NFL Team Spirit: Building Community the Football Fan Way…
“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.” Vince Lombardi
In most parts of the world, the word football is another term for soccer. In the USA, the National Football League (NFL) oversees two conferences for Professional football players who excel at playing in the most popular and highly viewed American sport. The competitive drama, pre/post game shows, prognosticating talking heads analyzing strategies, plays, decisions, wall to wall TV coverage on multiple networks, gambling, fans, colorful uniforms and characters make it a favored pastime and regular Sunday/Monday fare for millions of Americans.
Why does this matter? Well, it matters because every season, communities of fans dust off their jerseys and head out for 5 months of games in snow, rain, sleet and shine, wins and losses, playoffs, team eliminations and finally a Superbowl champion. They teach the rest of us what team spirit means and how vital it is to everything we ultimately do.
The NFL history as we know it today, evolved from a modified game of Rugby in 1869 to what we now recognize as modern day American football; made up of highly paid players, a league with two conferences and the Superbowl to crown a champion. The NFL season starts early September and ends early February culminating in the Superbowl game; when the top two teams that survived the playoffs compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy. The winner of the NFC and the winner of the AFC play for the trophy and the players for the winning team also get the famous championship ring. The 2008 Superbowl champions were the Pittsburgh Steelers who defeated the Arizona Cardinals on a last second touchdown.
“If my mother put on a helmet and shoulder pads and a uniform that wasn’t the same as the one I was wearing, I’d run over her if she was in my way. And I love my mother.” Bo Jackson
What makes the spirit of community in this game admirable is the deep loyalty of NFL fans who go to games, watch from home, and travel around wearing their major league sports paraphernalia from sports jerseys, caps, and for those Green Bay Packers Wisconsin fans, foam cheese heads.
The licensed apparel business, a multi-million dollar industry, benefits from the dedicated purchases of fans who want and wear authentic team merchandise. In the 1990s, logo items were very hot and every celebrity, rap star and regular joe wore them. However, the days of rap artists wearing team logo jerseys and caps for shows are long gone and now the industry mostly feeds the tastes and desires of its fan bases; many of whom are generational. Fortunately, the clothing remains a staple in fans closets and are worn to games like chainmaille armor on a warring knight. According to a CNBC report, the Top 20 player jerseys this year are:
1. Brett Favre, Vikings →→→→2. Jay Cutler, Bears
3. Troy Polamalu, Steelers →→→→4. Michael Vick, Eagles
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers →→→→6. Tony Romo, Cowboys
7. Mark Sanchez, Jets →→→→8. Tom Brady, Patriots
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings →→→→10. Eli Manning, Giants
11. Terrell Owens, Bills →→→→12. Peyton Manning, Colts
13. Hines Ward, Steelers →→→→14. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
15. Jason Witten, Cowboys →→→→16. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
17. Joe Flacco, Ravens →→→→18. Matt Ryan, Falcons
19. Aaron Rodgers, Packers →→→→20. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
“One of my beliefs is that there are certain institutions within a community which stand for the spirit and heart of that community, there’s the church, the local football team, the local pub and the theatre.” David Soul
In addition to home/away games, 16 a season, football fans enjoy participating in another pastime; the growing popularity of fantasy football which allows friends, family, colleagues and strangers from around the world to create teams using stats from real players (you draft a team of actual NFL players online only) to compete against each other. Among the younger generation, fans enjoy the video game version of NFL football called Madden named after famous former coach and broadcaster; John Madden.
There is a camaraderie amongst supporters and a strong sense of family and community at games. The fierce loyalty makes fans sit through all kinds of weather conditions to cheer on their home teams. Imagine how powerful this attitude could be in any work environment?
“There are several differences between a football game and a revolution. For one thing, a football game usually lasts longer and the participants wear uniforms. Also, there are usually more casualties in a football game.” Alfred Hitchcock
Over the years, the sport has had its share of talented, colorful characters. These were guys who made people like me, who typically see Monday night football as Ice cream discount night at the local Haagen Dazs store, watch football. Amazing players like Bo Jackson played both professional baseball and football. Others like Refrigerator Perry, Jim McMahon, Billy White shoes Johnson, Deion Sanders, Chad Ochocinco (formerly Johnson), and Michael Strahan have kept the game fun and entertaining.
NFL players in general can make a lot of money. Most come straight from college and don’t finish/graduate college because they have to give up their last semester to prepare for NFL tryouts. The game is brutal and the risk of injuries is high; careers can be cut short when a player is severely injured on the field. They don’t get a lot of sympathy from the public because their minimum salaries are high and top players, like Albert Haynesworth the $100 million dollar man or Eli Manning who has a six-year, $97.5 million contract that will pay him $15.3 million a season guaranteed even if he gets hurt, can make massive sums of money.
“Football is like life, it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” Vince Lombardi
Even with the huge sums of earnings players make, being top notch is equally important to team owners and players. Diehard fans expect their teams to deliver results and rally protectively behind them like a lioness does her cubs. While the list below could change by year’s end, according to Peter Schrager of Foxsports news, remember I am only the messenger, the top 20 players in 2009 are:
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts →→→→2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers →→→→4. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings →→→→6. DeMarcus Ware, DE/LB, Dallas Cowboys
7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints →→→→ 8. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
9. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers →→→→10. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
11. James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers →→→→12. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders
13. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans →→→→14. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington Redskins
15. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers →→→→16. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
17. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants →→→→18. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
19. Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers →→→→20. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers
For all the hoopla, entertainment and good cheer these players bring to the viewing public, the down side to professional football is the short game lifespan and the lack of job security; players can get cut anytime and the attrition rate due to injury is even greater. A 60 minutes story this evening (10/11/2009) mentioned that NFL players have a higher likelihood of being amongst athletes who become casualties of the 3 million concussions that occur in sports every year. Despite the injured, every year new draft picks are selected and injured players are treated and benched. The games continue… Every season, regardless of who the new drafted players are or who’s out due to injuries, the fans show up to support their teams and keep track of the NFL scores; a weekly tabulation of games scores … Indeed, the games must go on.
Whatever it is, NFL players have captured the American sports imagination and epitomize all things Americana; like Oreos, Apple Pie and well … Baseball. What are your views on fans and community building? Where else do you observe such fierce fan loyalty? Are you a fan of … anything?
Brett Favre and Minnesota Vikings ~ Google Images
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers ~ Google Images
A Green Bay Packer Cheese Head Fan ~ Google Images
NFL Top Jerseys ~ Reebok.com?
Madden 10 Videogame cover of Fitzgerald and Polamalu ~ Google Images
Football Fans in snow ~ Google Images
Jim McMahon ~ Google Images
William “The Refrigerator” Perry ~ Google Images
Albert Haynesworth and his mom Linda ~ Google Images
Eli, Peyton and Archie Manning ~ via Bill Frakes Getty Images
Chad OchoCinco racing ~ Google Images
Eli and Peyton Manning against Serena and Venus Williams ~ Google Images
Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©