For the Love of the Game

by Jonathan Gault | 4/28/13 10:00pm

The NHL playoffs start this week, which means I get to continue one of my favorite spring traditions: jumping on the Boston Bruins bandwagon. I have watched about two and a half NHL games this season and one of those didn't involve the Bruins, so to call myself a die-hard would be disingenuous. Nevertheless, I plan to watch as many Bruins postseason games as possible. Jonathan, meet bandwagon.

It wasn't always like this. I didn't maintain an interest in the sport past the brief snippets of highlights they showed on SportsCenter or ESPNews until the spring of 2006. If you recall, the year before, the NHL decided to cancel the entire season due to a lockout. With the NHL now back and, supposedly, better than ever, I decided to tune in for the Stanley Cup Finals.

I was presented with a treat. Though the series was hardly a historic matchup, with the Carolina Hurricanes playing against the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers, the on-ice action was second to none. It started off with a game one that had everything, including a comeback from a three-goal deficit, the first penalty shot goal in Stanley Cup Finals history and an injury to a goaltender. By the time Carolina had defeated Edmonton, 5-4, I was hooked. The Hurricanes ended up winning the series in seven games and I resolved to watch as many Bruins games as possible the next year.

True to my word, I watched a ton of hockey the next year, but unfortunately, the Bruins weren't any good, finishing third to last in the Eastern Conference. The year after that, I was up to my ears in work and watched a few less games, but I still managed to carve out time for all the playoff contests.

Soon, a pattern emerged. I began watching fewer and fewer regular season games, but once the Stanley Cup playoffs began, I endeavored to watch the Bruins. I had become what I had long despised: a bandwagon fan.

To clarify, a bandwagon fan is someone who takes little to no interest in a team for most of the year, but suddenly starts supporting it once it becomes successful. I was always taught as a sports fan that bandwagon jumpers are among the lowest forms of fan, but I have recently revised my view on the matter.

While I still don't like the idea of a bandwagon fan, I am willing to accept that, in some cases, it is unavoidable. If you are away at college, bombarded by work and extracurriculars, you are going to miss a few of your team's games, especially if you don't pay for an NBA League Pass or MLB Extra Innings (Note: with only one game a week and NFL Sunday Ticket at the Collis TVs, NFL bandwagon jumpers have no excuse).

Furthermore, a sport like hockey is almost predicated on bandwagon fans. The regular season is essentially meaningless, because over half the league makes the playoffs and the last few years have proved that having home-ice advantage as a higher seed has little impact on who actually wins. I am not saying that everyone should become a bandwagon hockey fan, but am merely pointing out that it is easy to do so.

So the main rule of bandwagon jumping yes, I'm making a rule, and if you don't like it, no one is forcing you to continue reading this column is that you must accept that you are a bandwagon fan. I am a Bruins bandwagon fan; I openly admit to it. But if you find yourself saying, "Hmm, a lot of these things apply to me," then you should admit to being a bandwagon fan as well. Others will respect you more and you'll respect yourself if you're honest.

Aside from the knowledge that you're not on the bandwagon, there is another massive benefit to being what I would call a "true" fan. And that is the emotion that comes with dedicating yourself to a team. True fans enjoy an experience that is far deeper or more powerful than any bandwagon jumper could realize. Highs are higher and lows are lower. Put simply, you get out what you put in.

If you start rooting for a team and it immediately wins the championship, it feels great, yet the experience lacks emotional depth. You'll enjoy that playoff run, but it probably won't stick with you 20 years later. But, if you pour your time and love into a team, you may have to endure a few weak years, or decades, if you're a Cleveland fan, but the championship is so much sweeter when it comes. It's worth the effort.