Two separate threads are floating through Boston sports fandom recently.
The first is the back-and-forth over whether the newly rabid-ized Celtic fan base, encouraged by the first competitive and fun-to-watch team "we've" had in years, are a bunch of bandwagon jumpers.
This is, of course, the same story we've heard about the pink-hat-wearing Red Sox fans who don't know a bunt from a balk, and who didn't know the Red Sox existed during their misery years.
And the same story we've heard about the Patriots-come-lately football fans who only showed up for the glory days. (I count myself among this group, by the way. I'm quite certain that, if they are working a 2-14 record, I will be paying absolutely no attention to them.)
But here's the thing: why should a fan of professional sports, especially in this day of humongous ticket prices, head out to the old ball game that's going to watch a hapless team play dreadfully?
The fans who were willing to come out for the cellar-dwellers get all snottily resentful about the bandwagon-eers, bellyaching about their very presence. I'll admit that, when it comes to the Red Sox, I am somewhat among the bellyachers. Yes, I do watch more games now than I used to, but this is as much a factor of more games being televised as it is of watching a better team, but I'm pretty much a lifer when it comes to the Red Sox. And although I've never attended a ton of games in any one season, I do miss the ability to decide at the last moment on game-day to decide to head out to Fenway, confident that I could find a seat in the bleachers.
Would I prefer the Red Sox to be as god-awful as they were when I was a kid?
Still, I wouldn't mind if the bandwagon fan interest softened up a bit.
But, again, why should any fan support a really terrible professional team? Why should we be all that enthused and starry eyed rooting for a losing team full of players who, even on the most low-budget teams, still make a great deal more, on average, than the average fan does in a year?
This is not like rooting for the local high school, or Little Leaguers, where you actually may know the players.
This is paying big money for sporting entertainment. And really losing teams don't tend to be all that entertaining - except, perhaps, to their opposition.
Let's face it, how many businesses stay in business when they build really shoddy products that everyone hates and that cost too much? I'm sure there are some - and, no, I don't want to hear anything about Microsoft - but, fundamentally, we don't patronize really bad businesses.
We don't eat at greasy spoons that give us agita and food poisoning. We don't keep using the mechanic who never fixes the car quite right. The tailor who sews the uneven hem. The quack doctor just because his office is within walking distance. (Note to any of my siblings who are reading this post: this latter example is one which I recognize was violated by our mother.)
The point is that there's no reason why the average fan to spend all kinds of time, effort, and money following a team that's no good. I really like baseball, so I'd continue to follow the Red Sox even if they went metaphorically south. But I wouldn't expect others to do so. And, even though I like them a lot, I usually won't sit through 9 full innings of a blowout, unless "our guys" are the ones doing the blowing out.
But fandom, when it comes to professional sports, ends up getting all kinds of weirdly intertwined with sense of self, and sense of place.
Which sometimes ends up with things a lot dumber and more harmful than complaining about fans jumping on the winning team's bandwagon.
Witness a terrible case that just occurred here in Red Sox Nation, where a drunken Yankees fan drove her car - bearing a big Yankees logo on its windshield - into a group of Red Sox fans that had been taunting her.
"I thought they'd be smart enough to get out of the way," she was quoted as saying.
Apparently they weren't, and one of them is now dead.
All this because the alcohol-fueled back and forth between a bunch of "Yankees suck" chanting Red Sox fan, and a Yankees fan who somehow wound up living in Nashua, New Hampshire, spun out of control.
I'm sure that we'll hear in court that the Red Sox fans were especially obnoxious. That the young man who died actually wasn't. That the Yankees fan, clearly outnumbered, felt threatened. (And, by the way, given the somewhat contrived and often insane level of enmity that exists between Yankees and Red Sox fans, this could have just as easily been a Boston fan plowing into a group of New Yorkers.)
But the bottom line is that a 29 year old guy is dead - his family and friends in shreds. A 43 woman - mother of 4, I believe - is facing life in prison - her family life destroyed.
All because a bunch of follks took fandom way too seriously.
I enjoy the give and take among sports fans, the good humored back and forth that's part of what makes fandom so enjoyable.
Some things are worth dying for. Some things are even worth killing for.
But the home time team isn't one of them.