Stupid Tuesday Questions, Neener Neener Neener edition

I’ll begin with the first of two disclaimers.  I am not a sports fan.  At all.  For some reason I developed a liking for watching professional tennis (probably more to do with David Foster Wallace’s writing than anything else), but otherwise if there were never another televised sporting event again I would scarcely notice.  Thus, any observations I make are strictly from the perspective of an outsider.

That being said, I have an observation about the area where I live and its sports fandom.  New Englanders seem to really, really like sports.  Really.  A lot.  The sigils and symbols of the various Boston teams festoon vehicles and people alike, to a degree I don’t remember seeing anywhere else where I’ve lived.

Furthermore, it seems that people around here seem to derive a lot of pleasure from hating their despised sports rivals, the New York Yankees.  (Perhaps Celtics fans really hate the Lakers, but I haven’t seen “Lakers Suck!” bumper stickers anywhere.)  Boston fans describe the Yankees with a vitriol I would assume they otherwise reserve for the Taliban.  I… do not understand this phenomenon.

On the other hand, when I lived in New York I don’t remember hearing anyone going on about the horrible, satanic Red Sox.  People didn’t seem to care about the rivalry to nearly the same degree.  However, honesty requires a second disclaimer.  When I lived in New York, I was working with a very different population than I do now.  I was primarily working with families from other countries, as opposed to the middle-class American families I mostly see now.  Also, being a sports non-fan, I tended to spend most of my time at venues that weren’t sports-related.  So perhaps I just wasn’t in a position to observe similar behavior.

Nevertheless, this is my impression of the sports fans in the two places.  Boston fans hate New York with a vengeance.  New York fans can’t be bothered to care all that much about Boston.

So, my questions.  First, am I right?  Or did I just miss something when I lived in New York?  And second, if I am right, why is this so?  (The New York partisan in me would ascribe it to cultural inferiority, but I’m sure I’d get a categorical response were I to put this to a Bostonian.)  Thoughts, sports fans?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Rivalries frequently are one-sided. L.A. sports fans experience this all the time — why, for instance, do Diamondbacks and Rockies fans have such chips on their shoulders about the Dodgers? In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys carry a legacy of the same kind of arrogant swagger that the team projected fifteen years ago, which does not seem congruent with the realities of the personalities in play today.

    New York teams seem to carry a particular kind of arrogance that attract distaste from other fans; it triggers selective memory when one encounters an obnoxious New York fan as opposed to an obnoxious fan of a team from some other place, although all teams have at least some obnoxious fans. Maybe it’s because New Yorkers know that they are from the biggest, most urban, most flamboyant, and most mythologized city in the nation.

    As for your experience, I can assure you that sports fans in New York do feel their rivalries with intensity and passion. The Yankees beating the Red Sox is sweeter for them than the Yankees beating Kansas City. The Giants beating the Dallas Cowboys is better than the Giants beating the San Francisco 49ers; losing to the San Diego Chargers hurts a Jets fan less than losing to the New England Patriots. But if your peer group, social life, professional networking, and personal recreational habits do not cause you to encounter professional or even collegiate sports all that much, then you’re just not going to notice this stuff. It is ultimately frivolous entertainment. In your case, you care about movies and other kinds of media entertainment more than sports anyway, so you’ll go out of your way to seek that sort of thing out in a way you wouldn’t for sports. The rivalry was there — you just weren’t positioned to encounter it or interested enough on your own to seek it out.

    • Burt said everything I was going to say.

      I remember when I moved to Portland from L.A., and every Blazer fan here would always talk about the bitter Laker/Blazer rivalry that defined the two teams. This was in the 80s and I remember thinking, “Oh, yeah, I totally forgot you guys had a team. Cool.”

    • Oh, I wouldn’t ever deny that the New York – Boston rivalry is bidirectional. I just don’t recall hearing Yankees fans spend much time on how much they hated Boston, whereas this area abounds with anti-Yankees paraphernalia. (In fact, when I remember the most ardent Yankees fan I knew back in the day, she seemed to reserve her most pitying contempt for Mets fans.)

      • Well, that only makes sense. They are the Mets, after all. The Mets would do well moving out the Yankees’ shadow and relocating to a market where they could stand up for themselves and develop their own fan base. Portland, maybe, or Seattle, or some other city similarly without professional baseball.

  2. The only lens through which these things make any sense to me is the lens of pro wrestling.

    Let’s say that you’ve got two wrestlers. One consistently wins, one consistently loses… but both are real charmers.

    It’s easy to think of stuff that can make being a fan of the winner a lot of fun. Wearing the shirt. Making the hand motion. Watching the show and seeing your guy consistently win.

    Being a fan of the loser can be depressing, after a while. How to make it fun? Well, there’s pointing out technicalities. There’s pointing out obscure statistics (“our guy has a bigger percentage of long-term, knowledgable, fans than anyone else in the tri-state area!”). And, of course, by hating the guy in #1. The hatred is part of the pleasure for these kinds of fans. Indeed, it’s a pleasure that Yankees fans don’t appreciate. Why in the hell would a Yankees fan hate the Rockies? What use would that be?

    You love the sport and you love your guy and your guy gives you the pleasure that he gives you… whether it be the pleasure of watching him win or hating the guy who beats him.

    I mean, when it stops being fun, there’s other stuff to do on a looong Sunday Afternoon, right?

      • Yeah, my friends in New York who bragged about gay marriage passing got told “Yankees still suck”.

        They laughed.

        The bastards.

  3. I think there’s a big component to it that’s related to how cosmopolitan (for lack of a better word) the place is, the more local/regional the backgrounds of your citizenry is, the more unified and vocal your sports fans would tend to be. After all, if you’ve got a critical mass of people that grew up rooting for other teams, few enough convert to hardcore fans of their new home team to make it a reliable cultural touchstone for citizens to know they can always make small talk about them.
    When I moved to Atlanta from Wisconsin, I was really amazed at how unimportant major pro/college sports were in the local cultural identity to Georgians compared to what I grew up with. The fact is, a lot of people have moved to Atlanta from outside of Georgia, while very few people have moved to Wisconsin from outside the state.

    • alt perspective: Steelers fans exist everywhere (even in Mexico, surprisingly). and people here convert.

    • Further to Kim‘s comments, you find Green Bay Packers fans pretty much everywhere you go too. I’m willing to bet that Plinko found Packers fans in Atlanta without much difficulty. (Badgers fans would have been a bigger challenge.)

      • That would be an interesting thing to learn: What is it that makes certain teams loved all over? The Cubs, the Packers, Cowboys, Steelers… What is it about some teams?

        • They’re winners in the case of the latter three while the lovable loser in the former. But the latter three probably have a higher percentage of haters, too. As a Cowboy fan from 1976, I have always loathed the Steelers. To some degree the Packers (due to their history in the late 60’s of always beating the Cowboys when it mattered most).

          I think the more successful you are, the bigger fan base you are likely to attract. For instance, in world football, you’ve got people from all over the world wearing jerseys from Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Brazil, Argentina, and especially after the last World Cup, Spain. You don’t see a bunch of Moroccan or Canadian jerseys, or Swansea City or Getafe jerseys outside of those locales. But you don’t have a sizable base of animosity for those unkowns either.

          The more popular and successful you are as a team, the more the bullseye grows on your back. And it often stays there regardless of whether you are currently dominant or not (as in the case of the Cowboys).

          In the instance of the Cubs, go back to Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who was really rather mediocre at best and a really lovable underdog. Everybody loved Eddie despite his inability. In fact, I’ll bet a higher proportion of Cubs fans hate the Cubs than non-Cubs fans.

      • There’s actually a sizable Wisconsin Alumni club in Atlanta.
        It seems graduating ~10,000 students a year will seed a fair amount of alumni all over the place.
        But, yes, there are actual Packer sports bars down here (from what I hear, I don’t get out much), so the relative frequency is pretty different.

      • re: packers.
        When we had that Superbowl thing going on, we saw tons of articles about how half the packers’ coaches were from western PA.

        … Ryan wasn’t gonna bitch about Tomlin — because they both play the same game, and coach reasonably the same way.

        Likewise, I’m not gonna bitch about the Packers — seem like a nice team from a nice area.

  4. My alma mater has a one-sided rivalry with Flagship State U, which considers Other State U to be its rival. I keep telling people that we should place our rivalry with a school that knows that we exist.

    • That’s sort of how it is with Iowa-Iowa State. Iowa has gotten the better of them for nearly 30 years. Iowa State places that as “the game” on their schedule and maybe Nebraska (but that ended after Nebraska’s exodus to the Big Ten (12?). Iowa has all the pressure for the ISU game becuase they are expected to win and no one notices when they do, but if they were to lose? Holy Hell of all upsets!! Meanwhile, Iowa usually has games agianst Ohio State, Michigan, and now Nebraska that loom much larger.

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