In defense of the bandwagon fan

ESPN Illustration

I considered devotion to my teams in the face of heartbreak indicative of a kind of moral fortitude--whether it be leached from the country's puritanical underpinnings, or just some kind of perverse bragging rights, I know many American sports fans feel the same.

To be a diehard fan is to model the unconditional love we all seek. Those who arrive late to the party, who take interest in a team only in times of victory, have not earned those spoils.

And yet, having recently moved to South Philly, with Lincoln Financial Field less than two miles from my stoop, I can feel something stirring in me. My initial interest in the Eagles stemmed only from a desire to fit in with my community; my partner and his oldest friends are Eagles die-hards, the kind that wake up at 4 a.m. to smoke tailgate turkeys, and forge subzero wind chills in the stands. While there was no way I was ready for that kind of fandom, I was happy to join in the all-day Sunday events at friends' houses, ordering in and huddling together on the couch while they screamed at the television, and our dogs schemed to topple our stack of pizza boxes.

Then there was the matter of Carson Wentz. He wasn't supposed to be this good, and definitely not this quickly. As the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2016, expectations were high, though tempered. A graduate of North Dakota State, he lacked the glitz and swagger of the players from Big Ten schools. Even when he performed well in his rookie season, his success was downplayed -- new quarterbacks often perform well before other teams have figured out their tricks, my neighbors reminded me.

After the 2017 season, it's undeniable that Wentz is something special. Watching him play is enchanting in the same way the Olympics can be. It's Wentz's legwork in particular that stands out: remarkably light-of-foot for a man of 6-foot-5, he makes football less rough-and-tumble contact sport, more figure skater's technical program, while exuding a calm that seems to slow the clock. Though he has been out for over a month with a torn ACL, he wasn't surpassed by Russell Wilson until late in the season as the league leader for touchdown passes, and still sits in the No. 2 spot, ahead of Tom Brady.

By October I'd begun pulling out my partner's Eagles shirt before every game (and not just for the 5 percent off at the grocery store, either). I felt my proclivity toward superstitions kicking in. If the Eagles won, I wouldn't wash the shirt, fearing I'd knock loose some good juju. And the Eagles kept winning. On Monday mornings, I'd retrieve my post-win dollar coffee from Dunkin' Donuts with the rest, exchanging "Go Birds" with the guys who hang out in front of the pizza place on our block.

And then, it happened: I was on the couch in my partner's Eagles' gear, watching them take on the Cowboys, alone. The contest was irrelevant to the future of both teams, the backup to the backup quarterback is in, and with temperatures in the teens, the game was a slog, all numb hands and fumbles, but I couldn't look away. Now I'm on my stoop, the morning after the NFC championship, having lost my voice screaming at the television. I'm surveying my Crisco-coated lamppost and the garbage from last night's street revelers, discussing with my neighbor whether or not he is allowed to remove his Wentz socks between now and the Super Bowl. I say he shouldn't risk it. I've jumped on the bandwagon.

The term "bandwagon" dates back to the 1840s, though initially its meaning didn't stretch beyond the literal: a bandwagon was a horse-pulled cart, tall and ornate in its décor, that carried musicians during parades, especially in processions of a circus come to town.The phrase has since spawned related terms like "bandwagon effect" and "bandwagon voters" and rather than politicians themselves, the terms have come to reference the people, especially those who support a candidate because s/he projects an aura of success, often at the expense of rational examination of evidence or policy.

But in sports, the phrase's meaning is slightly off, in part because the ultimate goal of a sports team is (or should be) different than a politician's. For a politician, the real work begins after the campaign is won, but for athletes, the work is winning. So bandwagon sports fans are following a team not in spite, but because of the evidence -- the wins that team has already accrued. The decision is far more informed and rational than the blind loyalty to a team we love for the sake of always having loved.

Maybe, bandwagon fandom isn't something to deride, but to try for ourselves every once in a while. Maybe more good will come from our players, teams and leagues if we make informed decisions and vote for our values on and off the field with our enthusiasm and our dollars.

This season, the Eagles made it easy. With impressive game-play alongside a strong body of philanthropic work from players like Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins and DE Chris Long the team was both fun to root for and the kind of role models that we might actually want our kids to emulate.

I can't say I'll bleed green for life, but for the moment, the Eagles have my heart, and I raise my dollar coffee in cheers to them. They've earned it.

Sara Novic is the author of the novel "Girl At War" (Random House), and an assistant professor of creative writing at Stockton University. She still loves the Mets.