‘Suck for Luck': Why NFL Fans Can Root Against Their Teams

Football fanatics may have turned cynical, but they're taking their cues from team management

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These are dark days for football fans in the Sunshine State. Florida’s once feared college teams have fallen off the top 25 national rankings like so many feeble storms vanishing on hurricane radar. But nowhere is the tropical gridiron depression deeper than in Miami, where the NFL Dolphins, who haven’t won a playoff game in more than a decade, are currently 0-5 – and not even that winless record reflects just how godawful the team actually looks on the field. No wonder fans here in my new town – like fans back in my hometown, Indianapolis, where the once vaunted Colts are a just as pathetic 0-6 – are joining the sardonic new sports movement known as “Suck for Luck.”

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For those of you whose NFL teams have actually won a game this season, Suck for Luck means fans in cities like Miami and Indianapolis are actually rooting for their teams to lose every game this year so they’ll be first in line at next year’s college draft to select golden-boy Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Miami and Indianapolis are in urgent need of fresh signal-caller talent: the Dolphins have none at all, and the Colts have all but lost the legendary Peyton Manning to neck surgery. Suck for Luck has become very popular in the Magic and Circle Cities. It’s not, however, the most loyal of fan behaviors, and that’s what bothers sports writers like the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote. “I thought the bedrock fundamental of being a fan was that you wanted your team to win,” Cote understandably wrote this week. “How would you as a player or coach feel, five games into a 16-game season, to see so many of your own fans abandoning you?”

A couple decades ago I might have defended that reasoning, especially from a sports columnist I respect as much as Cote. But today my rebuttal is that we fans ourselves have too often been abandoned by our cynical pro teams not to be susceptible to cynical responses like Suck for Luck.

Allow me a supporting anecdote. Like most South Florida residents – we’re all from someplace else here – my family often finds itself caught between the football loyalties of Miami and another city, in our case Indianapolis. My teenage son, in fact, remains devoted to the Colts. It’s the team he enthusiastically believed was going undefeated in 2009 – a feat not accomplished, coincidentally, since the Miami Dolphins did it in 1972. But two days after Christmas that year, with the Colts’ record at 14-0, his uncle took him to Indy’s spanking new Lucas Oil Stadium so he could watch his favorite players … take a dive. To avoid risking injury to stars like Manning before the playoffs, Colts management decided to bench them early in the game and let the New York Jets run away with it, as Colts fans sat looking as blue as the overpriced jerseys they wore.

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Rarely has a sports team dissed its faithful that brazenly. And here’s the message my son and countless other kids took away from that day: the corporate calculations of your team’s general manager matter a heck of a lot more than your naïve expectation that overpaid players should strive the way our games are supposed to teach us to. That is, to give it their all in order to achieve something special like an undefeated season. So here’s my answer to Greg Cote: I thought the bedrock fundamental of being a pro team was that you wanted to win for your fans. How would you as a fan feel, two games away from a 16-0 season, to see your team abandon you?

Here’s another example, earlier that same season but this time in Miami. The Colts were visiting the Dolphins on a Monday night, so my son and I got tickets – at exorbitant NFL prices, of course. We started out early for the stadium; but it turned out it didn’t really matter how prompt you were that night, because the Dolphins owner held an “orange carpet” spectacle for the arrival of all his celebrity partners, including salsa star and (then) J-Lo husband Marc Anthony, which caused such a gnarled traffic jam outside Dolphin Stadium that thousands of fans like us missed most of the first quarter. When we finally did get to the very remote parking spot we were directed to, we were still charged $25.

That’s the kind of garbage not just Miami Dolphins fans but fans of so many American pro sports teams go through so they can stay “loyal” to their teams. They watch braggadocios like Miami wide receiver Brandon Marshall receive a five-year, $47.3 million contract so he can drop touchdown passes in the end zone — five so far this year, ladies and gentleman. They pay more for tickets, parking, programs, hot dogs and beer than most of them could honestly afford even before the recession – especially at obscenely expensive venues like Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas – so their kids can watch a great team like the 2009 Colts … give up? (And don’t tell me their upset Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints that year wasn’t celestial payback.)

Yes, I know that NFL franchises do positive things for their cities as well. Indianapolis became a more vibrant place during the Colts’ decade-long playoff run; Who-Dat Nation helped save New Orleans’ morale. Still, I fear their relationship with us looks increasingly like Wall Street’s relationship with us: we too often get dissed while they get more and more dough. So as much as I want to side with decent professionals like Cote and stump for fan fidelity, I can’t blame folks for joining the Suck for Luck campaign. The loyalty of pro teams to their fans disappeared well before the loyalty of fans to their pro teams ever did.

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