What is more important when picking a favorite sports team: tradition or location? Larry Bernstein shares losing, love, and baseball with his 9-year-old son.
I have lived in the New York area for nearly 20 years. I’ve adopted many New York habits—walk aggressively and see red lights as optional, memorize where to stand on the subway platform for optimal entry and egress, and pronounce Houston not like the city in Texas.
However, I root for the Philadelphia sports teams. Let me explain.
The explanation is rather simple, actually. I am a product of my environment—the fourth son of a sports-crazed Philadelphia family.
My mother is still bitter over the 1950 World Series between the Phillies and Yankees. She anguishes over the three one-run losses. My oldest brother spit at the television while watching a Sixers-Celtics game. My next oldest brother was convinced he was bad luck and could not bring himself to watch the key moments of the 1980 National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Houston. My European born grandmother waved an Eagles pennant and ate pizza while watching the 1980 Super Bowl.
My first foray into Philadelphia sports was an Eagles playoff game in December of 1978. I was just eight years old. My entire family gathered around the television to watch the Eagles take on the Falcons on a Wildcard Sunday. That is the only time I ever remember watching a show with my entire family.
Anyway, the Eagles took a 13-0 lead and I was convinced the game was over. I wanted to celebrate. However, there was that missed extra point which my father kept noting as a reason for worry. Alas, the Eagles gave up two touchdowns in the last quarter and lost 14-13. That was a dark day in our home in Northeast Philadelphia, and I bore the anger. My brothers yelled at me, “You had to say it was over, didn’t you?” I got smacked by foam fingers and pennants.
Despite this disheartening loss, I continued to be a Philadelphia sports fan. As I said, I practically had no choice. My family’s dinner table was the progenitor of sports talk radio. We would dispatch quickly of the basics: “How was your day at school?” “Ok.” And then bandy about the sports teams. “You think they are going to make a trade? Who is this young guy they brought up? You think they will win on Sunday?”
Besides, my initial fandom coincided with the glory era of 1980. All four teams went to the finals of their respective sports. I was under the impression that winning was a regular thing for my sports heroes. Know what I mean, Yankee fans? Anyway, as the 80s dragged on, the winning faded from each organization, but I was already hooked.
I moved to Brooklyn in 1995. New friends and acquaintances would tell me, “You’re not in Philadelphia anymore. You should be loyal to the New York area teams. This is where you live now.”
They had a point. After all, the New York teams actually won occasionally. So, I adopted some New York teams. Halfheartedly. They were, and are, a distant second to my Philadelphia teams. I knew who I was rooting for in the Phillies-Yankees rematch in the 2009 World Series.
So, I have come to some sort of balance in my fandom. Time to relax.
There’s the next generation. My two sons are getting more interested in sports, particularly my 9-year-old. Would I doom him to the ignominy that comes with being a fan of Philadelphia sports teams? Would I saddle him with the burden of outsider? After all, my wife is a Yankee fan—he could be looking back fondly on 27 world championships.
But no. He has seen my passion for the Philadelphia sports teams, and it has drawn him into the fold. My son has a penchant for statistics and can tell you every World Series winner since 1903. So naturally, he has some questions. “How many times have the Phillies won the World Series?” And then in reference to the Eagles, “Wait, they never won a Super Bowl?” I shake my head sadly, too ashamed to have to verbalize the truth.
“So why do we root for them?” he asks me.
I reach back into my childhood and remember what my parents told me, “Losing builds character.” No offense to my parents, but the great sportswriter Roger Kahn may have put it best: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
Time to fall in love, son.
This is who we are.