"We" vs. "They" and The Teams We Love
Growing up in Buenos Aires near El Estadio Monumental, I rooted for River Plate, the most successful futbol franchise in Argentine history. Nicknamed Los Millionarios, it was also my Papi's team and, therefore, became mine. I wore that red stripe proudly and learned early on the tribal custom of cheering for your team and pinning all your hopes on its success.
Our biggest rival was (and is) Boca Juniors, Argentina's working, blue-collar class' club. To this day, I can't stand seeing a blue shirt with a gold stripe across the chest.
This rivalry and love for team is, I believe, primal. Our ancestors cheered when they killed a wooly mammoth or a sabre-tooth tiger; we have sports. More accurately, we have sports voyeurism, an activity that allows us to taste other's glory as if it were our own, to feel winning as if we ourselves were on the pitch. Cavemen would jump, yell, and lurch rhythmically around a kill. We don't have the same, basic opportunities to prove our manhood. So instead of huddling around a kill, we huddle around a ball. We grunt, we eat, we drink, we cheer, and it feels natural.
The Princess doesn't like sports (though she will go watch futbol live), let alone understand my obsession with my teams. She often has a sardonic smile when I say "We won!" when any teams I cheer for (Assocacion Futbol Argentino, River Plate, LA Dodgers, Kings, Lakers, UCLA, Redskins, DC United) performed well.
Because the other side of the coin is when the same squad that brought you such unbridled happiness fails you. The Red Sox just got swept by the Royals, prompting two of my Boston fans to practically abandon hope and call them "they" rather than "us". When "they" lose, we feel let down, weak and impotent. When "we" win, our passion is beyond reason. **
During the U.S.-Italy World Cup game a few weeks ago, I was in Montreal for a buddy's bachelor party. We watched the match on a big screen in a bar with hundreds of rabid soccer fans, each cheering and jeering. When the U.S. scored a goal to take a 2-1 lead, a goal that seconds later would be disallowed, our table, for lack of a better description, erupted. We high-fived, we hugged strangers, we spilled beer on ourselves.
For those 20 seconds or so, it was all we needed to feel alive.
**CORRECTION: One of these friends has since clarified that he never said "they", but rather "the ship is sinking."