A dark wet Monday morning with storm grunge littering the waterfront, but still an afterglow infiltrated the gray — the Bill’s win over the Chiefs. I am only a casual fan but even I felt better waking up with the memory of that last minute, literally, interception that sealed the win.
The psychological ebb and flow of a team’s successes and failures through a community is a real thing. I had just moved to Buffalo the last time the Sabres were in the Stanley Cup Finals. Only once, back in high school, had I ever been to a hockey game, and I hadn’t even heard of the Sabres. Everywhere signs, cheers, and chants were painted and chalked on the streets and sidewalks.
The air itself was electric with high expectations before the needle of loss popped the happiness bubble of Lord Stanley’s hope. Then it was back to a morose “Wide Right” mentality of gloom and doom. The then Buffalo Bills were in the midst of the longest playoff drought in NFL history, which to my amazement, the citizenry seemed to care more about than the rust belt economy which had been drying out for decades. Happily, a renaissance has since arrived in Buffalo.
That the little old city on the lake had an NFL team was bewildering to me. I would rather have had the NBA Buffalo Braves, now the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. It seemed emblematic that the city’s basketball franchise, a potential powerhouse, was sold and moved in 1978 just as something was letting the air out of manufacturing and steel. Three lost Super Bowls later, followed by years and years of failed football teams, the Sabres in the Finals was a Mickey Finn that made everyone in Buffalo forget its own demise. The presence of sports teams can be that kind of influence.
According to Dr. Susan Whitbourne in Psychology Today, social psychologists have coined two monikers for different fan patterns: Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cut Off Reflected Failure (CORFing). “True Fans” resist the CORFing that “Fickle Fans” fall into with a loss. True Fans hold onto faith and hope and continue to identify with their team, sometimes even moreso in defeat, while the mere Fickle Fan CORFs — creates a little emotional distance for themselves. But all manner of fans BIRG as I experienced this past Monday.
However there is also the phenomenon of ingroup-outgroup bias. The True Fan will be so passionate about their team that they fail to see how a True Fan of a rival team exhibits the exact same characteristics they do. These opposing fans may in fact be a perfect match for friendship because they share the True Fan personality. Yet because the opposing Fan backs a different team the True Fan ascribes all manner of negative qualities and false beliefs to them. It can even descend to a level of hatred.
Doesn’t this sports psychology window into fandom fairly describe what has happened to our politics, locally and nationally? The whole Red/Blue dichotomy, refusal to vote a split-ticket, and blind hatred toward “the other” is cheered on and encouraged by the franchise owners on both sides. I know liberals and conservatives who wouldn’t be caught dead caring about sports, but nonetheless exhibit the same characteristics in their politics. A little detachment might help us all.