By Rob Ficiur
On October 31, 2015 we were in Calgary. There was excitement in the Halloween air as the Saskatchewan Roughriders were visiting the Stampeders for a Saturday afternoon football game. The weather was a balmy six degrees, a perfect day for autumn football. Roughrider fans, dressed in their various green costumes were everywhere that morning. Rider pride was evident even though the team from the east had a 2-15 record so far that year. Somehow those in green knew or hoped that their underdogs could still beat the 13-4 Stampeders.
Our travels that day took us by McMahon stadium several times while the game was being played. As we ate lunch the Stampeder fans in the restaurant were impressed as their team lead 16-3 at the end of the first quarter. By half time the game was all but over with the Stampeders leading the Roughriders 29-10.
During the half time break we were driving west on 16th avenue past the football stadium where we saw the unspeakable. Two solitary fans dressed in Green Roughrider gear were walking near the stadium. Their dejected posture and pace told me that these two did not want to sit through another lopsided defeat for their team.
These normally loyal Rider fans had apparently given up on their team. A season of with many lopsided losses told these Green fans that it was time to leave the stadium; time to give up on their team for that game. On that day the Rider fans left at a good time. Calgary went on to win the game 42-19; there was no miracle come from the last place team over the first place contender.
When should fans give up on their team? Fans’ loyalties often make them want to hang on to hope until the last possible minute; and maybe a little bit longer. Comebacks do occur. Many fan(atic)s are so invested in their teams that leaving too early seems disloyal.
Miracle comebacks do occur once in a while. In 1982, Jerry Buss the owner of the Los Angeles Kings left a playoff game at the end of the second period when his team was down 5-0 to the Edmonton Oilers. While the Kings made the biggest comeback in NHL playoff history in the third period, the owner was racing back to the stadium to see the game of a life time that he was missing. As owner of the team Buss would have been re-admitted to the game had he got back there in time. Regular fans are not so lucky.
In 2013 hundreds of Miami Heat fans left Game #6 of the final to beat the rush. Their team was down by five points with less than thirty seconds to go. These loyal fans did not want to see the San Antonio Spurs claim the NBA championship. Somehow the Heat came back and forced overtime. When the now loyal fans returned on mass to the cheer on their team in overtime, the doors were locked. The stadium’s strict no reentry policy was enforced. Pound as they did on the doors the only consolation these fans had was they made the news as fans who left too early.
There are times fans need to give up on their team’s season as well. This week loyal Alberta hockey fans find their Flames and Oilers ten and fifteen points out of a playoff spot with 25 and 20 games to play respectively. Mathematically both teams could make the playoffs, but experienced fans know that those numbers tell us there will be no playoff hockey in Alberta this spring.
As fans give up on this year they can turn the standings upside down and begin reverse cheering. Once loyal fans give up on their team’s season they turn the standings upside down. The Oilers are now first (actually 30th) in the NHL and the Flames are sixth (actually 24th) in league reverse standings. If the Oilers continue their losing ways they have the best chance of the first overall draft pick (again) this year. Flames fans are only five points ahead of the Oilers.
Reverse cheering is critical at this time of the season for loyal fans. The traded deadline is a chance for the team to make changes that will better their future (and worsen their team this year). Calgary has four veteran players who will be free agents on July 1; Edmonton has two. Teams that think they could make the playoffs this year pay high draft picks for average players at trade deadline time. Last year the Buffalo Sabres traded five NHL players for future draft picks at deadline time. Predictably the Sabres fell to last place overall winning the chance to draft future star Jack Eichel.
Giving up on your team at the end of the season is a show of loyalty. You want the best (draft picks) for your team as they move into a new a brighter future (fans hope).