Coming from the east side, it’s fun to cheer for local sports underdogs | A Yankee in Wonderland

At the same time, wow — the local college football teams are big here.

My daughter grew up in New England and moved to Washington after college and marriage. She was teaching high school in King County in 2014, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

Her students wanted to attend the victory parade instead of going to school.

“Come on, Mrs. S, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” one student argued.

“That’s not much of a vote of confidence in your team,” she replied.

I think that exchange might show the difference between being a sports fan in Connecticut and in Washington. In Washington, championships are so rare that “once in a lifetime” feels accurate. In the Northeast, fans get impatient if there isn’t a victory every year.

Connecticut sits right between Boston and New York City. For the four “major” leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) there are plenty of championships. Since the 1920s, Boston teams have won 32 championships, and New York teams have won 48. Seattle can claim only two, so far.

Now don’t get mad, sports fans. I have no intention of declaring those Northeastern cities superior to the metro area I have chosen to live in. In fact, moving away from the Northeast let me realize how arrogant those sports fans can be. I was in the airport recently, and saw a man wearing a jacket declaring in BIG letters that the Boston Celtics had won 16 championships. I nearly threw my coffee on that coat.

In football the successes of the New England Patriots are well known. They have played in the Super Bowl nine times since 2001, and have been the winners six times, including 2014. Their fans are probably the champions, too — champions of being obnoxious. Sports Illustrated even posted an online article which concluded that Patriots fans are the “most hated”.

The New York Giants have four Super Bowl victories, but they have also had some periods of being awful. In some seasons, fans have taken to wearing paper bags over their heads as if to say, “I don’t want anyone to know I root for this team.”

Connecticut’s only claim to sports fame is in the world of NCAA basketball. The men’s team has won four national championships, and the women have won 11. Twice, both the men’s and women’s teams won national championships in one year. No other school has done that even once.

It has been said that the two most popular sports at UCONN are basketball, and men’s basketball. The women’s team has enjoyed tremendous fan support. There was a time when they would sell out a 16,000 seat arena for regular season games. The Hartford Courant reports that the average attendance has fallen to 10,000. Maybe it’s because, although they have been in the final four 14 straight years, they haven’t won a national championship since 2018.

Some in Connecticut wonder what’s wrong with the team. Here, if one of our NCAA basketball teams made it that far, we would be deliriously happy. (To be fair, the Washington Storm, which plays in the WNBA, has four national victories, and is one of two teams in the league that have never lost a WNBA finals when they’ve gotten there. Surprisingly, despite their success, their home city doesn’t seem to recognize them — at least according to the Seattle Times.)

On the other hand, college football is an afterthought in New England. As writes, “…nobody in their right mind is moving to Connecticut to watch college football.”

I went to two UConn football games in the 50 years I lived in the state. Our Washington Huskies were rated to be the eighth best team in college football at the end of this past season. There are three FBS teams in New England. According to The Athletic, Boston College ranked number 96. UConn ranked number 124. At least that’s better than the University of Massachusetts, which ranked number 128 (there are only 131 teams in the FBS).

The only football rivalry in New England college football is between Harvard and Yale, two schools known mostly for academics, with athletics an afterthought. The news coverage here of the local college football was a surprise to us. We hadn’t lived with big time college football before. The Huskies victory in the Alamo Bowl was really fun – especially because it was a victory over Texas.

The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees is intense. An internet search of “sports rivalries” will produce many lists. All of the ones I saw included the Red Sox vs. Yankees. Before the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, Yankees fans loved to taunt their rivals by going to Fenway Park and chanting “nineteen – eighteen” for the last time the Sox had won the World Series. They had been in the Series three other times, but lost. Our Mariners have never even been to the World Series. Yet.

I was born about 10 miles away from Yankee Stadium, into a family that rooted for the Yankees. There were good years and bad years, of course, but being a fan meant that there was always hope for a championship soon, or the memory of a recent World Series victory. I hope I wasn’t one of those arrogant New York fans, but I definitely had expectations for my team. When they last won a championship, in 2009, I realized that what I felt wasn’t the joy of rooting for the winning team, it felt more like relief. Like they were supposed to win.

There is nothing better for a sports fan than rooting for an underdog and having them win. It’s a lot more fun to follow a team that is exceeding expectations, than to root for a team that is supposed to win. I don’t mean that I got tired of rooting for teams that won a lot, but the first few weeks of following the Seahawks this past season was really a lot of fun. Rooting for the Mariners last season was really fun, too. Ending a streak of 21 years without making the postseason playoffs was really satisfying. And now we get to hope for next year.

There is a kind of team loyalty that sports fans have. I am a Mariners fan now, but there will always be a little bit of Yankees fan inside me. I already have my tickets for the Mariners vs Yankees. I’ll be the guy in the Yankees shirt and the Mariners hat.