Monday, February 20

Francis' teams

Well, I can't let Figgs have all the fun, right? After reading his epic favorite teams post I felt like a Negative Nellie with my earlierpiece blasting most of the NFL's member clubs. Thus, I'm going to follow suit, though my rules are a bit different. I'm keeping Figgs' rule #3 (having the picks reflect my current opinion) but changing #2 to combine collegiate programs into an institution-wide score. I'm also eschewing #1 ("no NHL") and broadening the scope even further beyond the strictures of the Big Four North American sports, while still keeping individual sports sidelined. Don't worry, though: no soccer.

I also decided only to include franchises and institutions that are still active, hence the omission of the Ohio Glory, a WLAF team that played in Ohio Stadium for one season (1992) and won one game. My Dad and I absolutely had season tickets and were there in our section filled entirely with drunk bikers to watch the Glory send the Frankfurt Galaxy limping back to Prussia.

I've also decided not to set any quotas or limits - I'm just going to name teams until I stop caring. Like Figgs, I'll open with my most hated, but I'm going shortlist here and naming only three. There are more than three teams that I hate, for sure, but these are the only three that instantly instill me with a visceral sense of hatred whenever I see or think about them. Consider: this club is so exclusive that the Yankees, Red Sox, Ravens, Red Wings, and Bulls couldn't crack it:

3) Miami Heat
Fuck these guys, seriously. How could you root for this soullessly- and brainlessly-contrived joke of a team and their traitorous, egomaniacal small forward? Everything about this team oozes tackiness and patheticity. "El Heat." Those weird pink shorts they wore recently. Their fans who can't fill up half a stadium before opening tip for a playoff game. And that fucking dance party. That

2) michigan wolverines
Hey Figgs, look, they have a #2 beside their name!
This is the only team on the planet, by the way, that fills me with a complete distaste for an entire state. I've been to said state twice and it really did suck that much, other than JHH and I blockading idiot drivers from zooming past a traffic jam on the shoulder. The weasels with teeth might have gotten one from the Bucks in the Flat House this year, but that shit's ending real quick and they never beat us in hoops anymore. And Can't-Tie's horrible eating thing during The Game this past season is way up there in the pantheon of fucking dumb ideas anyone ever had ever.

1) pittsburgh steelers
I find myself having to defend my steeler hate occasionally, and I don't think I should have to. Isn't it enough that my favorite football team's rival has beaten my team like 76 straight times and that their hillbilly fans get to watch Super Bowl after Super Bowl and still whine about their fate? Is it enough that I lived there for eight years and had to listen to idiotic steeler fans implore me to "go home, fucking Browns fan." I'm home now - you happy? I'm inwardly contemptuous but I never yell at or harangue steeler fans when they infest Cleveland because I'm better than that.

While I'm here, there's a tendency to equivocate steeler and Browns fans that I don't agree with because the situation isn't truly symmetrical. Yes, we're both fans of storied NFL franchises in Rust Belt cities, and for sure there are Browns fans every bit as obnoxious as the steelers fans I've encountered. I see it on gamedays down near the stadium and it disappoints me. But that doesn't make the two sides the same. Pittsburgh has way more redneck, toothless fans than Cleveland, and, more importantly, WAY more bandwagon fans, the worst kind of fans in the world.

Now, as promised, back to the good part:

23) Columbus Blue Jackets
This right here is the absolute minimum a club has to do to make this particular list. They are in Ohio, and...that's basically it. Might this be the most inept franchise in all of the North American sports? Twelve seasons, one playoff appearance (they got swept)...wait, am I talking about the BJ's or the Browns? Regardless, there isn't much tethering me to this club other than some vague sense of Ohio solidarity. Put it this way: Pens-Jackets and Tartans-Spartans are the only situations where I'll pull for a non-Ohio club over an Ohio one.

22) GrafTech Dodgeball
I've captained and played for a ton of our hapless Corporate Challenge teams, but this is the only one I've been on that's claimed first place so far, notching an Independent Division win in 2009. Not only was the win itself satisfying, but it was great to knock off State Industrial Products, the single biggest group of cheaters I have ever seen in my entire life. Fuck you guys.

21) Dallas Mavericks
Do I even need to explain why this team is on the list?

20) Philadelphia Eagles
I know, I know, they have an obnoxious fan base. But I was a proud member of the New Philadelphia Eagles during the 1989 and 1990 seasons (combined record: 4-9-1), teaming up with JHH that second year and departing just before the idiots in charge of the league changed the club to the Steelers (who promptly won the league in 1991 behind future OSU star and NFL'er Cie Grant). So I liked the Eagles from that point, plus Randall Cunningham is my favorite NFL player ever (sorry, Hanford Dixon) and I like both Andy Reid's hat and given name.

19) New York Mets
When I was a kid in 1986, my Dad decided to teach me baseball, and did so via a random Mets game on ESPN where the New Yorkers did basically everything you would need to show to a youngster - double plays, grand slams, you name it - and I decided I liked them. Plus they won the title that year and six-year-old Francis was cool with that. It didn't hurt that I had a little book of sports stars with Doc Gooden in it, plus Gary Carter (much respect to the late Kid) was my catching hero when I started playing. Now I like them basically because their fans are New Yorkers who hate the Yankees, and I'm good with that.

18) Cincinnati Bengals
Yes, they're a divisional rival of the Browns, but they aren't that divisional rival, or that divisional rival. Plus my Dad is a Bengals fan and I liked the Ickey Shuffle.

17) Toronto Maple Leaves
My backup NHL team, in those rare instances where such a thing is warranted. Back when the Penguins were horrible but I wanted to maintain a rooting interest in the NHL Playoffs, I backed the Maple Leaves despite my refusal to spell it their way. Sharp sweaters, a city that's nearby and that I've enjoyed visiting, my good grad school buddy and Canadian McD was a fan, and I like the idea of supporting any Canadian team in hockey. OK, maybe not Montreal.

16) Milwaukee Brewers
I went to a couple of the Brew Crew's games when visiting Milwaukee this summer and loved it. I like any ballpark that puts that much emphasis on Pabst and sausages (they had an excellent veggie one) and the fans had a great attitude. My only quibble with the franchise, and I know I've mentioned this before, is what they've done to Barney Brewer. He used to slide into a big mug of beer, which is fantastic, but now he just slides down onto a landing, which is not even the slightest bit fantastic. Milwaukee Management, I'm imploring you - have Barney start sliding into a beer mug again. Put "Miller" on the side of it - I don't care. Make this happen.

15) India National Cricket Team
Interestingly, I've hardly seen any actual cricket - my knowledge of the game comes from reading, following online scores, and playing occasionally. It's not my favorite game, but I like to follow the World Cup events and enjoy the mathematics of a good chase. India was an easy choice - I learned the game from Indians and the US is at best a minnow in the worldwide game. Since I picked up the team, India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup championship (their first since 1983) and are also the reigning Test champions. Dominate.

14) Purdue Boilermakers
John Hawkins! Other than them routinely spoiling Buckeye football seasons and doing that inane "Boiler Up" chant, I very much enjoy the Boilermakers. Cool unis, solid academic school, and home of the prestigious Journal and Courier newspaper.

13) Green Bay Packers
See #21. Also, my esteemed brother-in-law and mercenary football supporter is currently a Packer Backer and my niece and nephew are likely to be steered that way, so...Go Pack, unless they're playing the Browns.

12) Cincinnati Reds
As Figgs pointed out earlier, no matter what MLB will have you believe, no one here really considers the Reds a rival of the Indians. We just don't. We'd much rather play the Buccos every year, and like with the Bengals there's some Ohio solidarity there. Plus, my Pops was/is a Redlegs fan and it's cool that the first professional Base Ball Club was in Ohio, albeit a part of Ohio indistinguishable from Kentucky.

11) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 2000s were an absolutely perfect second team to have in my stable of rooting interests. Most of you are aware how tricky sports bigamy can be, but the hapless Buccos made it trivially easy. First off, they are in the NL, and baseball's sharper divide between leagues meant they rarely played my actual team, the Tribe. Second, they were perpetually bad, so they never posed any serious threat to a team of mine. Third, that badness meant it was easy to be extremely casual about them. I'd keep the game on TV when I studied or whatever and if they won cool and if they lost, no biggie. Fourth, they played in beautiful PNC Park, which, thanks to the above-mentioned ineptitude, was always cheap and usually mostly empty. Perfect.

10) University of Pittsburgh
My longtime neighbor right down the street was a great complement to the Buckeyes while I was a Steel City resident. The football program had some decent years and gave me an excuse to go to Heinz Field for something other than judging a science fair. Plus, I was there during the Larry Fitzgerald era. Their basketball team has been a model of consistency under Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon. Well, except for this year. I remember when the Panthers promoted Dixon and people just howled about what a terrible move it was. All Dixon has done is set the NCAA record for most W's in a coach's first six seasons, win the Naismith Coach of the Year Award in 2009, lead Pitt to eight straight NCAA Tournaments, and win four Big East tournaments.

9) Carnegie Mellon University Tartans
D3, baby! I'll have you know that the mighty football Tartans (a tartan is a type of plaid, our official school colors - the teams wear maroon) went 30 years without posting a losing record and smacked Notre Dame around 19-0 in 1922. We also participate in a number of other varsity sports...must find content...oh yeah, we're boss at swimming.

8) New Philadelphia Fighting Quakers
Of course I still root for my high school alma mater with the oxymoronic name! I had some great times repping New Phila in limited (and usually JV) action, and our red and black color scheme is still tight. Plus, and I can't be too clear about this: fuck Dover, aka the michigan of Ohio. To this day, when I hear "Rock and Roll Part 2," I still in my mind hear a cheer of "Dover sucks!"in the space right after "hey!"

7) Lake Erie Monsters and Lake County Captains
I like me some local minor league sports, that's for sure - I even own some Monsters garb, a key step in any sports fandom. What's not to like - it's hockey only one step down from the NHL, tickets are comically cheap, seats are good, and it's in the Q, a topnotch venue. Love it. I don't know why I don't go more, to be honest. The Captains are a little farther out, but also a great time, particularly on $1 beer Mondays. Yes, you hear that right. Some friends of mine convinced Captain management (the Captain, maybe?) to let them buy one season ticket and parlay that into a bunch of seats for every Monday game. Remarkable. They also won the area's most recent title, claiming the Class A Midwest League Championship in 2010.

6) Cleveland State Vikings, Ohio Bobcats, Akron Zips, and Kent State Golden Flashes
Quick - guess what state I'm from! A friend and I were joking recently about the 2012 Doomsday (which I'm obviously petrified about - did the Mayan calendar predict the future irrelevancy of their civilization too?) and he mentioned that in a post-apocalyptic world he could seek refuge in the mountains of Colorado with some rugged family members. I say: I'm going down with Ohio. Survival is fun and all, but who wants to live in a world with no Ohio?

With that said, I obviously back any representative from the Buckeye state to the hilt, and these are some of the highlights. Not that I don't pull for Xavier, UC, Dayton, Toledo, and the rest (except, perhaps, Miami), but these I have a relatively serious interest in. C-State is right next door to me and their bball games are a blast. My Mama is an Ohio grad, Bucko and my sister both went to Akron (I spent as much time on that campus moving furniture as either of them did working towards a degree), and I spent many a ridiculous night at KSU ("The Row") with Milkey and JHH. Yay college!

5) Pittsburgh Penguins
If I had published this list in 2001, the Pens would have taken the top spot, and that's no joke. I was a borderline-obsessive Penguin fan back then - the sport was new and thrilling to me and Pittsburgh was contending after the return of Mario Lemieux. I wore my jersey like a little kid who gets an article of clothing he likes and insists on wearing it every day. I had half-season tickets for two years, during both of which Pittsburgh was the absolute worst team in the NHL. Solid. Lots of good memories from attending those games though, including my annual birthday game where I would call ahead to get my name on the Jumbotron.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are a really interesting case - they've always been my favorite hoops team but for some reason have no legitimate shot to advance past the #4 spot here. Even when we had that one small forward and were contending for NBA Championships, they still took a backseat in my mind to mediocre Browns and Indians clubs. That's not to say I don't have a lot of great memories from those playoff runs in the '00s and the late '80's-early'90's squads with Daugherty, Nance, and my all-time favorite basketballer, Mark Price. One of my fondest early memories of sports game attendance was the PA blaring "The Final Countdown" imploring the Cavs in the fourth quarter.

3) Ohio State Buckeyes
Probably the longest-tenured club on this list, thanks to Dad taking me to Ohio Stadium as a youngster. I can't imagine being anything other than a Buckeye fan - it's amazing the way OSU fandom has this sort of Pan-Ohio support that no pro team has the capacity to match. The past decade has been a golden era for Ohio State's major athletic teams and I can only hope it continues for another decade or more. As far as traditions go, no one on this list tops The Ohio State University.

2) Cleveland Browns
Why I should stick my neck out for you is far beyond my capacity! Admittedly, the Browns haven't given us anything much to cheer about for the last 16 years or so, but I'm a die-hard. The NFL game is so compelling now, and this has been my team for so long, that I'm all in every year, 4-12 though that year is likely to be. I read a profile of a local where they asked him about his favorite sports teams and he said "the Cleveland sports teams broke my heart so many times that I just gave up." Fuck you, then - we don't need you aboard. One day, the Browns will return to prominence, and it's going to be awesome - until then, I'm tuning in every Sunday.

1) Cleveland Indians
My #1 might not have been as immediately apparent as what Figgs' was going to be, but it wasn't a difficult choice at all. The Tribe is the club I've had the longest and deepest relationship with, and with the exception of OSU's National Championship in 2002, the one that's experienced the most success.

The first season of Indians baseball I ever watched was 1987, the infamous "Indian Uprising" year when they were featured on the cover of SI and proceeded to lose about 200 games. I didn't care. I loved the team - Snyder, Jacoby, Fermin, Tabler, Swindell, Candiotti - and by 1990 I was listening to Herb Score's broadcasts and copying every day's box score into a little notebook I had. I still remember my first trip to Municipal Stadium and I think one of my parents still has that souvenir (Beach Towel Day!) I have some great memoreis of some really bad teams.

And of course then stuff got real in the '90's when the Tribe moved to Jacobs Field and just started firebombing the AL. No, they didn't win the Series, but that was a great run of baseball from 1994-2001. I think we'll always look back fondly on the 1995 team especially, and I won't forget my first trip to the Tribe's brand new palace of baseball.

MLB's economic realities have set in for the most recent decade of Tribe baseball, and we pretty much accept a good year out of every few, but the team is still #1 for me. It's the one we have the most fun with too - from Opening Day to Tribe Weekend to any other time I get out to the park or listen to Tom Hamilton on the radio, the Tribe is my team.

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