Kremmling sports fan’s loyalty rewarded with trifecta of champions
June 25, 2008
As a sports fan, I have been on an incredible run in the past year and a half. When the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship, that made the third time in that time span that my favorite team won the ultimate prize for which it could compete.
Just a couple months ago, the Kansas Jayhawks won the NCAA basketball championship. In the late fall of 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals were crowned the World Series champions in Major League Baseball.
For the record, I didn’t jump on the bandwagon when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were signed by the Celtics prior to the basketball season. I have been cheering for Celtics teams since the late 1960s. I have been a St. Louis Cardinals fan since 1965, and the Jayhawks became my favorite college basketball team in the early 1970s.
I have a loyalty that runs deep. Even as a child, I found it odd when friends would change allegiances whenever a team would catch a hot streak and become a front runner. I always wanted to be known as a fan who remained faithful to a team, even when it struggled. I have favorite teams in other sports, but the three mentioned above stand head and shoulders above the rest, which has made this past year and a half all the more special. While I have followed those three teams, each has won a championship, but never in such a close time span. In fact, it was the 1980s when any of my favorite teams won the ultimate prize.
I hold my loyalty up as a badge of honor. However, as I was reflecting on the length of my alliance, I realized that in each case I actually started out as a fan of another team. And, in each case, a singular event changed my mind.
College basketball was the first sport I remember following. One of my favorite childhood memories is listening to college basketball games on the radio on a Saturday night. In the early 1960s, we listened to broadcasts of the Wichita State Shockers and their radio voice, Gus Grebe. Ralph Miller was their coach and the first player I remember rooting for was a player with the last name of Stallworth.
Wichita was 35 miles down the road and, even though we never traveled to a game, the closeness made the association a natural fit.
Somewhere along the line, I also started to root for the University of Kansas. The two teams didn’t play in the same league and they rarely squared off against each other.
It was easy to root for both teams. Television made me a convert to the team from Lawrence. I saw the Jayhawks on TV before I saw the Shockers. It was a NCAA playoff game and a team featuring Dave Robisch and Roger Brown notched an upset. I was at a friend’s house for a slumber party and I can remember vividly the little black and white television on which we watched the game. That friend is now the budget director for the state of Kansas, a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this column. Chalk it up to human interest.
The first major league baseball team I rooted for was the New York Yankees. My interest was primarily due to the fact that I had the baseball cards for Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The Yankees and the Cardinals squared off in 1964 in an epic seven-game World Series in which St. Louis prevailed. In my family, I was alone in my rooting interest for the Yankees and I remember the loss, but I don’t remember being devastated.
The next summer, our family traveled to St. Louis. It was the first major city that I had ever visited. We have a family of seven. It must have been the price of the tickets or the thought of mingling with rowdy fans, but my younger sister and I were not allowed to go to the game. She and I and my parents took a tour of a Mississippi River paddle boat instead. I was devastated. When we got back to the ballpark, the game wasn’t over so my dad and I walked around old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. I could hear the cheers from inside and I choked back tears while I prayed for a ball to be hit out of the park so maybe I could at least get a souvenir. At one exit, I caught a glimpse of the outfield and saw the greenest grass I had ever seen. It was my first glimpse into a major stadium and it was at that very instant that I became St. Louis Cardinal fan for life.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Wilt Chamberlain were my early idols in pro basketball. Wilt had played for Kansas and I had read all of the stories about the triple overtime game he and the Jayhawks had lost to Duke in the NCAA finals game. In those days, practically every televised pro basketball game featured Wilt and the 76ers against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. In those early years I rooted against Russell and I despised the coach of the Celtics, Red Auerbach.
My heart began to soften for the Celtics when I did the first book report of my life. It was on Bob Cousy, the great point guard for the Celtics. The complete conversion happened when the Celtics drafted Jo Jo White, a point guard from Kansas (can you see a pattern developing?).
I often waffle over which of those three teams is my favorite. I was probably the most nervous during the NCAA basketball tournament, but the one-and-done format lends itself to that anxiety. The Cardinals were the biggest underdog, so there wasn’t the pressure of meeting expectations. That fell on the Celtics, which finished the year with the best record in basketball. However, the opponent for the Celtics was their archrival, the Los Angeles Lakers. Of the three opponents, they were the easiest to root against.
Each of the victories had their own nuances and I enjoyed them in different ways. My wife will tell you that the victory dance I performed after the World Series win was the most remarkable so my nod will have to go to the Cardinals as my favorite, favorite team.
They are also the one I have followed the longest.
Since we live in Denver Broncos territory, many of you probably noticed that pro football is conspicuous by its absence. My first and only favorite team has been the Arizona Cardinals (they used to be the St. Louis Cardinals after starting as the Chicago Cardinals). You may not remember, but they were the Phoenix Cardinals for a brief time. If the Celtics, baseball Cardinals and Jayhawks are my “thrill of victory” the Arizona Cardinals are my “agony of defeat.”
Since the 1940s, they have won a total of one playoff game. They regularly make the list of “worst run franchise” in professional sports. I refuse to jump ship on them, however, because of that loyalty thing I have. However, if they defy all expectations and win the Super Bowl, I will know that my run as a fan is truly magical.