As the hated New York Yankees paraded up the Canyon of Heroes on Friday — and I was caught amongst the drunken, sweaty hoards of Bomber fans during my commute — I started to reflect on my own favorite teams, and how truly I’ve taken the road less traveled for the average New Yorker.
For many, adopting the Yankees proves an easy choice — they are always competitive in this modern baseball era, a team with an unparalleled history of excellence and magical stories. Instead, my proximity to Shea Stadium coupled with the fact that I come from a “National League Family” (Brooklyn Dodgers fans on both sides) made me wind up with an intrinsic love of the New York Mets, the lovable, star-crossed other team from the Big Apple.
Eventually, my affinity for the underdog lead me to choose all of the so-called “second” NY teams as my franchises of choice, and as I grew older I became an impassioned fan of the New York Jets in football and New York Islanders in hockey. Fortunately, in basketball I only had one choice — the New York Knicks — so there’s no controversy in my rooting interest there (although, of all the major NY franchises, the Knicks have often proven to be the most frustrating themselves!).
So, how am I doing? I put together some raw numbers in a Google Spreadsheet and crunched the digits. Adding up all of the seasons of the teams that I’ve actively rooted for (more on that methodology later), my overall professional sports rooting record stands at:
3,766 wins / 3,816 losses / 162 ties (48.63% winning percentage)
Yup. I’m a lifelong loser. Only once has my team been crowned the World Champions of their sport, the 1986 New York Mets, and only thrice more have they even reached the vaunted league championship game or series (2000 Mets and 1993 and 1998 Knicks). Total playoff berths: 27, out of a possible 83 seasons. Sobering statistics, indeed.
A little more information on each team, and when I started to follow them:
New York Mets (2398-2332-0)
Amazingly, the Mets are actually above .500 for the duration of my fandom, and although I have vague recollections of listening to Mets games on the radio dating back as far as I can remember, I decided to mark my official “start” date as the 1980 season, when I was four years old; I felt this was a fair assessment of when I could effectively start to grasp the basic concepts of professional baseball. The Mets are, of course, also the only team to earn me a World Series Championship, in my first-ever taste of the playoffs at a spry ten years old in 1986, and honestly if I only had one team left to root for the remainder of my life the Mets will always be that team.
What’s truly stunning, though, is the fact that the Mets are a winning franchise when starting at 1980 and counting through this 2009 season (although it’s only by a mere 66 games). The “dominant” franchise years of 1984-1990, coupled with the “good enough” runs of 1997-2001 and 2005-2008 were enough to overcome the low points (41 wins in the strike-shortened 1981 season and 59 in 1993 for “The Worst Team Money Can Buy.”)
New York Jets (130-158-0)
What can you say about Gang Green? The parity and short seasons of the NFL leave the franchise all over the place with little rhyme or reason, from the horrors of the Rich Kotite Era (3-13 in 1995 and 1-15 in 1996) to the perplexities of the Herm Edwards Era of Clock Management (two ten-win seasons and a rare division title interspersed with four- and six-win campaigns). If only Vinny Testaverde hadn’t been injured in the first week of 1999, who knows what could have been?
I officially count 1991 as my first year as a true fan of the Green and White. Before that, I grew up in a rabid Giants house (my dad used to audio tape big games throughout the Parcells run) but it was a particular game — the finale of the regular season in 1991 where the Jets beat the Miami Dolphins to earn a last-minute playoff spot — that I caught myself really passionately into a football team and game. I remember that game as if it was yesterday, for some reason.
New York Islanders (493-627-162)
Want to know why my record is so poor? Look no further than the woeful and poor hockey franchise from Long Island. Sure, there were glory days in the early 1980s, but those salad days occurred before the Cable Man had ever Cometh to my home, so for all I knew “ice hockey” was just that blue Activision cartridge I had for the Atari 2600. Instead, for my Isles history, it’s one solitary run as deep as the second round of the playoffs (the vaunted 1993 trip to the Wales Conference Finals) and seven straight seasons as among the worst teams in the sport (24, 24, and 21 total victories in 1998-2000). 21 wins? For fucking real guys? Jeez.
Why did I pick the Isles? Well, hockey definitely had a passionate fan base at my high school, and it seemed readily apparent that the people I hated were all Rangers fans while my best bud was the only Islanders fan around. So that, coupled with the fact that the Isles were on SportsChannel, which my family paid for to see the Mets and I needed to justify holding year-round, it was a no-brainer at the time. Boy, did that bite me in the ass, though, as the Broadway Blueshirts immediately won the Stanley Cup afterwards in 1994, forever removing from me the ability to chant the best taunt in sports — “1940!”
The Islanders may very well be the only team I ever have to truly worry about moving away from NY. With prospects for a new arena looking dimmer than ever with the election of fiscally prudent Republicans throughout Nassau County (not necessarily a bad thing, honestly), and a current payroll that actually sits BELOW the official NHL Salary Floor (only nigh-impossible “incentives” such as “Doug Weight potting 30 goals” get them over the top), it’s hard to see the team staying put for much longer. I will be devastated short-term, and likely disavow any rooting interests in the sport. But eventually? Well, I can’t root for the relocated Kansas City Rednecks or whatever they will be called — I’d rather see them lose every game for the duration of their history — so the only choice would be…to cross party lines and adopt the Rangers. Sure, I loathe them now, but it makes sense. Good team, good uniforms, and a total fuck you to my once favorite franchise. That’s a long way — and a lot of permutations — from happening, though.
Seriously, think about it. The New Jersey Devils? That’s just dumb.
New York Knicks (745-699-0)
I’m hesitant to even include the Knicks at this point, as the Isiah Thomas Era left me barely enthusiastic about the sport of basketball in its entirety. But there can be little question that the Knicks run through the Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy Years proved easily among the most dominating in my fandom, with ten straight playoff appearances and two runs all the way to the NBA Finals, and a colorful, hard-working roster filled with guys like Charles Oakley, John Starks, Anthony Mason, Allan Houston, and even briefly Latrell Sprewell. Indeed, without the Knickerbockers, one would wonder how I’d ever managed to make it through the 1990s.
Funny thing, I actually watched the Knicks the other night and enjoyed the experience. It felt a little like my first year — the 1991 team of Xavier McDaniel and Gerald Wilkins that fought so valiantly against the Detroit Pistons in a low-scoring (to say the least) opening-round playoff affair. Only this team is the exact opposite — all offense and maybe the worst D I’ve ever seen. That being said, maybe there’s hope to rekindle the spark once again.
Well, this has been a fascinating experiment, and an enjoyable trek back through the uplifting highs and the horrific lows. To anyone who ever questioned why someone would so passionately root for something they cannot control, let me ask you: is there any roller coaster ride more thrilling and a payoff more rewarding that pulling out the big game after so much failure? Sports is all — redemption tale, Greek tragedy, and feel-good story — in one billion-dollar package.