Football’s Return, and why it’s OK to be a bandwagon fan

This week marks the return of the NFL to regular season action. For those of us here in Buffalo, that most likely means another snore-fest of a season. The sense here is that the roster has some talent, but everything now hinges on whether or not second-year quarterback EJ Manuel can actually develop into a quality starter. Who knows? For me, I’m just going with past results. Each of the last three seasons, and four of the last five, have seen the Bills finish 6-10. The one “oddball” year in that stretch? They were 3-13. Before that? They were 7-9 three years in a row.

It’s been a long time since the Bills were, in any real sense of the word, fun to watch. Sure, they have a few games each season where they put up an encouraging fight, but they also have more games where it’s just a snoozefest, so a couple of years ago I made a new rule for myself: I won’t bother watching any Bills football until they are a winning team, with “winning” for these purposes defined as “four games over five hundred”.

Some folks laugh at this notion, acting as though I’m somehow missing something essential along the way; others question my “fanhood”, calling me a “bandwagon” or a “fair weather” fan. I’m fine with that, actually. The Buffalo Bills aren’t friends of mine; I have no personal connection with them at all, and therefore, I see no reason to assume that they deserve a greater commitment of time or emotional energy from me than I’m willing to give them. The idea that I must devote three hours a week to watching a bunch of guys who aren’t very good at their jobs, or I’m not a “fan”, strikes me as deeply bizarre. I can be a “fan” of a restaurant, but if they start serving consistently bad food, I’m not going to keep eating there because that’s what a good fan does. That just doesn’t make sense. Being a “fairweather friend”, only there to support and help a friend in good times, is a bad thing to be. But fandom isn’t friendship. Never has been, never will be.

Believe me, it can be a real downer to hang around with football fans the Monday after a representative Bills game of late, which is another reason I stopped watching. Why would I want to feel like that, when I can do something else instead? One fan friend of mine questioned this once, saying “Well, it’s not like I’m doing something great and important with those three hours,” to which I replied, “Nobody said you had to cure cancer in that time, but maybe doing something else means you’re not spending the rest of Sunday and Monday morning in a funk over a football game.” Seems to me that, all things being equal, subtracting things from life that regularly make us angry is a good thing.

So go ahead, Bills fans, or fans of any crappy team out there! Turn them off! Watch something else! Do something else! And if your “fandom” gets questioned, so what? If and when your team wins the Ultimate Championship, there will be no Fan Police in the streets to stop you from dancing because you didn’t watch each and every crappy game they lost six or seven years earlier. When you die, there will be no Sports Fan Valhalla into whose golden halls you will be denied entry because you chose not to witness every down of their fifteenth consecutive losing season.

It’s OK to jump off the bandwagon, and get back on it. The team won’t notice you’re there. You don’t owe them shit. You have zero moral obligation to watch any more or less of a team’s games than you want to, and nobody gets the right to judge your “fandom” on the basis of their personal yardstick for voluntary suffering. For those calling me out for not watching this team, I hope you’ll remember this next time you’re sitting inside on a stunning fall afternoon watching your team lose 38-10 in the fourth quarter, or in December when you’re insisting on watching every minute of a 42-3 laugher as the Bills fall to the Broncos.

(Ideas in this post were previously expressed here.)

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