What it means to be a fan of crappy teams.

One word: Masochist.

I must be one to be a fan of the following teams: Carolina Panthers / Charlotte Bobcats / Seattle Mariners. To say that these teams have seen some tough times of late would be a colossal understatement.

Between watching the 2010 Panthers and the 2010 Mariners, I think I literally forgot what it was like for a team to score points. That Panthers offense under teh Jimmeh (seen here pooping a helmet), was laughably bad. They were outscored by a franchise worst 252 points, only able to muster up 12.2 points per game, and finished dead last in every single offensive category that matters. The 2010 Mariners didn’t fare any better, as they only scored 3.17 runs per game, worst for any AL team in the history of ever. Okay, not quite that bad, but in the modern era, it’s tough to find a worse offense than those Mariners. Felix Hernandez (seen here being perfect) won a Cy Young despite this, because of course he can, he’s the King.

And don’t think that historical ineptitude stops at those two teams. Let me introduce the 2011 Charlotte Bobcats, who managed to only win 7 games in a season. Granted, it was a strike shortened season, but the winning percentage they posted (7-59 for just over 10 percent) was the worst ever by an NBA team. Oddly enough, these Bobcats happen to offer me the best hope as a fan, coming out to a blistering hot 4-4 start to this young 2012 season.

The Panthers 2012 season hasn’t had as much to cheer for. After a surprising  6-10 finish in 2011 behind a historical rookie campaign from one Cam Newton, expectations for this Panther team were high. Those expectations were whipped into a frenzy during the preseason, when captain Ryan Kalil took out a newspaper ad claiming this team was ready for the Super Bowl, and told fans to climb on board for a wild ride. Well, Mr. Overeager Kalil, it has been a wild ride, alright. Just not in the way you, or I, could have envisioned. The team has stumbled out of the gates, and has found ways to lose game after game, completely regressing on the offensive side of the ball to the point where I’m questioning if it’s not 2010 again. That you wearing the #1 Jimmeh? Since 2009, the Panthers have been the worst team in the NFL. Sadness.

The Mariners, luckily for my spirits, are in the offseason. I’m not sure I could follow these three teams at once without some serious damage to my psyche. Their offense remains without bite, yet they found a way to win often enough this past season to give me hope for the future. Hope that I’m sure will promptly be bashed upside the head, stripped, and left for dead in a back alley with only stray cats for company. See? See what rooting for these teams has done to my optimism?

And yet, I remain a fiercely loyal fan. There are those in my place of work who see me decked out in Panthers gear and relish the opportunity to throw uninspired jabs my way. I’ve taken to responding with the “Superman S reveal” that Cam Newton used to do, back when he scored touchdowns. Bring it on, suckas! If I can willingly watch Jimmy Clausen drop back during a pro sporting event that counts, and try to throw the ball at a teammate in some haphazard attempt to be productive, I can take on any sort of verbal abuse from coworkers.

Because of this battle tested thick skin, I am able to sit through losses of the worst variety. Take, for instance, this past Sunday. I wake up just in time to catch the 4th quarter of the Bucs/Panthers game. I flip on the game as the Panthers go up 21-10 with less than half a quarter to play. Years of fandom have told me to avoid relaxing, however. I then sit still, without movement or emotion, as the game unfurls in front of me. Bucs drive, get a FG. 4 minutes left. Panthers come out and play soft, protecting the lead. The plays the Panthers brass decides to run seem to say “Eff you and your fandom, Joe, eff it right in the A” as they quickly face 4th down and are forced to punt. I’m nervous. One completed pass from the Bucs offense. Then a penalty. Then another pass. Then….a touchdown. Only a two point game. Can still stop them! But the Panthers don’t and overtime is forced. The Bucs proceed to win the coin toss, taking the ball and marching downfield until the eventual game winning touchdown to the corpse formally known as Dallas Clark. No, you didn’t just time travel to 2007, that is indeed the one and only Dallas Clark scoring a game winning touchdown against a live defense.

Ugh.

As the familiar feeling of disappointment settles in, I comb through the wreckage of the box score to find something, anything to give me hope. It is there that I see a rookie like Kuechly playing out of his mind. It’s there that I see a beast of a man in Thomas Davis rack up 16 tackles after 3 season ending knee surgeries in a row.

These glimpses of positivity are what give me comfort. Finding the areas of a team to get excited about. Youth and improvement are what keep me tuning in. I find the same applies to the Bobcats. Kemba Walker is playing out of his mind as of late, dropping in game winners like it’s his job. A rookie in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who plays like Gerald Wallace, wild and sometimes out of control, but always entertaining. The Mariners are always worth watching with Felix on the mound, and then there’s this youth movement that I SWEAR is just a year away from figuring it out. Although I’ve said that for 3+ years now.

That is what is means to be a sports fan. To align oneself with unwavering loyalty to a team, laughing at logic and reason, turning a deaf ear to discouragement, and being born anew with foolish optimism every kickoff, tip off, and first pitch. To be a fan of a team that has struggled mightily, watching as the gears get set in motion, as the entire organizations philosophy gains traction, watching those close losses turn into close wins, to rip success from the cusp of failure, to ultimately root for a champion….that is what I, and the others like me, hope for.

As bitter as losing can be, it just makes those wins that much sweeter.

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