What Is A Fan?

What is a fan?  After watching the 49ers gut wrenching loss to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl I found myself asking that question.  I have been a 49ers fan ever since I really started paying attention to pro-football.  My first memories of the NFL start around 1993.  Two years later, the Niners win Super Bowl XXIX in 1995.  I grew up in Chiefs country.  My early memories of the Chiefs were talented teams who underachieved.  Most Kansans bemoaned their efforts.  I didn’t hear a lot of praise except for players like Joe Montana and Derrick Thomas.  So, I was a defacto Chiefs fan because they were on every Sunday.  On Monday’s, I would go to the school library, pull the paper and read about my 49er’s performance the day before.  Because my mother was from South Florida, I kept up with the Dolphins too.  She taught me the fight song.  As the years passed, I fell into the rhythm of keeping up with all three teams.  I guess that makes me a fan of all three.  Who knows?

So, I return to this question of fandom.  What is it?  What does it mean?  You don’t win or lose anything.  You spend loads of cash on gear, streaming, tv, and tickets.  Three hours a week is dedicated to watching your team perform.  You invest time and money for something you have no ownership in.  Your only return is the joy or sadness of wins and losses.  So, why do we do it year in and year out?

Every fan has their reasons.  I am drawn to the intellectual brutality of the game.  I am curious about the individuals who teach and execute leadership.  Each year your team must build its team chemistry and execute well enough for 17 games to have a shot at the Super Bowl.  For a society that wants everything easy, we are still attracted to the struggle of achieving a goal.  In this case, that goal is a championship.  Perhaps we hope to see a glimpse of ourselves when we look at Patrick Mahomes, or Isiah Pacheco or Chris Jones.  Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey look like everyday men who might carry a lunch pail to work in a different life.  When men like Travis Kelce start dating billionaires, we want a piece of that pie too.  We add it to our daydreams.  Don’t say that you didn’t!

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) kisses Taylor Swift after the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. The Chiefs won 25-22. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Fandom is mercurial.  Everyone wants to touch greatness.  Few want to do the work necessary to achieve it.  Yet, we have no trouble criticizing someone else who is in the arena doing the work.  We speak and offer opinions as if we own the team.  Yet the majority of fans only spend three to five hours a week on the team.  Three hours is allocated to game day.  The other two hours would be the occasional reading of beat writers or managing their fantasy football teams.  This five hours a week of dedicated attention to our chosen team somehow entitles us to have such strong opinions such as fire the play caller.

Each and every coach, player and administrator has a family to support.  This is their chosen work.  This is their current life path.  Yet, none of that matters to the fan.  Results are all that matters, as if it were a quarterly report at some corporate job.

The advent of technology has made the world smaller.  We used to be more locked into our local teams.  Maybe we get to go to a game or two every season.  That is how I became a Kansas State Wildcat fan.  My father would choose a couple games a year and take us.  I grew to love the KSU Wildcats and still do though they are not my alma mater.

I was disconnected to the Chiefs in that I never went to a live game, though I watched KSU play at Arrowhead once.  However, the Chiefs were on every Sunday so how could you not get to know the team as I grew up in rural Kansas.  Yet, I was imbued with a contrarian and mercurial nature by my upbringing.  My father taught me to go where everyone isn’t.  That is how he achieved success in his business.  Growing up, in Kansas, you were either a Chiefs, Broncos or Cowboys fan.  I couldn’t stand the Cowboys.  I am not sure I can to this day answer why….

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) leaves the field after overtime of the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. The Kansas City Chiefs won 25-22 against the San Francisco 49ers. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

I think I chose the 49ers first because of the uniforms.  Then, I started to study the team and men like Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott intrigued me.  Their grit, fire, determination and hard work yielded results.  Growing up in rural Kansas, these values resonated with me.  Lastly, I always wanted to travel to California.  The history of the old west held an allure for me that was weirdly encapsulated by the 49ers.

I have now endured three 49er Super Bowl losses as an adult fan.  Two of those losses came at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.  I admit, that is a hard pill to swallow.  In the 90s there were many connections to the two clubs, of which the most famous was Joe Montana.  It was easy to root for the Chiefs when Montana was under center.  After all, he was a 49er!  I have watched the 49ers in four super bowls and unfortunately seen them win one trophy.  Watching them lose the Chiefs is bittersweet.  I would rather the Chiefs had beaten someone else…

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) leaves the field after overtime of the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. The Chiefs won 25-22. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Each year, as a fan, I watch almost all the 49ers’ interviews.  I read the articles.  I listen to the Coach.  After a while, you feel like you get to know the team.  Over time, when they hurt, you hurt.  You want the best for your chosen ball club.  Its inexplicable because you really don’t know them….but I guess that is fandom too.

So, as a fan of the losing club, where do you go from here?  How do you process it?  How much emotional investment do you have in this crazed fandom?  I honestly don’t know.  There is an emotional numbness that seems to come from watching three Super Bowl losses.  I hope I never become apathetic…but I think I will be taking a break from the game for a while.

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