Nothing Special, Really

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Conflict Resolution

Growing up in Arizona in the 80's was a strange time for me in terms of sports. Until 1988, there was only one major sports franchise in the state, the Suns. So when I started following different sports, I started following different teams for various reasons.

In the NBA, following the Suns seemed like a no-brainer choice, but I do remember a short period of time where I was a fan of the Blazers or the Celtics before the Suns. Calling myself a fan of either team falls short of what I really was (I could only name one player between the two teams, and I'm sure you can guess who. Hint: he was white). I like the Celtics because my sister gave me a pennant of theirs, and I liked the Blazers because I thought TrailBlazers was a cool name. Even though I was immediately hooked to the Suns once I saw them in person the first time, I remember that my loyalty wasn't 100% right away. I remember after one of my first games getting a Blazers hat at the merch booth. I remember my dad being disappointed, so I must have bought it myself with some report card money or something. Looking back on that now, I think two things: One, if my Dad would have slapped me right there, I would have totally understood and Two, what the hell were the Suns doing selling other team's merch at their game? Anyways, I came to my senses during the 1990 playoffs (especially considering the Blazers eliminated us in the WCF on our home floor) and became a diehard Suns fan since.

......

Baseball was a little bit different. Even after I picked a favorite team and player, it took me a while to understand certain parts of the game. Especially ERA. For some reason, it took me a couple years to figure out how that was calculated. I knew what good and bad ERAa where but I didn't know how they were figured out.

Anyways, I didn't start following baseball by watching the game, I followed it through trading cards. I first started collecting basketball cards, then football, and then finally baseball. And I started collecting them around the same time that Ken Griffey Jr's rookie card was the hottest card around. I was never lucky to have my own, but I started following him, and subsequently, the Mariners. I got to know other players on the team (Buhner, Edgar, Tino, Randy, Cora, a young A-Rod), and I have vivid memories of following the Mariners-Yankees scores on the ESPN tracker during SportsCenter; I couldn't see the game, but I would sit there and just watch the updates.

When Griffey got traded to the Reds, I felt that I had become too invested in the Mariners as a team to all of a sudden become a Reds fan. So I stuck with the team, beyond their "glory years" of the 90's, into the Ichiro era and still to this day. But during that time, Arizona got a team of their own. Not only did I finally have a hometown team to root for, but just by being in Arizona, it was naturally easier to follow them. I read about the D-Backs more often, I could see them in person more frequently, and they were on TV a lot more than the Mariners. So my loyalties were split. Luckily for me, there's rarely been a conflict since they're in separate leagues. I've never been in the position of having to pick a side in a Mariners\D-Backs World Series.

.......

Phoenix got a football team early in my childhood. Unfortunately for us, it was the St. Louis Cardinals. Even during the Neil Lomax days, they still sucked. But they were the hometown team, so I still followed them. From Aeneas Williams to Garrison Hearst to Buddy Ryan. During the brief moment where Joe Montana thought about signing with us to the "glory years" AKA the Jake Plummer era, where we actually won a playoff game on the road against what qualified as our most hated rival, the Cowboys. When I was in high school, I was really into collecting autographs, and during a couple summers, I would camp outside the Cardinal's practice facility waiting for the players to arrive for practice. Players would recognize us and sometimes give us shit for wasting our time each day for autographs (it's ridiculous how I was compelled to collect as many autographs from Larry Centers as I did). I followed the team, still do to this day, but I've never fully considered them my number one team.

You see, I was raised a Steelers fan. It was one of the two sports allegiances I picked up from my dad (the other being the Philadelphia Flyers, but I've never been much of a hockey fan). My brother, despite being born in Jersey, became a Steelers fan presumably the same way I did. Football was the earliest sport I remember watching, and as a young, impressionable kid, it was inevitable that the Steelers became my team. Even when the Cardinals moved into town, we were still a Steelers household. But I've been able to be a fan for both teams because it's never really been a conflict. The Steelers are perennial contenders, the Cardinals almost always suck. I get the glory of being a Steelers fan and the agony of being a Cardinals fan, and there's never been a problem with that.

Not yet, at least.

......

One of my favorite writers, Chuck Palahniuk, wrote a book about a decade ago called Survior. It's been a long time since I've read it, long enough to forget the plot, but I remember one scene takes place at the Super Bowl, where the Colts beat the Cardinals for the title. I also remember reading in an interview where Palahniuk said that he chose those two teams for the Super Bowl because he asked a friend "What are the two least likely teams to ever be in the Super Bowl?"

Nearly 10 years later, the unlikely may just actually happen.

As a Steelers fan, we've reached that level where anything short of a Super Bowl appearance feels like a disappointment. There's no solace in just getting to the playoffs or even just winning a playoff game. Championship or bust.

But for Cardinals fans, this is uncharted territory. Winning the NFC West title, despite the fact it's the worst division, is a success. Hosting a playoff game is a landmark. Defeating the Panthers on the road? That game felt like our Super Bowl in a way. And, yet, there's still a chance that we get to the real one.

The Arizona Cardinals are one win away from the Super Bowl.

It just doesn't seem real, no matter how many times I read that.

And, without getting too far ahead of myself, I might find myself having to decide between allegiances for the first time. The crazy notion of a Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl is no longer crazy, it's a strong possibility. Both teams have scary opponents in the Ravens and Eagles, but at the same time, both teams are scary right now too.

I'm not going to have the chance to catch the Cardinals game, although I'll be in Phoenix killing myself in my first half-marathon. Afterwards, even though I'll be dead-tired if not dead, I'll drag myself to the bar to catch the Steelers game. This might be the last weekend where I can watch both of my teams without having a conflict.

And after this weekend, I'm really hoping I'll have to face that conflict.

2 Comments:

  • "The crazy notion of a Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl is no longer crazy, it's a strong possibility"

    From your blog to God's ears!

    GOD, ARE YOU LISTENING?????

    By Anonymous mark, At January 15, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

  • I think God IS listening.

    I went to the cardinals training facilty today at lunch time to try and get some gear since everywhere else is pretty much sold out.

    The team shop is actually very small and is located in the administration building. As I approach the very small entrance to the shop, guess who is standing there practically blocking the entrance talking to some lady? None other than Kurt Warner.

    I have to decide whether to ask Kurt to move or try to squeeze past him. I chose to squeeze past him which I was barely able to do. While passing him, I could hear him talking to the woman about, you guessed it: GOD!

    That's pretty much the end of the story. As you might expect, I was too scared to say anything to him for fear of ruining his mojo 2 days before the biggest game in cards history.

    But I took it a sign that God is reading this blog. I am now expecting a cards victory on Sunday, God willing.

    By Anonymous mark, At January 16, 2009 at 12:35 PM  

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