Loyalty to sports teams more than just hometown pride

Kevin Wilson

Every few Fridays coworker Tony Bullocks comes in with some new gear marking the 2010 World Series title for the San Francisco Giants.

• “Wow, this Giants World Series champs hat fits nicely.”

• “Man, look at all of these color photos in this special San Francisco Chronicle.”

• “You know, Kevin, I normally enjoy this beverage, but it tastes so much better from this Giants coffee mug.”

• “This polo shirt fits so nicely, and the material’s so breathable.”

In general, I’m happy for Tony when his sports teams win. But he’s not trying to share happiness. He shows off because I am a fan of the Texas Rangers, the team they beat in the World Series.

I laugh and tell Tony, “No, it doesn’t bother me.” I say this every time. Tony hears, “No, it doesn’t bother me … yet. Keep trying.”

The only thing I signed up for was a friendly wager when the matchup was set — losing team’s fan buys the champs hat for the winning team’s fan. I lost $30 buying the hat, but I also got to see my favorite team make its first World Series.

I asked Tony, “World Series notwithstanding, why do you still root for these teams? You’ve lived here longer than I have, and you maybe see San Francisco a few weeks a year.” People switch airlines because it’s $1 cheaper, but they’re loyal to sports teams that lose year in and year out because they used to live there decades ago.

“It’s home,” Tony said. “Home is always part of you. San Francisco’s always me. If there was a group of San Francisco fleas, my grandmother would have rooted for them to beat Los Angeles’ fleas. And she’ll believe in her heart that the fleas will win.”

Then I turned the mirror on myself, and realized I’m even less rational. I don’t have a hometown in the Major League Baseball fight — or any other fight. My hometown of Townsend, Mont., is about eight hours from any professional sports team — so what’s the difference between eight hours and 28?

My favorites instead became reflections on favorite players at the time. Tony grew up in San Fran, but we’re both 49ers fans because I loved watching Jerry Rice. I’m a Rangers fan because I got to see Nolan Ryan throw no-hitters. I’m growing a playoff beard for the Buffalo Sabres because Pat LaFontaine was my favorite player to watch 18 years ago. Those players left, and the teams changed players, ownership groups, logos and jerseys. I’m not sure why I didn’t change as well.

Maybe I do, because every year invested ideally makes the payoff better if and when they do win. I hold out hope that the Rangers and Giants meet again, and Tony ends up buying me the cap.

And though I have no reason to believe this would happen, maybe the 49ers will win the Super Bowl. Our coworkers better hope they don’t root for the loser, in that case. They’ll have to hear about how water tastes better from those Super Bowl mugs, and not know why.

Neither will we. We’ll just know that it does.