On Being a Fan: Making It Through the Wilderness
A decade of fandom futility is a hell of a thing. It’s not usually something a fan goes into knowingly. One day you’re watching Evgeni Malkin score a hat trick in your own barn while your favorite team gets swept in the Eastern Conference finals, and the next you’re watching them fall short of success.
All the while, you’re watching your bank account drain. You’re watching the stands get emptier. You’re watching the faces you love on the ice leave you forever. You’re watching fans with different jerseys multiply in your home and drown you out. You’re watching people outside your market who have no idea what they’re talking about slander you in front of vast audiences, call your fandom into question, question your worthiness and value, and tell you that you no longer deserve to have the thing you love.
You’re watching the people around you forget what it was they loved about being a fan. You’re watching new generations be born into a fandom that knows nothing but disappointment. You’re watching people look at you strangely when you talk about the thing you love. You’re watching people fail to realize that there is something here to be a fan of in the first place.
At some point during all of this, a rational person would probably leave such a fandom for their own self-care. Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe the sadness, the bitterness, the anger, and the disappointment killed the love you had for your fandom. Maybe it drove you away for a while. Or maybe it festered in your heart and made you cynical. Or maybe you held out out hope for something better and were called a Pollyanna for your efforts.
But despite all of this, I’m willing to bet that the spark that lit the fire for the thing you loved is still alight. Maybe you’ve been desperate for something to re-kindle it. Maybe you think you’ve become too calloused, too shy of the vulnerability of hope, to come back to it. A decade of fandom futility is a hell of a thing, but sometimes the love of a fan can withstand a hell of a lot. I hear Cubs fans might know something about that.
I have a lot of love to give to the Carolina Hurricanes, but what’s kept my fandom alive hasn’t been the love of the team itself.
It’s been the love of my family — learning to share the joy of my fandom with the spouse I love and later the children we had.
It’s been the love of friendships with fellow long-suffering fans — the people I’ve met in this fandom who have welcomed me like a family, though I was a stranger connected only to them by my identity as a fan.
It’s been the love of relationships I’ve made with people around the world — fans of other teams who I may or may not ever meet in person but who have shared a part of their heart with me anyway.
It’s been the love of the memories I’ve made. The first game I ever saw, watching Justin Williams streak across the ice in Game 7, watching the confetti fall in the RBC Center and the Stanley Cup paraded around Raleigh in 2006. Meeting a Bruins fan in Logan Airport during the Carolina-Boston series in 2009. Watching the Capitals lay a solid beat down on the Canes in a regular season Southeast Division matchup that held no significance other than being the first game I ever attended. The first time I lost my hat in a wild barn-burner versus Vancouver. My first tailgate, where a fellow fan went out of his way to give me his water so I wouldn’t dehydrate. The time I spent nine hours in the freezing rain hanging out with my friends during the final home game last season. The time I went to a draft in another state and met a special boy the team drafted, by some stroke of luck, second overall.
The time I lay on a patch of grass outside PNC Arena, minutes after watching the Hurricanes clinch their first playoff berth in 10 years, listening to fans crying and yelling in joyful incoherence at one another and at cars that drove past.
I have a lot of love to give the Carolina Hurricanes, but it’s taken a decade for me to be able to properly express that love again. And so I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me keep it alive along the way.
And I want you to know that it doesn’t matter what your fandom journey looked like during the past 10 years. It. Doesn’t. Matter. Don’t listen to people who try to invalidate your feelings or your identity as a fan or try to tell you that you don’t deserve to be happy about the team’s success because you don’t conform to their arbitrary definition of “good fan” behavior.
It doesn’t matter. You made it. We made it. We’ve been through the wilderness, friends. The Carolina Hurricanes are back in the playoffs, and you deserve this.
I love you.