About “long-suffering fans:”
At the end of the 1986 season, the New York Giants qualified for their first Super Bowl in the 21st year of that event. (Sorry: “XXIst year.”) A fairly long drought, but hardly forever. They last had been in a pre-Super Bowl NFL title game 23 seasons earlier, before bumbling through 17 of 20 non-winning campaigns between 1964 and 1983.
Anyway, there had been all this talk—not unlike the post-Super Bowl 52 (“LII”) babble referencing Philadelphia Eagles followers—about the Giants’ “long-suffering fans” finally being rewarded. And that struck at least some of the 1986 Giants’ players as a bit much.
Offensive guard Chris Godfrey, having watched Giants’ fans proclaiming on television at the time that, at long last, they “were No. 1,” noticed that “I’m on the team, but it’s kind of hard for the players to take credit for this.”
The way running back Joe Morris saw the phenomenon then was, “A lot of people were waiting for us to win so they could say, ‘I’ve been a Giants fan all these years.’”
Offensive guard Billy Ard decided, “I don’t care who jumps on the bandwagon now. But when you win, they’ll cheer. And when you lose, they’ll boo.”
It’s a tricky dynamic. The fans invest passion—and money—into their team, and therefore an identity. But it’s not a two-way relationship. And the players, though they are well compensated for the entertainment value they provide, are the ones doing the heavy lifting.
For comparison, there is no indication, for instance, that Broadway show audiences, concert crowds or moviegoers take credit for the high quality of performances they attend. In sports, there is what Robert Cialdini, an Arizona State University psychology and marketing professor, years ago termed BIRG—Basking in Reflected Glory.”
When the team wins, at least. A research group of C.R. Snyder, MaryAnne Lassergard and Carol Ford coined the corresponding term CORFing—Cutting Off Related Failure—to describe the inclination of fans, after a defeat, to distance themselves from their team. A “we won,” but “they lost” deal.
Such wishy-washy loyalty would appear to undercut the “long-suffering” label. In fact, “long-suffering” synonyms—uncomplaining, patient, forgiving, tolerant, stoical—suggest the opposite of CORFing.
I’ll give the Eagles’ fans this: Their emotional connection with the team likely is more permanent than that of the players, whose careers are brief and who often are traded away or leave in pursuit of a better contract. The mercenary thing. And fandom really is balled up in a sense of community.
And it had been 57 seasons since the Eagles were on top of the NFL heap. It’s just that hanging civic and personal pride on the championship success of the local team seems risky. Philadelphia would be the same metropolis today had the Eagles lost to New England in the big game. And all those “long-suffering” fans, well within their rights to celebrate and enjoy the moment—excluding the cretins responsible for public violence in Philly—should understand that they were not the ones blocking and tackling and throwing touchdown passes against the Patriots.
It’s not “we won.” It’s “our team won.” That should be plenty good enough for any fan, long-suffering or not.