What do you do when your nephew becomes of fan of your most hated rivals? Patrick Smith tries to find an answer.
I’m crazy about my sister’s kids. America’s Proudest Uncle. I’ve become the relative who sends them Pop Rocks on their birthdays and enrolls them in the Junior Orioles Club, despite the 300 miles between Baltimore and their North Carolina home.
I don’t have kids myself. A very big no-thank-you. But my sister’s two little boys are sources of endless smiles and mountains of love.
The older boy, Luke, is in the first grade and is an outgoing, friendly kid with limitless energy. He likes music, reading, Matchbox cars, and sports. Especially sports.
Naturally, I’m thrilled at his interest in the same stuff I like. When we’re together, he asks me a bazillion questions about my own tastes.
“Uncle Smitty, do you like the Steelers?”
“No, Luke. I hate the Steelers.”
“Me too. Do you like the Cleveland Indians?”
“I neither like nor dislike the Cleveland Indians.” (I heard kids love formal language.)
“I love the Cleveland Indians,” Luke tells me. “They’re my favorite.”
Children who don’t live in big-league cities are forced rely on things like uniform colors or team names to determine their allegiances. Even kids who do live in cities with teams sometimes take up with, say, the Dolphins just because, y’know … dolphins. It’s hard to blame them.
I have devised the following quiz to demonstrate my point.
If I’m a kid who likes basketball, I’m most likely to root for:
A) the Utah Jazz
B) the Milwaukee Bucks
C) the Orlando Magic
To a kid, “Utah” and “Jazz” are both the polar opposites of fun. “Orlando” and “Magic,” on the other hand, are exactly equal to fun. (The Bucks are just the Bucks.)
OK, another example.
A kid who has no other particular loyalties is most likely to take up rooting for:
A) The Cleveland Browns
B) The Arizona Cardinals
C) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First of all, the Browns? C’mon. They might as well be the Stinky Grossouts. The Cardinals? Bor-ing. I have Cardinals at my bird feeder. For a kid, the Bucs are the clear choice. Yes, the look is important. Pirate imagery is very popular with children and parents alike. After all, Blackbeard’s been dead for 293 years. That’s enough post-atrocity time, right?
But the real reason kids like Luke dig the Bucs is the name. Say it. Tam. Pa. Bay. Buc. Ca. Neers. That’s a whole lot of unwieldy hard consonants, which are comedy gold in Kid World. It’s perilously close to Tubba BuddubuhCanneers.
Anyway, this season, Luke’s mom and dad signed him up for rec-league basketball. Can you imagine? Four-foot kids playing basketball?
I thought of my own Catholic Youth Organization games in grade school. They were anarchic chop fests, kids heaving the ball up and down the court, games ending with scores like six to two. The scores were always even numbers, if you know what I mean. But it was a great way to learn to play on a team and to get a chance to run around for an hour or so. I loved those teams.
Our CYO teams were named after Catholic colleges. I played for the largely secular Wildcats, who were supposed to be Villanova. But the Friars, the Warriors, the Crusaders, and the many others who gave their lives to Rome were well represented.
So, I asked Kelly, “Who’s Luke playing for?”
“Well … his team is called the Tar Heels.”
Aw, man. I really loved that kid.
At a very young age, my dad wisely taught me that the Carolina Tar Heels were to be loathed. We were N.C. State fans—the people’s university. The Wuffpack. Engineers and farmers. People of the land. Not Chapel Hill eggheads, with their fancy book learnin’ and sweaters wrapped around their necks.
Even now, I live in Maryland and am married to a woman with a Ph.D. from College Park. It’s easy to keep on hatin’ the Heels.
But this. This I never planned for. My best little pal, running around in a Carolina blue jersey, like Eric Montross or something.
In any case, the boy swears he hasn’t crossed over. He still hates the real Tar Holes. It’s only a team name. Relax; it’s nothing to worry about. Next year, with any luck, he’ll wind up playing for the Wolfpack or the Terrapins. At least, that’s how I sleep at night.
My sister tells me this episode isn’t so bad. “It’s just for one basketball season,” she says. “Wait till he starts liking music you don’t like.”
Oh, that really might be worse.
Kelly’s spent the first seven years of her older son’s life cultivating a love of what used to be known as “college rock.” He’s got the indie cred. I made him his first rock & roll mix shortly after he was born. Kelly made DVD slideshows of Luke’s first six months and put the photos to a loud Foo Fighters song.
She tells me Luke came home from school the other day and proclaimed a bold new love for … Bon Jovi.
“Bon Jovi?” my sister asked, incredulous. Even his little brother was aghast.
“Luke!” little Eli cried with great urgency, betrayed by the brother he worships. “Do you like Bon Jovi better than X?”
Luke didn’t respond to his brother. He didn’t have to. They all knew. We can’t impose on them forever. If the kid wants to like cheesy classic rock, well, he’s his own little guy.
But I’m drawing the line if he starts liking the Steelers.