The Major League Baseball season is winding down and hurdling towards the fall classic, better known as the World Series. The NFL is cranking up another year of exciting action as we speak. The seemingly 14 month NHL campaign is just about ready to commence, and that means that the start of the NBA’s season can’t be far behind. The question is Capital Region sports fans, when it comes to your rooting interests, “Who do you love?”
Growing up in the Metropolitan area, North Massapequa to be exact, my view of all things, but especially sports, was shaped by my proximity to New York City, and my father. One of the early life lessons that my father instilled in me was that you should root for the home team. In other words, if you’re from New York, then support the New York teams. (Nobody likes a front-runner. If you grew up in New York City in the 1970s, and you rooted for the Dallas Cowboys, then as William Shakespeare would have said, “There’s no more faith in thee than a stewed prune.”) My father’s approach not only seemed sensible to me, it struck me as the epitome of loyalty, and in a world beset by “rats” and turncoats, it was refreshing to see that a person could stay true to their surroundings if they wanted to. Unfortunately, my father’s theories, while sound and admirable, sprung a few metaphorical and philosophical leaks along the way, and my faith in his approach to sports fandom would eventually be tested.
While my father loved to play the loyalty card, he had a somewhat selective way of applying it. For example, despite the fact that he was born and raised in the Bronx in the heyday of some of the greatest Yankee teams that Major League Baseball has ever borne witness to, and that’s saying a lot, he was not a Yankee fan. In fact he disliked them. Instead he rooted for the team situated across the Harlem River in Coogan’s Bluff known as the New York Giants. Why did a man who grew up just a few city streets away from the greatest dynasty in baseball history choose to ignore this success and put his passion behind a team that won with alarming irregularity? According to my father, it was boring rooting for the Yankees. “Who wants to root for a winner all the time?” “What’s the challenge in that?” (Are you listening Patriots fans?)
Rooting for the New York football Giants was an easier choice since they were the only game in town. My father lived and died with the Giants, and loved their great defense led by Sam Huff and Andy Robustelli, as well as their fine quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, and the “Golden Boy,” Frank Gifford. Even when the Giants fortunes turned, and they put together a remarkable run of 15 truly awful years of professional football, my father stayed the course. However, when the Giants moved to New Jersey, that was a different story. In his mind, the Giants had abandoned New York City, and from that point on, unfortunately for him, myself, my brother, and my two sons, all of his anger, passion, desires, and frustrations became wrapped up in the ill-fated fortunes of the dreaded New York Jets, and the power of this typhoon dragged all of us along in its sad wake. The same Jets he rooted against in the 1969 Super Bowl since he felt had to remain loyal to the NFC, he would, despite missing out on the only good moment in Jets history, stand with his New York Jets literally until he passed away.
As some of you are quite aware, the Jets also moved to New Jersey in 1985, however my father chose not to abandon the Jets the way he did the Giants. In my father’s somewhat twisted view of the world, the Giants had “tricked” the Jets into moving, and so it really wasn’t the Jets fault. It’s not that far-fetched. I mean the Giants have four Super Bowl trophies and the Jets only have one, so it’s possible the Jets are much more easily duped.
While I do pull for all of the Metropolitan area teams, the Jets, Giants, Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Islanders, and even the Devils, I do have my favorites. For me, perhaps because I was a product of Long Island, or perhaps because they seemed much more accessible, I always leaned towards the Mets and the Jets. Perhaps it was because their names were easier to spell. Maybe it was the fact that they were rather new on the scene, and I found myself drawn to them in the throes of my youth. Whatever the reason, the Mets and the Jets were my teams, and today for better or worse, mostly worse, this is true more than ever.
Most fans of the Mets and the Jets tend to also pull for the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders in hockey. The Islanders played in Uniondale, only a few miles away from where I grew up. I would also add that the Islanders were far more successful for most of my formative years than the sad-sack New York Rangers. However, my loyalties to the Knicks and the Rangers remained solid. This approach to fandom in the Metropolitan area is a bit of an aberration since most fans of the Mets and Jets are also supporters of the Nets and Islanders, while those who pull for the Giants and Yankees usually lean towards the Knicks and Rangers. I guess that makes me a bit of a trailblazer, like Jackie Robinson, but without the guts, determination, and self-sacrifice.
While the denizens of the Metropolitan area seem to be swimming in choices vis-a-vis professional sports teams to root for in their general vicinity, those who call the Capital Region home have no such luxury. The bad news is that Albany is simply too small to support a major professional sports franchise. There are of course many metro areas across the country that are too small to support a professional sports team. However, many of those smaller cities are typically located in the midwest or in the deep south, and they have the benefit of a huge Division I powerhouse college football and/or basketball team to rally around. Unfortunately we don’t have that either. Fear not, all is not lost Capital Region sports fans. We are essentially equidistant from several different major sports meccas, and you can call any of them your “hometown” favorite if you choose. Or can you???
Historically the Yankees and football Giants dominated the Northeastern sports landscape. In fact, up until the birth of the AFL (American Football League) the New York Giants were really the only game in town for all of New York as well as New England. Connecticut for example was such a hotbed of Giants fandom, that when Yankee Stadium closed for renovations at the beginning of the 1973 football season, the Giants played in the venerable Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut, and continued to do well at the box office despite being woefully inept on the field. The then Boston Patriots of the American Football League did little at first to dent the Giants stranglehold on New England, but then this Brady fellow came along and with the help of his cheating coach and I would imagine a ton of anabolic steroids (While I don’t have proof that Brady “juices” I just feel like he does.) the Patriots have become the dominant sports franchise amongst the proper “Yanks” in that part of the country.
(Go ahead, watch this video of the long-haired Brady crying and then tell me you don’t hate him. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You Tube)
Here now then is my unofficial, unscientific, unsubstantiated assessment of sports fandom here in the Capital Region:
- New York Giants – They are still the undisputed champs in this area. Their history and success, as well as the passion inspired by their swarth of fans that travels far and wide makes them the number one football team in this area.
- New England Patriots – Sorry, as it was in the two Super Bowls, the Patriots have been bested by the Giants once again. Sometimes I encounter Patriots and Mets fans, and I’m not sure what to make of those individuals. All I know is, I’d love to go back in time to around 1998, and see how many Patriots jerseys and baseball hats were sold in this area compared to when the Brady/Belichick era began. I think we both know the answer to that.
- New York Jets – Like roaches we crawl out of the woodwork every couple of years when it looks like there might be hope. Then we scurry for cover when the first pick-six occurrs, or there’s a “butt-fumble,” or somebody really good tears up a knee. Yes, you can try to eradicate us, but like the eternal roach, we are forever and unbowed. Oh, and bitter, very, very bitter.
- Albany Empire/Firebirds – People do love Albany’s indoor football heroes, and it’s exciting, even if it looks like a combination of football meets pin ball.
- New York Yankees – Again history and the fact that the Bronx is a little closer to the Capital Region than the other near-by sports meccas makes the Yankees number one in this area. However, their grip may be slipping.
- Boston Red Sox – Unlike the Patriots, I feel that the Red Sox have actually had a presence in this area even before their recent run of success. However, this is New York, and that’s Massachusetts, and you’re still a trader in my eyes. As a Mets fan, all I can say is, Bill Buckner!!!
- New York Mets – They have their fans up here to be sure, but just like in New York City, they don’t quite capture the imagination of NYC any more than they do in Albany. Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that all of their players get hurt, as well as the fact that they’re the only team in modern baseball history to be destroyed by a Ponzi scheme.
- Boston Bruins – One thing I’ll say about the Capital Region is that they they have a real passion for hockey, be it college, minor league, or of course the NHL. The Bruins have a long and rich history being one of the origial six members of the NHL, and they’ve had a parade of superstars from Bobby Orr, to Phil Esposito, Terry O’Reilly, Ray Bourque, and Zedano Chara.
- New York Rangers – “Let’s go Rangers!” is not a cheer that is foreign to the locals here in the Albany area. However, since the Rangers’ history is pretty much 1940 and 1994, they may not have captured the imagination of the locals here, quite the way they have in New York City.
- New York Islanders – I picked them, but just barely over the Montreal Canadians, and only because my son is a die-hard Islander fan. The Canadians have an incredible history, while the Islanders had four glorious seasons back in the early 1980s to look back on. I think the Adirondack Red Wings or whatever they call themselves these days, or perhaps Union College, or RPI have a stronger grip on the hockey fans here than either the Islanders or the Canadians.
- Boston Celtics – Sadly, it’s not even close. The Celtics are the Yankees of basketball, and they always seem competitive. Albany’s NBA loyalists really haven’t had anywhere else to turn due to the Knicks recent ineptitiude. (And by recent I mean 20 years.)
- New York Knicks – What can I say, I think the people of the Capital Region are the problem in regards to why the Knicks aren’t more popular. I mean, if you can’t get excited over Ron Baker, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.
- Albany Patroons – The name says it all. Also, the Patroons can sport the greatest coach in the history of professional basketball, Phil Jackson, as one of their alumni. Suck it Red Auerbach!
We are “blessed” here in the Capital region in that we are no more than about three hours from Montreal, New York City, and Boston, but let’s be honest, it would be nice to have a Major League Baseball team, or an NFL franchise to call our own. However, there are always trade-offs in this world, and this is a nice place to live regardless of its lacking in a major professional sports franchise, and as long as the Jets are competitive, and the local stations continue to show them on Sunday, then I can continue to thrive here in “Smallbany.”