Last night I bought a New England Patriots shirt.
I don’t live in New England. I’ve never been a Patriots fan. Was it since birth that my professional football love was dead center in Texas? I plastered posters of the Dallas Cowboys in my childhood bedroom. I believed that Troy Aikman hung the moon and Emmitt Smith provided the rope. Yet even before Aikman, Emmitt, Michael Irvin, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, Jimmy Johnson, and Kelvin Martin, I loved Tom Landry. I worshiped Herschel Walker. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were all my girlfriends. And it mattered not to me that Herschel Walker didn’t have a Super Bowl ring or that the team was, at best, mediocre. The Dallas Cowboys — despite being a love passed down from my older brother — was my team. They were my identity.
Changes don’t happen over night.
Jerry Jones is a rich prick, but he has style and he has jokes. His handling of Tom Landry should’ve left a bad taste in my mouth, but that was a mouth that was still losing primary teeth. And I was a kid who was not too sensible to the ins and outs of a backbiting, miserable, greedy NFL manager’s office. But the Cowboys started winning after Jerry Jones. And winning. And winning. (The 90s were a lot of fun, by the way.)
Then the years passed as years tend to do.
Fast forward through the (“Dammit! Almost! Maybe next year! He’s going to get it together!”) Tony Romo years.
I despise Mississippi State, but Dak Prescott impressed me for a late fourth-round pick. And although I hate Ohio State even more than, say, LSU, I just couldn’t deny Ezekiel Elliott’s greatness. These Cowboys were going to get this together for a solid Super Bowl run, weren’t they? You know, if Jerry Jones would ever get out of the way. In what would be a shock to no one, he wouldn’t. Yet there I was: still cheering adamantly for a Mississippi State QB and Ohio State RB. Still living the dreams of that kid with the Cowboys posters on the walls.
The past ain’t even the past.
Y’all remember when we were patiently twiddling our thumbs, praying that if only we could get a vaccine, if we could only figure out a way out of it, that COVID would be over and life could go on and folks would stop getting sick, or worse, stop dying? And then there were actual people who wouldn’t get the vaccine? Most of the same people who bemoaned lockdowns and masks were the same who refused the only answer: a vaccine. Nice people, them.
Cowboys leader Dak Prescott sort of danced around being vaccinated (though it turns out, dude had been vaxxed) during a time when someone of his stature in a state like Texas really would’ve benefited the public at large by proclaiming the safety of vaccines and science. He lost me.
To bounce around in chronology: Mac Jones happened or was happening. He patiently awaited an important role at the University of Alabama; he got the starting quarterback. Mac, Najee, Malachi Moore, and the rest of the Tide had that once-in-a-lifetime sort of season where the entire world — coronavirus, lockdowns, injuries, protests, injustice, Auburn — should’ve brought them down, but they remained an undefeated team! All in the face of shit upon shit.
Back in the NFL, the unpredictable: Tom Brady leaves the fabled Patriots for a team down in Tampa Bay. And Cam Newton, the most despicable person in the NFL for a spell, gets the boot from the New England team (very different reasons than Brady, of course). Mac Jones and so many others from that amazing, undefeated Crimson Tide team get drafted. So we’re now at a window where being a Patriots fan isn’t quite a bandwagon thing any more, yet Belichick, the mentor to my favorite coach, is still in Foxborough. I’ve been a diehard Boston Celtics fan since 1980. I see nothing wrong with the Red Sox and the Bruins. All that? It tallied up to mean that it made sense now. I waited a little, but then decided it was time. I was now going to be a Patriots fan. And I ordered the shirt.
What changes with a person when he changes fandom?
That change isn’t like being born into the team, say like someone is with your Auburns or Alabamas or Michigans or Ohio States or Dukes. Instead, it’s an evolution. It sort seeps into your identity more casually.
The control of your emotions isn’t sudden. But you find yourself not giving much of a shit if your team isn’t in the playoffs. Not out of disinterest, but out of disgust. Anger. You lie to yourself and say that you’ll have the game on in the background, but end up watching it to make sure the team that ended your team’s season loses and loses big.
You change your Twitter profile picture. You get excited for any new season. It’s a fresh start, and this could be the year.
Your fashion sense adapts. What used to be a color scheme of gray and white is now silver and blue. Name one Alabama lady who doesn’t have a piece of houndstooth in her closet. You find yourself looking everywhere online, carefully in the stores: not just for a shirt, but the best one. One that fits your style. Can’t just be any team jersey. Maybe you like the plain type with just the team logo. Perhaps you prefer the names of the players on the back of the sweatshirt. One color? Or two?
There’s something, finally, to putting on that new team, something to your new sartorial choice, that will feel official. You may take a new picture of yourself and make sure that the iPhone captures the emblem just right on the chest. Puff out a little. It’s a new season, after all, and to hell with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.
Damn, I’m gonna look good in Patriots’ colors.