I went into this season optimistic. Even though our Pro Bowl LT tore his patella tendon in Draft Weekend, our OLB that led the league in sacks in '09 was put on IR, and two of our draftees had foot injuries when drafted, I was looking forward to another year in our head coach's system.
Unfortunately, things didn't go so well. We suffered a brutal amount of injuries - a QB, 4 RBs, a FB, 2 tackles, a guard, 4 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 DEs, 6 LBs, 3 safeties, 2 CBs, and for good measure, the kicker. (I may still be forgetting a few.) Most of them were starters, and our depth, after massive roster turnover and a mere 2 drafts, was inadequate. The team suffered, playing hard but inconsistently and without the killer instinct to close out games.
Despite this, however, I looked to the future with hope. Despite his inexperience, I could see the purpose with which our HC coached and that he clearly understood what it took to win football games. I was sure that with another draft, another year in his offensive system, and a return to a normal injury rate (and the return of 18 sacks), we would improve. In fact, the owner of the team said as much in an interview, pointing out the inordinate amount of injuries.
But then it hit: the head coach was fired. Not even 2 years into his tenure, the team caved to fan pressure and made an impulse decision. At the following press conference, they admitted that he was a good coach, that he would be a success in the NFL, that he was one of the best gameplanners in the league, and that they had no plan following this decision. They had no plan. I was stunned. The team had lost their 9th game the previous week, effectively ending the season, but they had played hard to the end. I felt ill. The following 4 weeks were torture. More players went on IR, what remained of the team played without heart, but worst of all, the team played with no purpose. They had no plan. They didn't know the other teams' weakness, their strengths, they didn't know what to attack, when to run, when to pass. They just went out there and hoped for the best. It was disheartening, because I could see that the team had lost the purpose, aggressiveness, and focus it once had. The team was lost.
It got worse. Following the season, my team went on a media blitzkrieg. They promoted the GM to... GM, they put him on display, and then blamed the head coach for everything. Everything. He was mercilessly scapegoated, a tossed rag on which to spew all your problems. I snapped.
Although I was deeply angry about the firing, it was only anger. I knew it would pass eventually. But when I saw my favourite team treating another human being like that... not giving him a chance and then tarnishing his reputation just so they could deflect all the fan hatred... I lost my faith.
Die-hard fans will understand. Supporting your team is like a religion at times. You may hate so and so for losing the game now, but as soon as the fan of another team comes on here and talks trash, you will defend your team with all you've got. You support them no matter what. When things go bad, you deal with it, when it goes well, it feels like you're floating. This is fandom. This is your team. It will stay with you until you die... but loyalty, I believe, does have a limit.
For some people, it's in losses, in others, in the roster, for me, it's ethics. No matter the record, I was always proud of my team. They may have cut or traded people I liked, but they always did it the right way. Disgruntled players were traded to favourable teams. Released players were never strung along. Fired coaches were always given a fair chance to prove themselves. Except this one time. And this one time, they destroyed my faith entirely. My entire life, I’ve believed in basic respect. We all make mistakes, but the least you can do is give a person the respect they deserve.
I witnessed the fans next to me spit vitriol from day 1 because he wasn’t “one of us”, he was a “cheating Pat” and too young for the honour of coaching our team. He was never given a chance, but I knew that neither was his predecessor; fans of this team are spoiled and think they’re entitled to championships because their history says so. I believed that, with time, he’d win them over… well, as long as the team gave him that time. And until the very moment I saw the news that he was fired, I really thought they would. They had always done things the right way, after all.
Okay, I’ll get to the point now. As I said, die-hard fans would understand. I thought I’d bleed orange and blue to the grave, and feeling like I do has been difficult, but I can’t help it. Witnessing my team fall to the level of those barbaric radio callers shouting into their handsets has split me open and bled my veins of fandom dry. I don’t bleed orange and blue anymore. I feel terrible. I want to support my team. I really want to, but I feel dirty every time I think about it. I just can’t stomach supporting that behaviour. I churn at the thought.
In the end, I have become those players. My fandom has no purpose, no focus. Where I go, I don’t know. Maybe this disgust will subside over time, and I will go back to rooting for the only team I’ve known. Maybe I’ll follow this coach, odd as it feels supporting the name and not the logo, and support the team he ends up coaching next. Maybe today is the day I become homeless and support the game instead of a team.
I don’t know.
So, think about this, while you’re decrying your team for losing in the second round of the playoffs:
While my team just fired a coach they admitted would be a success, promoted a man to general manager who is best known at this point for witnessing 3 departed head coaches and wanting to oversee a more conservative, out-dated approach to football, hired a retired QB to be the executive vice president of football operations, hired the safest, easiest candidate at HC, and violated my core belief in human decency, your team was in the playoffs this year. And will likely be in the playoffs next year.
It could be worse.
(Re-posted on Pats Pulpit.)