After writing my game reaction yesterday, in which I had some criticism of Tim Tebow, I received several emails questioning my Broncos fanhood.
Just what does it mean to be a Broncos fan?
Back when I was a kid and began to identify myself as a fan, all that meant was watching my father curse John Elway on television and getting into fistfights at school with Steelers fans. It didn't take a lot of Broncos gear, Broncos tattoos, or a throwback jersey; it didn't require a cable package, mandatory attendance at Mile High Stadium (I made it to just a handful of games), or box seat; it didn't require that I adhere to a code, or sign my name somewhere, or join a group on Facebook group created by other self-identified fans.
And it sure as hell didn't require blind devotion--to the owner, to the quarterback, to other fans.
These days you'd think that bleeding orange and blue is a requirement for being a fan, which again, is nothing more than a self identification. Broncos fanhood is not a race, nor a gender, nor even a religion (although I'm sure we could start one). From a pyschological standpoint, being a fan is nothing more than the need for a little tribal warfare. As James McKinley of the New York Times wrote on the topic of fanhood:
One theory traces the roots of fan psychology to a primitive time when human beings lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect tribes were true genetic representatives of their people, psychologists say.
In modern society, professional and college athletes play a similar role for a city in the stylized war on a playing field, the theory goes. Even though professional athletes are mercenaries in every sense, their exploits may re-create the intense emotions in some fans that tribal warfare might have in their ancestors. It may also be these emotions that have in large part fueled the explosion in the popularity of sports over the last two decades.
If this is true, then it's not surprising that some orange-and-blue clad tribal members believe they, as the most committed member of the Broncos' clan, can banish and ostracize others who don't bleed as often, as much, or as long. In the old days, it would have required some stick and stones and some broken bones. Now, we have much more refined intstruments called message boards. We can tell others they are not true members of the clan if they don't think and act a certain way. Why? Because we believe ourselves more committed members of the tribe.
Some of these tribal (and suicidal) tendencies include:
- Believing that the length of self identification matters. You've heard it dozens of times, haven't you? It usually begins with, "I've been a Broncos fan for (insert number here) years." Fine, you've been cheering longer. I guess that makes you a better hunter and gatherer? Not really. It just means you devoted more of your waking hours to self identification than others.
- Creating codes of conduct. This includes telling other fans what they should say, do, and how they should act. The classic line is, "a true Broncos fan would never..." Never what? Never disagree with your tribal world view? Go tell the chief. Wait, there isn't a chief. That's because being a fan is a choice.
- Thinking attendance matters. This is classic tribal stuff (and good office politics, too). If you want to lift your stature in the Broncos clan, say "I'm a season ticket holder," or "I was at the game." It implies that you're a more important member of the tribe. But all it really means is that you've spent more of your hard-earned cash that could have went to your kid's college saving's fund in the pursuit of your self identification. If you don't attend the next tribal council, it just means someone else that bleeds bluer blue and oranger orange will take your place. And Pat Bowlen will be happy to take their money, too.
The list could go on, but you get the drift--some members of the tribe are more important than others.
Of course, the reality is much different. You can do just about anything you want and still self identify. After all, no one can confirm that you aren't a Broncos fan if you feel and say you are. There isn't a Broncos police force who will come to your house and see if you have an identification card stamped with a Broncos logo and a Nike swoosh. No one is going to bust into your house while you and your lady friend are getting the friction on so they can can march you up against a wall and put you on the Bad Fan List. If you want to burn a Kyle Orton jersey, so what? The sun still rises. If you want to root for your team to lose, big deal. Joe Ellis still draws
six seven figures. If you want to believe--like my father did--that referees make money on the side by throwing calls for the bookies--it's your God-given right. The Broncos will still take you--just visit the gift shop, please. If you want to be a Raiders fan (and dumber for the experience) for five years to soil your oats, go for it.
Being a fan is an elective. You're not graded, except by others who are taking the elective, too.
What they think matters, but the good news is that it only matters to them.