fields intercollegiate teams in 23 varsity sports; under the classification of the Eastern College Athletic
Conference, the men's hockey team competes in Division I, and all other RPI teams are in Division III. And RPI not only has a good hockey team, they won the whole bag
of marbles -- twice. In 1954 and 1985, they took home the national championship in men's hockey, which culminates in the Frozen
Four. I've gone to a few games, and I love the atmosphere for the college game. Puckman Lives!
Speaking of college hockey, the best ninety seconds of hockey I've ever seen was on Saturday 10 April 2004 on ESPN. At
Boston's FleetCenter, the championship game of the 2004 Frozen Four featured a
1-0 lead for the University of Denver Pioneers over the University of Maine Black
Bears. Denver was 94 seconds from winning their first NCAA championship since 1969, and they were about to face an Alamo-like siege: a five-on-three power play for
Maine that would become six-on-three when Maine brought goalie Jimmy Howard to the bench for an extra skater (with 1:13 left).
With 2:09 left, Matt Laatsch went off for hooking, a gutsy call by referee Tim Kotyra -- considering officials are generally loath to grant power plays so late in a
one-goal game. Thirty-five seconds later, Gabe Gauthier, who scored the game's only goal, gloved a bouncing puck inside the Denver blue line and tossed it down the ice.
Kotyra didn't hesitate: Gauthier went to the box for the colossal gaffe of throwing the puck, giving Maine the two-man advantage that became even more potent when a skater
replaced Howard with just over a minute left. "I was a little shocked," Maine captain Todd Jackson said of the penalty calls. "We couldn't have asked for a better chance
Denver's goalie held firm, and the Pioneers survived one of the most frantic endings in the 57-year history of the championship game. Berkhoel turned away three shots,
another clanged off a post, and the puck stayed in Denver's end nearly the entire time. "Those were the longest seconds of my life," winger Connor James said afterward in
the Pioneers' rowdy dressing room.
It certainly made sense for me to begin
cheerin' for the school I currently attend, so now I cheer for the New Hampshire Wildcats. The first football season I saw, in
2004, saw UNH beat Delaware (the defending I-AA national champion) and Rutgers (a I-A team)... both on the road. They qualified for the I-AA tournament and beat
Georgia Southern before getting squashed at Montana. But let's be serious... this is a hockey school! And again, the first season I saw, in 2004-2005, was an outstanding
year for the Wildcats. They were in the top 10 the whole season, barely lost the conference crown, and got this close to get to the Frozen Four; Denver, the
defending national champion, beat us in the national quarterfinals before going on to repeat with another title.
So now I have three different schools to cheer for. What do I do if they play each other? Well, I don't think UF has ever played RPI in anything. UF is an NCAA Division
I school in everything, and RPI is an NCAA Division III school in everything (except men's and women's hockey, where they compete in Division I). UF does have a club hockey team that competes in Division III of the American Hockey Coaches Association. In
other words, it's very unlikely they'll face each other in anything.
Florida vs. New Hampshire? Not only is that more likely (because both schools compete in NCAA's Division I), but it happened in men's basketball. The game on 28 November
2001 in Durham saw UF destroy UNH by the lopsided score of 108-56.
UNH vs. RPI? That's the most common matchup of all -- especially in men's hockey. They've played 43 times: RPI leads the series, 23-20-0. (Yup. No ties. Yet.) The two
most recent games were a 1-0 home win at UNH on 17 October 2008 and a 4-3 home win at UNH on 29 November 2003.
On the morning on 3 August 2004, I received a package from a woman
named Danielle Alder, who was a student of mine at Southern Vermont College in the spring of 2003. She was very pleased to learn of my
move to New Hampshire. She's native to Massachusetts, and is a big baseball fan (like me). She welcomed me (back) to New England by sending me a Boston Red Sox baseball
cap! Well, that made my day... I grinned from ear to ear, and I put it on immediately. I wore it all day that day. As of that day, I began to cheer for the Boston Red Sox (schedule). (Unless they play the Marlins or the Tigers.
There are other teams I will cheer for. My sister Stephanie got her MBA from Michigan State University (schedule), and so
I'll cheer for the Spartans -- unless they play one of the aforementioned three almae matri. (Thanks to my good friend Ben
Ostrowsky for clarifying the proper Latin plural for "alma mater." I would have been happy with "almas mater", but I tend to be a stickler for details.) Also, in the
Ivy League, I cheer for Yale University, because I was invited to speak at Yale in 1999. (Again, that's overrruled if they play
one of the aforementioned three almae matri.)
And finally, I cheer for two Canadian schools: The
University of Toronto Blues and the York University Lions. Both schools are in Toronto. I stayed at the residences at New College at U of T in June 1997 while attending an environmental conference at the Metro
Toronto Convention Centre. In October 2005, I presented a paper at a conference held at York, and I stayed at the Executive
Learning Centre at the Schulich School of Business. If they ever play each other, I'll do what George Carlin used to do...
cheer for injuries!
Perhaps more interesting are the teams I actively cheer against. I hope these teams lose every game they play. Many of these teams are natural rivals
with my three favorite colleges:
The University of Miami - a big in-state rival of the Florida Gators
Florida State University - a big in-state rival of the Florida Gators
The University of Georgia - a conference rival of the Florida Gators
The University of Tennessee - a conference rival of the Florida Gators
The University of Notre Dame - I've never really liked the Irish...
Union College - RPI vs. Union is the big Albany-area hockey rivalry
Dartmouth College - UNH vs. Dartmouth is the big in-state rivalry
The University of Maine - a border war rivalry with UNH
I grew up in South Florida, and so I cheer against teams in the I-4 corridor:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Orlando Magic
As a lifelong Detroit Red Wings fan, I actively cheer against the other members of The Original Six:
The Boston Bruins
The Chicago Blackhawks
The Montreal Canadiens
The New York Rangers
The Toronto Maple Leafs
Also, as a lifelong Wings fan, I actively cheer against two newer rivals: the hated Colorado Avalanche and the regional
rivalry with the Columbus Bluejackets.
And, of course, I cheer against the New York Yankees on every opportunity I get. I hope they go 0-162 every year. When I lived in
Albany (which gets equal media coverage for the the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, and the Boston
Red Sox), I started to passively cheer for the Mets and Red Sox because (a) they were the closest Major League Baseball teams to Albany (it's three hours by car
south from Albany to New York City, and three hours by car east from Albany to Boston), (b) my significant other was a kinda-sorta Mets fan, (c) she had been to Fenway Park for a game ONCE in her childhood, and -- most important of all -- (d) I really didn't like
Yankees fans who thought the World Series championship was their birthright every single year. (I knew too many folks in upstate New York with that attitude. Feh.)
Other Yankee fans I detested were bandwagon fans who not only did not know who played first base for the Bronx Bombers in 1992, but also started buyin' up pinstripe gear in
the mid-1990s when they began to dominate the game. The only Yankee fans I forgive are those who are lifelong Yankee fans, and who will cheer for them in good times and