This post is mainly directed towards fans of Michigan athletics (I will be looking at the football, basketball, and hockey teams in particular) and the major Detroit sporting franchises (namely the Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons). It is an reflection of the highs and lows we've experienced since the start of 2008, and an examination of what it is to be a fan and the loyalty that we feel towards these franchises.
From 2008 through today, our teams have led us to feel pretty much every possible emotion that we would ever feel towards them. We've been elated by championship runs, magical seasons, and incredible victories. We've been shocked, disappointed, and angered by terrible seasons, heart-breaking losses, and record setting futility. We've even felt the nagging frustration of general mediocrity, something that is unusual for us, considering the rather bipolar history of our teams.
From 2008 through today, Michigan football has a record of 9-13. Michigan basketball has gone 27-26, Michigan hockey has gonef 48-18-4, the Tigers have gone 160-164, the Red Wings have gone 121-71 (I count OTL's as L's), the Pistons have gone 85-70, and the Lions have gone 1-21. Without weighting the games, our teams have a combined record of 451-383-4, good for a winning percentage of .541. Giving equal weight to each team's winning percentage, the overall winning percentage of our teams is .479. These numbers are somewhat interesting. When treating each win equally, our teams have made us happy the majority of the time. When treating each team as equal, our teams have disappointed us the majority of the time. I would do a more in depth analysis on the numbers here, but for one thing; when we think about it, they mean crap.
When 2008 began, our outlook on our teams was generally good. We had an uncertain optimism towards Michigan football, with Rodriguez about to take the reins, and high expectations for Michigan hockey, the Tigers, the Pistons, and the Red Wings. We accepted that Michigan basketball would be a multi-year rebuilding process and we had a somewhat apathetic expectation that the Lions would suck and continue to suck. The year started off great, with Michigan beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl, a great send off for Lloyd Carr. Michigan Hockey and the Pistons did well, advancing deep in their respective playoffs. The Pistons did as well as we could have reasonably hoped, while our hockey team lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the Frozen Four. However, we received a nice consolation prize, with the Red Wings cruising through the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup.
After that, we endured several months of pain. The Tigers, with a lineup that many thought would score 1000 runs, flopped and finished at the bottom of the Central, while Michigan Football endured its worst season of the modern era. Then a highly touted Michigan hockey team began the season with a dismal start, having a terrible first half to the season. And throughout it all, we watched the Lions, with a horrified fascination, finish a record breaking 0-16 season, including one memorable play where Dan Orlovsky infamously safetied himself.
The winter ended our agony, as we enjoyed the Michigan Basketball team's magical run to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile the Michigan Hockey team rebounded and became a one-seed in the NCAA tournament and the Red Wings rolled through the regular season. It would have been perfect, if not for the frustrating mediocrity of the Pistons that marked the end of their run among the NBA's elite teams.
The spring brought a number of painful losses, as the Pistons were swept in the first round of the playoffs, Michigan Hockey lost a shocker to Air Force in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the Red Wings lost a heartbreaking game 7 in one of the most exciting NHL playoffs in history.
The Tigers followed this up by be surprisingly good, taking control of the division over the summer and driving towards a likely playoff bid. Tigers fans were overjoyed to see Brandon Inge selected to the All Star game, which seemed fitting for a team leading the division through the help of a number of unlikely players. Then Michigan football started, and we were treated to one of the most exciting games in Michigan history with a win over Notre Dame. Overjoyed, fans looked forward to a great season of Michigan football and a playoff bid to the Tigers. Even the Lions provided some fun, by finally winning a damn game.
This all changed in one week. It began with a heartbreaking loss to MSU and the Tigers dropping a series to Chicago, forcing a one game playoff against the surging Twins. Then the Tigers lost to the Twins in spectacular fashion, blowing multiple opportunities to win the game on the way to a loss in the 13th inning. Meanwhile, Michigan hockey began the season by losing to Alaska and we lost to Iowa the week after. This funk by our teams has yet to end. The hockey team has been shaky, the Lions have continued to lose, and our football team was just blown out by Illinois.
Now, as I write this at 1:30 in the morning after watching one of the most atrocious games I've ever seen out of a Michigan football team, I wonder why it is that we surrender our emotional well-being to these teams that so often disappoint us. I am still simultaneously depressed and angry about losing such an awful game to such an awful team and I know that this will persist for at least the rest of the week. And it's not as if this situation, this streak of disappointing performances, is unusual. Our teams will generally disappoint us, because we will always hope that our teams will do better than what we can reasonably expect from them. So why is it that we let ourselves care so much? Why do we look to something as inconsequential as the result of a football game as a source of elation or despair?
The answer is certainly up for debate. My personal thought is that loyal fans root for their teams with fervor because doing so allows fans to take pride in their teams' accomplishments. Suffering with the Michigan Football team when they lose to Illinois will makes it possible for a loyal fan to feel a legitimate sense of pride whenever they beat Ohio State. This is a good thing, because for Michigan football fans' true loyalty generally lies with something more broad than the team itself. For instance, when most people root for the football team, they are really supporting the university, an institution that they are apart of. Others support Michigan for different reasons that are more akin to the professional teams that they support. Most Tigers fans, for instance support the Tigers because they represent the city of Detroit, or more broadly, the state of Michigan. Others root for the Tigers because their parents brought them up rooting for the Tigers, and thus rooting for the Tigers is an extension of the bonds that they feel with their parents.
The point here, and the reason I am posting this after a blowout loss to a terrible team, is to note that rooting for a team is an expression of our loyalty to something greater than the team itself. Furthermore, the thing that we are loyal to is generally something that we value greatly (using myself as an example, I greatly prize my affiliation with the University of Michigan). Therefore, if you allow the pain you feel in the aftermath of a loss to turn you away from supporting your team with the same fervor that you did before, then you are to an extent betraying your bond to whatever it is that causes you to root for your team.