This year’s Super Bowl gives me a greater appreciation for die-hard sports fans.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Championship to advance into the big game, half my Facebook friends list came out of the woodwork and my wall exploded with “Go Steelers!” comments. They ranged from “The Terrible Towel will win again!” to “Fear the Steel Curtain!” One guy even went so far as to say that this time next week, the Steelers will be reigning NFL champions.
The funny thing is, none of these people are from Pittsburgh.
They’re all bandwagon fans; people who elect to cheer for a good team with a strong history, so they can achieve a false sense of victory and rub “their team’s” stats in your face. 95% of Steeler Nation is bandwagon, as are roughly 97% of Jimmie Johnson fans*.
As soon as Johnson and the Steelers begin to fall from fame(whenever that may be), the majority of the so-called “fans” will bail, leaving their team/driver and their remaining die-hard fans to suffer through the tough years all by themselves.
As an Atlanta Falcons follower, I cannot be considered a bandwagon fan. Growing up in Georgia, I pulled for my home team from the first time I knew about football. I was 6 years old. During my time as a fan, the Falcons have gone to just one Super Bowl, celebrated only 3 division titles, had a jailbird QB and a coward for a coach, and have celebrated exactly zero NFL championships.
Yet I remain loyal, and will until the day I die. Maybe that’s why I sympathize with Junior Nation.
At one time, Junior Nation was the biggest bandwagon fan base on the planet. Boasting the sport’s most popular driver, Junior Nation took up about half the grandstands at a NASCAR race, and made up roughly two-thirds of NASCAR nation*.
But since the recent downward spiral of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career, Junior Nation’s numbers have dwindled a bit.
Junior Nation hasn’t been able to celebrate a victory in over two years. They’ve celebrated just one victory since May 2006, and Earnhardt’s best points finish since he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 is 12th. He’s made the Chase just once with Hendrick.
But Junior Nation goes on strong. They’ve had their faith tested in recent years, yet they continue to support their driver religiously, hoping that one day he can turn it all around and get back into Victory Lane.
There are other tempting options out there, including the aforementioned Johnson and Kevin Harvick, who took over for Junior’s father when he tragically passed away in 2001. Those two drivers finished first and third in the standings respectively a year ago.
But while pulling for Johnson or Harvick might be more enjoyable, Junior Nation is not a nation of bandwagon fans anymore. Earnhardt’s remaining supporters have stayed loyal, and continue to cheer on their driver(albeit loudly, and a bit obnoxiously) every time they show up to the track.
I’m personally not a member of Junior Nation, as you have probably seen on this site, nor do I particularly care to be. But they’ve taken a lot of ribbing from fans of other drivers, like the #48, and for too long they’ve had to struggle as their beloved driver has become the laughing-stock of the sport.
Every die-hard fan base deserves to win once in awhile. Especially one that has put up with as much as Junior Nation has. That’s why, in 2011, I feel that Junior Nation deserves to be able to celebrate at least once.
And while I will continue to remain loyal to my beloved Falcons, that’s why, come Super Bowl Sunday, I will be secretly pulling for the Green Bay Packers.
*I made these stats up. But I’m sure they’re almost accurate.