Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Christie Bandwagon

It's not every day I get to bash on both the Packers' next opponent AND one of my least favorite Republicans, but today is that day.

As most political people and a great many non-political sports fans now know, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie roots for the Dallas Cowboys. (So did my ex-wife.)

Cheering for the Cowboys may be just about the most Chris Christie thing ever.  In order to explain that, I need to explain what being a fan means, and how you get to be a fan.

Fandom isn't random.  There needs to be some connection.  For most of that, this starts with geography.

I didn't choose the Packers as much as I inherited them. When I was very very small I just understood that We, meaning our whole extended family, were Packer fans.  It was literally part of the landscape, part of the regional gene pool.

Here's two maps of predominant NFL preference by region. First, Facebook...

Next Twitter. (Some cool interactive stuff when you click through.)

Not identical maps in the fringe regions, but more similar than different.  And only if you're from a place without its own real team - Iowa being a great example - do you get away with just PICKING a team.

You can, a limited but unspecified number of times, change allegiance.  You get to convert to your new hometown team or your spouse's team, but you also get to keep your team of birth no questions asked.  The NFL even plays with this in a recent promo.

Note that the Cowboys fan in the ad became one because she met a celebrity. Hold that thought.

But changing your team has to be tied to an actual life change.  Because one of the key aspects of being a True Fan is LOYALTY.

This is how I grew up in Wisconsin.
It wasn't always Discount Double-Checks and Lambeau Leaps. There was a time when the Packers were a sorry excuse for an NFL franchise, an embarrassment to the memory of Vince Lombardi.

The Green Bay Packers went through five head coaches between Vince Lombardi leaving in 1968 and Mike Holmgren arriving in 1992. Each had a lower winning percentage than his predecessor.

From 1968 through 1991, the Packers had four winning seasons. They qualified for the post-season twice and won exactly one playoff game. They went through more than 30 quarterbacks, some of whom seemingly had no idea how to throw a forward pass.

There were terrible trades and forgettable draft picks. The franchise lacked direction at the top, leadership in the locker room, talent on the field.
Yet we cheeseheads (we weren't called that yet) looked forward to every season with as much hope as Charlie Brown, and every time the ball was pulled away we knew NEXT year would be different and the Pack would be Back. 

Throughout that whole time, the stands were filled, as if Starr and Nitschke were still on the field and Vince still roamed the sidelines. Every game since 1960, Lombardi's second season, has been sold out. Pre-season, exhibition, win, lose, EVERY. SINGLE. GAME.

In an era of middle of teams moving literally in the middle of the night and abandoning fans, the Packers were unique.  That accident of history, grandfathered in ownership structure where the team literally belonged to the fans helped cement an intense bond to the whole city and state that few can match.

It's all artificial and vicarious, of course.  Aaron Rodgers is from California and grew up a 49ers fan, the 49ers Colin Kaepernick is from Wisconsin.  Luck of the draw, luck of the draft.

But the joy of the hometown fans, the pride of the community, is real.  And especially so in Green Bay.

So to me, more than most fans, your choice of team says something about your feelings about community. 

Chris Christie and I are about a year apart in age.  So our formative sporting memories are from the same era.

Christie was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, at the north end of his state.  The Jets and Giants were just in the process of relocating to the Meadowlands from New York proper. And there's enough Eagles fans in the state that unlike me, he had a little bit of a choice.

At left are the 1971 standings for the NFC East and Central.  The divisions are the same today except for the now Arizona Cardinals.  Note the Cowboys in first place, and my Packers in the cellar.

Dallas won the Super Bowl that year.  In the 1970s they made five trips to the Super Bowl and won two.  The Eagles and Giants didn't get to the Big Game the whole decade.  It was EASY being a Cowboys fan in 1971.

What does this tell us?  It tells me that Christie is the worst kind of fan: a bandwagoner.

I have an extremely old and beat up Packer hat that I wear on special occasions like mowing the lawn.  I have two newer, nicer hats: one green for home games, one gold for away.  (I take this seriously.) I keep the old one to prove I'm not a bandwagoner.

Bandwagon fans fixate on whatever team is winning Super Bowls in their formative years.  It's OK if you're from neutral ground (Lonny, you get a pass on the Steelers) as long as you stay loyal when things get lean.

But for a Jersey kid to pick not just another team, but a divisional arch-rival? That. my friends, is a statement of character.  You have to be a special kind of jerk down to your DNA to be a Jersey boy cheering for the Cowboys in the 70s.

A young Chris Christie, the guy who would grow up and close a bridge at rush hour because Screw Youse Guys, looked at his hometown losers and went with the winners, the glitzy corporate champions. Not to to make too big a deal out of an 11 year old's football choice - but isn't it a great metaphor for his politics?
Not that this principle is universal. 

This Sunday, the Cowboys face the Packers.  The Cowboys, the richest team in the league, owned by Jerry Jones, the closest thing to a real life J.R. Ewing as could exist.  The Packers, the last small town team, owned by the community, by the fans.  Wealth vs. community. Not to read too much into it... but isn't that also a great metaphor for our whole country?

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