Three years back, I codified my love for the Colorado Avalanche with a purchase of a ten-game ticket pack. We had just come off our first playoff appearance in five years, Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie season had been sizzling, and only the work of noted asshat Matt Cooke had kept us from advancing out of the first round. (He had intentionally torpedoed Tyson Barrie’s knee midway through the series, knocking him out for the remainder of the season. This wasn’t the only factor in what I saw as a premature exit but this is a blog about fandom so that’s my story and I’m sticking with it, okay?) In any event, the Avs seemed to be on the precipice of a deep playoff run and a shot at Stanley Cup glory that had eluded us since the days when people were stockpiling canned food and toilet paper because digital clocks turning from 1999 to 2000 was going to destroy civilization as we knew it. Management was keen to capitalize on this, and undertook a colossal outlay of two billboards in Denver that had high-contrast images of MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Duchene and the heavily tending hashtag, #AvsNewAge. I’m bitter, I know, but pro hockey billboards should outnumber weed tour offerings, even in The Mile High City.
I got two tickets at the very bottom of the corner balcony on the end that the Avs attacked twice per game. It was a terrific vantage, and the package only necessitated ramen noodles six out of seven days of the week. Things did not go as planned. Over the summer, the Avalanche traded second and sixth round picks for 86 year old Brad Stewart and then signed him to a rich two year extension before he even put on an Avs sweater. Paul Stastny, one of our only two way centers and unquestionably our best passer bolted to the Blues to play on their third line. Acrimony over Ryan O’Reilly’s contract situation hung over the team from the start of the season. Most problematically, The Can, as we call Pepsi Center, was still a great place to watch a game but seemed to have lost the atmosphere it had had when the Avs had the longest sellout league in the league, between 1995 and 2006. Where were the hecklers I remembered from my childhood that yelled obscenities about Red Wings’ mothers? What had come of the colorful chants from which my dad used to earmuff me? Denver’s population growth was unpleasantly manifest at games now, with fans from big cities outnumbering local faithful at many games. (For the record, even one Blackhawks fan is too many as far as I’m concerned.)
The team came out flat to start the season. We seldom connected more than three passes and shoddy neutral zone exits led to so many turnovers and opposing goals that I stopped counting at 20. It got to the point where anyone paying attention could predict with unseemly accuracy exactly when and how we were going to give up goals. We lost 13 of our first 17 games, so even a halfhearted late season push was never going to be enough. Matt Cooke, Chicago, and the Red Wings all made the playoffs. We didn’t. By the end of the season, going to the games had become a chore. Did I really need to bike to Pepsi Center through the beautiful 70 degree weather as I looked at a sunset over the Rockies? Couldn’t I go to the dentist or power wash my balcony instead? I think I gave three of the last four games away as gifts.
At the time, I attributed the loss of interest to our losing ways. I’m certain that if we had won more games (or if my partner hadn’t threatened to break up with me for spending so much of my teacher salary on tickets… Lexci, I’m kidding) I would have given stronger consideration to renewing my ticket package. But even after the following summer had allowed me ample time to delude myself into thinking we were going to be better the next year, I decided not to buy the tickets again. Going to the games had just become… normal. I didn’t feel anymore the butterflies that I was accustomed to getting from live sports. Normalcy didn’t seem worth paying that much for.
Early this month, I went to Wimbledon. In proper English, I attended The Championships at Wimbledon, one of the few places in the world where such a level of pretension feels at all warranted. The night before my pilgrimage to the All England Club, I had more trouble sleeping than the time I knew I was getting the new Carmen Sandiego game for Christmas. (Still in my Pantheon of top gifts ever) All the clichés you hear about Wimbledon are true. The strawberries and cream are delicious and the Pimm’s flows liberally. The grounds are perfectly manicured, with insane attention to detail. There is a conspicuous lack of marketing, unless forest green is a sponsor. Nearly everything – from the seats, to the ivy climbing up Centre Court, to the covers TV camera operators are forced to put on their machines – is green.
Despite relatively pedestrian tennis, the day lived up to my sense of expectation. It was early round play, so the competitiveness of most matches I saw left something to be desired. Taylor Fritz got a set off of Wawrinka, but succumbed easily in the fourth. Serena was typically dominant. Murray barely sweat during his match. It didn’t matter. I was at Wimbledon. As I told fellow tennis fan friends about the day, I realized that my recollection of the day seemed to undersell the joy I felt during my visit and for a couple days afterwards. Given my rather humdrum retellings of the event, I found myself pondering the source of my delight. Would the tournament feel the same way on the fifth visit? Tenth? Was my pleasure merely at the completion of some long-awaited tennis pilgrimage or will the feeling be waiting if I’m lucky enough to return someday?
I greatly admire people who buy a team’s season tickets year after year regardless of a team’s quality or past results. To an extent, I lament my rejection of normalcy and the desire to seek the new. I feel like they diminish my bona fides as a fan. By today’s standards of expected loyalty to a single team or club, I am falling short. But in another way, this pursuit broadens the range of possible experiences. In seeking novelty, we have the ability to rediscover the exhilaration we felt as children when we first caught a ball at a baseball game, saw our first buzzer beater, or witnessed our first stoppage time game winning goal.
This is a decidedly individualistic vision of fandom, and one that seems to push the communal power of sport to the fringe. But like literature or film, sport’s power also comes from its immersive properties, its ability to transport us away from the mundane, towards something fascinatingly fresh and different.