Hoping for the hopeless

Why do we cheer for teams that continue to break our hearts?

Graphic Adam Gibbard

“This is what the greatest thing about sports is: you play to win the game.” These are the now famous words of  former NFL head coach and player Herm Edwards. The legendary clip of the former bench boss stemmed from a loss to the Cleveland Browns during the 2002 NFL season.

For professional athletes and coaches, the goal is always “to win the game” and prove that you are the best at your chosen profession. Every person who’s ever played any sport has dreamed of being remembered as one of the greats to play the game. 

As fans, we want to root for greatness. As long as it’s our team, that’s great.

In the ranks of sports fandom, so much fanfare is placed on the elite: the Brady-era Patriots, the Jordan-Pippen Bulls, and any of the championship-winning Montreal Canadiens teams from the past.

However, the other side of the spectrum is where true die-hard fandom originates. The teams that I support have been the source of some of my greatest joy and excitement, but it’s also been the source of some of my greatest misery.

Growing up as a kid in North Vancouver, the choices for sports fanaticism were limited. The options were either to cheer for the local teams or be shunned by my friends for cheering on the opposition.

I grew up as a fan of the often-maligned Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Bears. Two teams as far away from the elite contenders as any team can possibly be. Two teams with years—if not decades—of disappointing seasons and busted dreams. My friends use it as ammunition. They ridiculed me on a constant basis, wondering if I’m a masochist because. Who in their right mind cheers for a team as hopeless as these?

The question is valid.  We love these teams so much. We convince ourselves every campaign that “This is the year,” only to proclaim that “We’re done” a quarter of the way in.

We just want it to be true. We don’t want to admit that the years we’ve spent rooting for these teams have been a wasted endeavour. We want to cheer for good teams, teams that win championships, but we don’t want to leave behind these parts of ourselves that we grew up with. 

The most important part is the feeling you get when they finally break through. That feeling of absolute elation you get when it finally happens. 

If you were to poll lifelong Chicago Cubs fans, asking them if their World Series win in 2016 was worth the 108 years of mediocrity and pain, an overwhelming majority of them would say yes.

Witnessing your team finally reach the pinnacle is worth all the ridicule that you receive. All the years of being the sad kid in the corner of the party. All the years of reading mock drafts a month into a fresh season. None of it matters the second they lift that championship trophy and show everybody that it was all worth it. 

So, until that happens, we keep waiting (and hoping) that this year will be different. Even if in the back of our minds, we know that it probably won’t be. Because at this point, that’s all we can do.