Commentary

Abandon ship!

Sure, you can blow off your team -- but you better have a really good reason

Updated: September 9, 2009, 10:26 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Denver Broncos FansDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDenver fans have a lot to complain about. But that doesn't mean they can ditch the Broncos.

As you know, operators are standing by here to solve all your sports questions, up to and including whether Joe Paterno voted for Lincoln.

Here's today's:

Dear Rick,
I was hoping you could settle a moral dilemma I am having. I have been a Broncos fan since the early '90s. I still think Mike Shanahan is a genius, and have always disliked anything stemming from the Belichick tree. I was also a big Jay Cutler fan. At what point does it become OK to disown a team when you feel they are no longer headed in the right direction? Can you be considered a fair-weather fan if you root for the Bears? -- Amery Curtis, San Diego

Dear Amery,

No, you would not be a fair-weather fan.

You wouldn't be any kind of fan. You'd be the kind of hairball that hairballs cough up. You would be lower than the crawl space under a flounder's basement.

You can't just bolt your team because you think it's going to suck. (Which the Broncos are. There is no debating that. They are going to lose more than France. Just because you worked under Bill Belichick and you wear your sweatshirt like Bill Belichick does not mean you are Bill Belichick.)

Your team is like your dog. You cannot just leave it because it's getting a limp and stares at the tennis ball you just threw.

You cannot just disown your team because it's going to start getting beaten like Denny's eggs.

Or because it signed somebody you hate or traded somebody you love.

The Darwin Rule allows you to escape, free of charge. That's why 10 of the 22 declared NFL fan free agents at fan-free-agency.com are ex-Lions fans.

Nor can you just up and bounce because you married Matthew Stafford's sister.

Or because you got transferred to another city.

Or because your team went 0–16 or couldn't beat a group of Lutheran ministers or has an owner who wears bad bow ties and wouldn't know a coffin corner from a coffee can.

Nor can you leave because your boys got caught cheating. In fact, you should feel shame. Their insecurity in trying to hang on to your fickle fandom caused them to cheat in the first place.

Your team is not a girlfriend. You are with it through thick and thin. Or, in the case of the Pittsburgh Pirates, through thin and thin. You must buck up and take the Ortons with the Cutlers. In sum: Grow a pair.

In fact, there are only 10 Officially Sanctioned Reasons You Can Abandon Your Lifelong Team for Another. There are these and only these. Everybody else needs to just drink their beer and shut up:

1. You actually play for that new team. In this case, you must still wear the cup of your old team during games.

2. You purchased that new team. However, you must have had a damn good reason for purchasing a rival. Michael Jordan can buy a piece of the Charlotte Bobcats because the Charlotte Bobcats can't win if locked in a gym with three pygmies. But if Jordan bought the Detroit Pistons? Bonfires of Air Jordans everywhere.

3. Your team hired male cheerleaders.

4. Your town's law enforcement permanently banned you from coming within 500 feet of your team's players, staff or stadium. Sure, sure, we know it was all a big misunderstanding. You were parked outside Peyton Manning's house with a telescope and three months of detailed charts because you are his personal astrologist.

5. Your spouse cheated on you with somebody from your team. With a starter, not some backup, coach or crappy PR intern. And you had to find out by some stomach-turning means, such as skywriting.

6. Your team is approaching its 50th year of one-family ownership and still hasn't won diddly. This is known as The Darwin Rule and allows you to escape, free of charge. Good example: The Fords of Detroit. No wonder 10 of the 22 declared NFL fan free agents at Fan-Free-Agency.com are ex-Lions fans.

Rule 6b. Your owner still wears Members Only jackets. His initials are Al Davis.

7. Your team's home games are no longer televised. You are free to go, Jags fans.

8. Your team folded or left town. In this case, you are automatically an unrestricted fan free agent and can immediately put yourself up for bid. A writer named Scott Soshnick did this recently with every big-four franchise. Only nine wrote back. But one -- the Golden State Warriors -- had 28 employees send him we-want-you e-mails, mailed him a jersey with his name on it, sent a DVD with rookies wearing that jersey, signed him to a $1 lifetime contract and wrote a mock press release announcing a new fan acquisition.

9. Your team changed its uniforms to teal.

10. Your team is the Cubs. Seriously. Go already.


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