It’s not so easy for a sports fan to change his stripes

Friday, November 9, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 45

My sports team loyalties have never had a strong geographic component. Until, perhaps, now.

The question before the house: As a repatriated Nashville resident, should I abandon my New York Football Giants and become a Tennessee Titans fan?

At stake is more than just buying a new hoodie. At stake is giving up on one of my favorite players, with an eye toward saving my sanity.

Fact is, I’ve always tended to gravitate toward players I like, more so than the uniform they wear. Ol’ Diz and Pee Wee introduced me to my first sports hero, Roger Maris, who happened to play for the New York Yankees.

And who happened to be on his way to breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record for a season.

Such was my devotion that I once climbed out of a bathtub to rush naked into the living room to see Maris do an Aqua Velva commercial. Fortunately, this was at a time when parents were not routinely equipped with video equipment, so no record exists.

On the football side, Roman Gabriel of the Los Angeles Rams was an early pro favorite, based on arm strength and cool factor. I soon traded him for Joe Namath, cooler still, with whom I shared a name and, briefly, a high school football number.

About the same time came Archie Manning, who first led my favored Ole Miss Rebels and then led me to Saints fandom. That lasted until the evil Bum Phillips traded Archie to Houston. I still hate the Saints.

Another Joe also followed: Montana, whose unflappable play (and estimable teammates) delivered four Super Bowl championships. I even followed the guy through two seasons as a Kansas City Chief.

It is a testament to my mounting years and Archie’s good genes that I have been able to follow the Manning line into a second generation with his sons Peyton and Eli. Four years I pulled for that obnoxiously orange team in Knoxville, then for the Colts and, ultimately, the Broncos.

Eli let me enjoy my Rebels again and then, wonder of wonders, managed to land with the NFL team that, at least nominally, called my work city home. And he delivered two Super Bowl championships!

Alas, two things have happened since those glory days:

1. Eli & Co. have been in the process of proving themselves one of the worst teams in the NFL, testing my patience and nerves. It’s even money whether Eli finishes the season upright or in traction.

2. I departed New York, and now Nissan Stadium, home of the Titans, is right across the river outside my apartment window. I can hear the crowd cheers.

I’m not well prepared for a loyalty change. The Titans colors are … what? Blue and another blue? Without looking it up, I could not tell you what division they play in, what other teams I would be required to hate. So, I put the question to Titan-fan friends.

“Any NFL fan should hate the Ravens first,” said one. “After the last division shake-up old rivalries just aren’t the same. But I’m thinking after Ravens, the Colts will be very high on the list.”

“Jaguars, Texans and Colts now, and then probably Ravens, Steelers, Raiders and maybe Chargers,” said another. “And everyone should hate the Patriots!”

“The Ravens, the Patriots, Jaguars!” said another.

“Ravens, Jaguars,” yet another.

Then came “Jags. Jags. Jags. Colts. Jags.”

This may not be easy. Of course, hate the Patriots. That’s no problem. And the Colts, well, they did dump Peyton. But some of those other teams barely register with me. I’m accustomed to hating well established, old-line NFL teams. Cowboys. Redskins. Eagles.

Jags? That’s like hating Vandy. Who cares?

Still, in an effort to ease into things, a few weeks back I watched on TV as the Titans earned a stirring overtime victory against those cursed, Super Bowl-champion Eagles. I could do with more winning in my sports life.

Of course, right after that, they lost three in a row before beating the Cowboys on Monday night. You may not want me pulling for your team.

As for the Predators, no thanks. I’m a Southerner. I don’t do hockey.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.