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All aboard the bandwagon

Sam Gans | Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It’s that time of year. With the NHL and NBA trade deadlines passed, the playoff races are in full swing. That means one thing: bandwagon season.

Like many sports fans, I used to hate bandwagoners. It always made me furious when people who knew nothing about a team suddenly became fans when they started winning or the playoffs came around.

This was further amplified two years ago. Being from a Columbus suburb, I am a diehard Blue Jackets fan (yes, we exist) — my family has season tickets, I’ve been to about 150 games, I can name the entire roster — all that stuff.

(A quick disclaimer: I’m not saying that anyone who doesn’t attend any games or doesn’t know every detail is a bandwagoner, as long as they care through the struggles and always have a general idea what is happening.)

After eight years of brutal hockey, they finally qualified for the playoffs in 2009. Naturally, everyone was a fan, starting in March near the end of the regular season. People that had made fun of me a year prior were now joining me and the other “real” Jacket fans. While I was happy there was a lot of buzz generated, it was upsetting that people who could only name a few players were acting as if they knew everything about the team. Of course, four playoff games and zero playoff wins later (thanks, Red Wings), most of the bandwagoners jumped off.

But a strange thing happened. With the Jackets knocked out, I felt a bit of a lull in my sports world. So I became the one thing I couldn’t stand: a bandwagoner.

I had never really followed the NBA. But at that time, the NBA playoffs were just underway, and I chose one of the league’s best, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as “my team.” Though I have no connection to Cleveland — and I emphasize that — and I’m not a Browns or Indians fan (Titans and Mets, both long stories) I decided to pull for the home state team. Plus, they had a superstar with a cool French-sounding first name (he’s no longer with the team, but I doubt he’s that good. French players rarely are.)

That experience changed my perspective on bandwagon fans. I realized that it was okay to be one. It could even lead to one following more passionately in the future, a good thing (I’m a bigger Cavs fan now than when “that one guy” was there.) However, a bandwagoner has to know his or her place, which includes not acting like he or she knows everything about the team or acting like he or she has always been a huge fan. And, of course, the joys of winning will never be as sweet to bandwagoners as those who dealt with the hardships.

With the Jackets in the midst of a playoff race (the Cavs … not so much), I’m sure the entire city of Columbus is starting to get amped up again. Unlike two years ago, I now say “hop on.”

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu