This past week, a thing on Twitter (how many horrible stories of the decade have started this way) ballooned into a bigger question about what it means to be a fan.
A self-proclaimed San Francisco 49ers fan was tired of his team and wondered if he’d be accepted as a Los Angeles Rams fan. Obviously, the timing of this move — with Jimmy GQ going down for the season and the Rams becoming the talk of the NFL — reeked of the worst kind of bandwagon fan. Most die-hard Rams rejected this notion because it, well, it’s easy to do. Though there is no way to truly enforce a team’s fandom. Most people would admit that they want their fellow fans to be passionate, loyal and knowledgeable about their team, but is that really reasonable to expect these days?
As the Rams continue to dominate, there will be new fans popping up like mosquitos, sucking the fun out of this experience. They will wear Rams hats, shirts, put stickers on their cars. These new bandwagon fans will just show up on a whim because the water feels nice. QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks and DL Aaron Donald will be fun to cheer for — we have legit stars on this team. There won’t be any heartbreak — the whole experience of being a Rams fan will be an easy and fulfilling one for new fans.
This has not been the typical experience of most Rams fans in the past and therein lies the problem.
Yet, here’s the thing about fan bases of successful franchises: it’s not a happy family. It’s a mob of every type of jerk imaginable. Anything good that gets insanely popular ends up getting bad fans... just try to some read “fanboy” whine about the new Star Wars movies on Twitter and you’ll get the idea real quick.
I believe that it’s just that large groups of people are the worst. For the past couple of years, the LA Rams’ fan base has felt like a family of battle-tested football fans that were arguably smaller in numbers than most teams, but the passion was off the charts.
I was at a party the other day, and some dude was wearing a Rams hat. I started talking to him about McVay and his face glazed over and he just stopped me cold. “Bro, it’s just a hat.” As I felt rage seethe in my veins, I had to shake it off and just laugh. We can’t check IDs for fans at the games or at the local Lids store. If the Rams end up being a dynasty for the next decade or so, all we can do is remain a part of it — we aren’t the gatekeepers just because we were here when the Rams sucked.
Years ago, I went to Fenway Park because my father was a die-hard Red Sox fan. We got some awful seats behind a big yellow post and were watching a game against the hated Yankees. It was great. Being from Southern California, I was taken aback by the intense volume these fans made. It was one the most impressive atmospheres I witnessed as a sports fan. This old lady was sitting nearby, couldn’t have been younger than 80, turned to me and said, “You’re gonna have to clap louder!” And I did. She didn’t ask me if I liked the Sox or what my history as a fan was. I was present, and it was time to join in.
So as the Los Angeles Coliseum fills up and the bars all across the Southland become littered with loudmouths in Goff jerseys, take a breath and remember that when it’s time for kickoff, your history as a fan isn’t the point.
Just clap, scream, and cheer louder than everyone else, like a true fan.