Having covered football for 40 some-odd years (some odder than others) I know I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by the boorish behavior of a certain segment of fans.
But I am.
I’ll never get used to adults — using the term loosely — savaging some kid like UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton for playing a game poorly.
Even on the professional level I’m uncomfortable when fans (short for “fanatics”) revile a player like the Titans’ Vince Young after a bad day at the office.
I remember the advice of my wise old sports editor, John Bibb, many years ago: “Remember, it’s only a game.”
Football fans could take a lesson in perspective from NASCAR fans. No matter how badly things go, they stand by their man.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a classic case in point. NASCAR’s most popular driver is struggling through a nightmare season. He is winless. He’s out of title contention. It’s been a miserable year by all standards.
Magnifying that misery is the fact that Junior’s three Hendrick Motorsports teammates are all having stellar seasons. Mark Martin leads the standings, Jimmie Johnson is second and Jeff Gordon is 10th. All are championship contenders.
Junior? Junior is mired in 21st.
But the legions of Earnhardt fans haven’t turned on their driver despite the failure and frustration. At every track Junior still receives a thunderous ovation. Through thick and thin — and it doesn’t get much thinner than this season has been — the fans remain loyal.
And it’s not just because of fidelity to the name of Junior’s famous father. Race fans have a history of sticking by their favorites when they’re down on their luck.
Franklin’s Darrell Waltrip wobbled through the twilight of a once-dazzling career, struggling to keep pace with a new generation of speedsters. Yet Waltrip’s popularity never waned. If anything, DW got more cheers when he was losing than he did when he was winning.
The same goes for Sterling Marlin. The two-time Daytona 500 champion ended his full-time Cup career on a dismal note, a non-contender who lost his ride younger drivers. But Sterling never lost his fans. They cheered just as hard when he stumbled home in last place as they did when he basked in the glow of Daytona’s Victory Circle.
If Dale Jr. were a football quarterback who fumbled away the season the way Earnhardt has done this year, it would be ugly. The boo-birds and the bloggers would be merciless.
Instead, Junior’s stand and applaud. Losing hasn’t tempered their loyalty. They know that booing him won’t make him go faster.
Their driver feels wretched enough already. Making him feel worse won’t make them feel better.