One thing I’ll miss about having an NFL team, even a bad one, is the emotional connection the sport generates. Every Monday after a Rams game, we’d over-react to a rare win or a common loss and how the team played.
That came into focus again on Sunday as the Broncos and Panthers advanced to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara.
The entire 101 ESPN staff was at Ballpark Village for the Championship Bash, and the emotion poured out by the crowd hoping the Patriots would fall to the Broncos was palpable. While it’s great to see Peyton Manning get another shot at a championship, the primary feedback I got walking in and talking to fans during the game was that they wanted to see Tom Brady and New England lose.
So when Manning led the Broncos to a touchdown on an eleven play drive on their first possession, the place exploded.
But the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for Brady. When Derek Wolfe sacked him on a third and 14 late in the first quarter, St. Louis fans loved it.
When Von Miller picked Brady off in the first minute of the second quarter, the roof nearly came off the place.
I wasn’t rooting for Manning and Denver as much as I was rooting against Brady and the Patriots. And when the Broncos sacked Brady four times, and when he threw two official interceptions, I was exhilarated. Part of what forces such strong feelings about the Patriots is that they’re never out of a game. So when Brady threw one more interception, on a two point conversion that would have tied the game with :12 on the clock, our party went wild.
At that point, it didn’t matter to me who won the NFC Championship.
For most of the season, I thought Arizona was the best overall team in the NFC, despite Carolina’s record. But after the Panthers raced to that 31-0 lead over Seattle in the divisional round, my feelings changed. I thought both home teams would win on Sunday, but I certainly didn’t expect the Panthers’ 49-15 rout of Arizona. When you turn the ball over seven times, like the Cardinals did, you have to figure you’re going to get thumped.
The Panthers are going to be great theatre come Super Bowl week.
They’re young and brash and have a great time. Their quarterback/leader, Cam Newton, probably has more fun than any Super Bowl quarterback since Jim McMahon of the ’85 Bears. It’s no shock that perhaps the most audacious team to advance to the Super Bowl since that club is coached by a player from that team in Ron Rivera.
In the “No Fun League,” it’s refreshing to see a team that apparently has as much emotional investment in their games as we do.
Seeing the home crowds in playoff games go crazy is what sports should be all about. It’s almost unimaginable that we didn’t enjoy that excitement in St. Louis for the last dozen years the Rams were in St. Louis.
It’s difficult to engender much emotion for a loser, as we saw for long stretches of losing in baseball by the Pirates and Royals before they turned things around; in Chicago and Tampa Bay in hockey before they started winning again; and in Arizona and New Orleans in the NFL.
Nearly every fan base in every sport is going to experience a downturn in attendance when their team is awful for many years. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to St. Louis NFL fans. Rather than be given the chance to come back as the team did, the franchise owner and the NFL saw fit to simply take the team away from us.
Now sports fans in St. Louis must find an emotional outlet during the football season.
With the length of an NHL season and the roller coaster that every team endures, it’s impossible to logically live and die with a hockey team. That feeling has to come from either following an NFL team that you like, or rooting against a team you don’t.
For me, and for most of the people at Ballpark Village on Sunday, we’ve found that outlet. Brady and Bill Belichick have earned our disdain with their actions and demeanors. It’s even more sweet that one of the all-time good guys, Manning, was the quarterback of the team that beat them.
This is what I’ve had to look forward to for the last eleven years at this point in the season, anyway. Even though I don’t have a team to root for, I do have a team to root against.
As far as the NFL goes, that’s the emotion I’ll have to ride with from now on.