With the Stanley Cup Finals winding down, there's been a lot of talk about "bandwagon" fans and how much we hate them. Obviously, the focus for my disdain has been the Blackhawks, because for me, their fans are perfect examples of jumping on the bandwagon and riding it. It got me thinking about why I dislike them so much.
The main issue I have with any bandwagon fans is that inevitably, these are the idiots that are the loudest about their team being so "awesome" and "amazing". Typically, these are the beer-drinking morons out at a bar or on the street wearing their team's memorabilia, which is just like them in one important respect: both are brand new. Now, I understand that we all became fans for some reason. For the locals, you're born into it. For us out-of-towners, there's another reason why we are drawn to an organization that is not the home team. Sometimes it's a specific player (Steve Yzerman for me), sometimes it's a family thing (maybe your parents cheered for that team but moved, and passed that down to you). Sometimes, it's because that particular team was really good as you were just starting to pay attention. Either way, your reasons are your own, and I certainly will not question why you start cheering for a team.
You know what I can't stand, though? Excuses. A perfect example of this are Blackhawk fans. Their lack of support is grounded in their pitiful attendance just 3 and 4 short years ago. Now, they are #1 in attendance, and believe me when I tell you that the fans here don't let you forget it. I've seen stuff like people claiming that Chicago is "Hawkeytown" and that they have the best fans because of the attendance. But, point out their half-empty stadium from a few years ago - it was all Bill Wirtz' fault. It wasn't the fact the team on the ice was awful, or that they had no legitimate superstars until Toews and Kane showed up. Nope, Dollar Bill went to every single season-ticket holder and anyone else that called asking about tickets, tied them up and made them stay home. Not only were they not allowed to go to the games, he even called every TV station executive in the city and threatened to show those pictures of them canoodling with Tommy Tomahawk if they dared show any games on TV. What a bastard. But, thankfully he died, and good old Rocky came to the rescue, putting the games on TV. Thanks to trusty Rocky, the bandwagon had another tool to recruit members.
Does the fact that the Hawks played to 12,000 people make their fanbase "bad"? Not necessarily. I've always argued that home attendance should not be the sole arbiter as to the passion of a fanbase. Unfortunately, it's one of the few objective criteria we can use, so we tend to base a lot of our opinions off of how many tickets a team sells. As a Red Wing fan, I've heard that we are not "good" fans because the Joe is not sold out every night. Now, I'm not from Detroit, nor have I lived in the area. I don't know what the motivation is for people to stay home and not go to the games. From what I've heard from some people, it's a case of going to the game or paying their rent; in that situation, the choice is very easy. I grew up in Toronto, and I can say with experience that it is damn hard to get tickets to a Leaf game. If the Leafs went 0-82, they would still sell out 95% of their games. Does that make them "good" fans? Maybe, maybe not. But it makes them loyal, which is important.
For me, one of the things that really bugs me about all these new Hawk fans (and to a lesser extent, Penguin and Capital fans) is that they have not had to see their teams suffer for any great length of time before they achieved success. I say this with a tinge of envy, because I became a Wing fan at the age of 8 (in 1986) and watched them lose to the Oilers in the late 80s. Then, through the early '90s, it seemed like they were never going to win the Cup; getting swept by the Hawks in '92, losing to the Leafs in '93 (or as I call it, the Worst Hockey Year Ever), losing to the Sharks in '94 on a goal by Jamie-Fucking-Baker (I remember Chris Osgood as a rookie crying after that loss), getting to the Finals in '95 and getting destroyed by the Devils, and obliterating the entire league in '96 only to lose to Roy and the Avs. To me, it seemed like we as fans went through those disappointments with the team, so when they finally won in '97, we (fans and team) were unified in our happiness that we had persevered through all the down times to emerge victorious at the top of the mountain. But, what have Hawk fans and Penguin fans had to suffer through? The Hawks were supposed to be good last year, but not as good as they were, and this year they were a top contender. The Pens had a similar meteoric rise to the Cup. Now, I don't believe that a fanbase needs to go through tough times to show that they are "good" fans; I only point out what I experienced because I wish that the Wings had won the Cup earlier in my time as a fan. I also don't believe that the amount of time one has been a fan dictates how good a fan they are; there are fans who have been following their team for 50 years but don't exhibit the level of passion that some of the rest of us do. However, what really chaps my ass about these new fans is that they have not shown that they will support their team when they are losing. Look at the attendance. The Penguins also had extremely difficult times drawing fans to the rink, and there were rumours that the team was going to move to Kansas City (but to hear the fans tell it, this was all a brilliant negotiating ploy by Lemieux to get a better lease from the city and get a new arena). However, there are lots of teams that have been traditionally bad, yet there are no worries about them moving; teams like the Wild and Kings have not experienced any on-ice success, but you never hear anything negative about their attendance or stability in their cities. 5 years ago, Chicago could barely get 13,000 people in the building. The 8-year old in me just wants to scream "it's not fair!" over and over.
Now, the rational part of my brain understands that as teams get better, more people will be drawn to them and become fans. Part of the reason the Red Wings have the extensive support they do is because of the success they have had over the last 15-20 years. I get that. My problem is with these newbie fans who talk their shit like they have been following their team (or to a lesser extent, hockey in general) for their entire lives, when they couldn't name a player on their own team from 5 years ago, and would be hard-pressed to name 5 players from every team in the league (quick, try and do that now - name at least 5 players from every single NHL team - you'll be surprised to see how much you follow hockey). Now, don't get me wrong - I enjoy trash talk as the next guy. What I can't stand are fans who don't know what the hell they are talking about, but will defend their team to the death, even if the factual basis for their argument is proved to be wrong. Yes, Blackhawk fans, we all know that Chris Pronger is a douche. I can get on board with that argument. But don't tell he "sucks" because he plays physical. I hate him as much as you can hate someone you've never met and who has never done any harm to you or your family; but I understand that he is a very good hockey player.
Here's my point: if you are a new fan, take the time to learn the history of your team. Figure out how they got to the point they are at. Because inevitably, you are going to be labeled as a bandwagon fan, especially by people like me, and if you can debate and discuss your team with intelligence and knowledge, then you will earn my respect. Be warned, though: I will still hate your team. If you can't take that, and can't take the shit-talking about the crappy attendance and lack of support from the locals, then I don't know what I can do to help you out. If you just hopped on the bandwagon and plan to stay there while your team is winning, admit it; otherwise, don't allow yourself to be labeled so negatively. Together, we can destroy the bandwagon, one fan at a time.