For the love of the game

Nov. 10, 2005, midnight | By Ashley Lau | 15 years, 2 months ago

Blazers take the meaning of "sports fan" to the next level

Senior Robert Hendryx's bedroom is a Dallas Cowboys haven. His white walls are plastered floor to ceiling with pictures, posters and magazine cutouts of Cowboys football players. Framed photos, autographed footballs, Dallas jerseys, hats, flags, stuffed animals and trading cards adorn every corner of the room. Off on one side, a Cowboys bobble head bobs silently to the steady ticking of - yes - Hendryx's Cowboys clock.

Calling Hendryx a "sports fan" would be a gross understatement. Try obsessive, enthralled, die-hard, never-miss-a-second, don't-come-near-me-when-my-team-loses football fanatic.

A recent study in Psychology Today calls Blazers like Hendryx "high-identifying sports fans": people who are so committed to a team that it becomes part of their identities. For them, the world of professional football is more than just a game - it's a way of life.

The birth of a fan

This lifestyle can take on many forms, with 32 different teams in the National Football League (NFL) to choose from. According to Allyce Najimy, senior associate director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, factors such as tradition, family history, geography, peer pressure and even team colors and mascots are all possible reasons for fans to devote themselves to one particular team.

Having spent most of his life in the Washington, D.C., area - the heart of Redskins territory - Hendryx never expected to become a Cowboys fan. His Cowboys obsession began about 10 years ago, when he was living in New Jersey. "My baby sitter was a Cowboys fan" Hendryx explains. "We'd always watch games and cheer for the Cowboys." A little time in front of the TV soon turned into a weekly ritual, and before long, a Cowboys fanatic was born in Hendryx.

But not all Blazers are willing to dedicate their loyalty to an out-of-state team. Junior Zahra Bah, a staunch Redskins fan, is a strong proponent of rooting for the home team. For Bah, life is all about the Redskins and has been ever since her father's love of the team rubbed off on her and her siblings, who now tune into FOX Sports every Sunday. Now, she confesses that watching Redskins games every weekend is the only way she functions.

A growing fanaticism

No matter what team Blazers devote themselves to, one thing is certain: Hysteria surrounding professional sports is a booming culture in today's society. Thanks to telecast sports games on cable networks, organized online fan bases and individual team web sites with up-to-date statistics, it's now easier than ever for fans like Hendryx and Bah to get the latest coverage of their teams and satisfy their growing addiction.

According to Eric Morse, president of the International Society for Sport Psychiatry, satellite and cable TV packages that allow fans to watch every second of every game have only fueled the obsession over professional sports teams.

Hendryx is the proud owner of one of these cable broadcast options: the "NFL Sunday Ticket," a TV package that allows viewers to watch an entire day of games on multiple channels during the 17-week regular season. On some days, Hendryx spends hours camped in front of the TV, watching two or three games in one sitting.

Sophomore Rex Griffin dedicates time every weekend to see his favorite team play, even if it means giving up other plans. "Every Sunday, we skip church and watch 'Skins games," Griffin says. "That's how we do it."

Hendryx also logs onto the Cowboys official web site daily - and sometimes hourly - to check current scores and recent stats. On the Dallas Cowboys' web site,he is able to read over the latest reviews and articles featuring his favorite players, access player bios and statistics, check recent game coverage and find everything else necessary to feed his obsession.

The two Faces of the fan

With an unprecedented amount of professional sports information available, being a super-fan can turn into a full-time job - one that costs thousands of dollars in game tickets and autographs, and one that lets emotions ride on the success of a team. According to Morse, the success of a fan's team can affect the fan on an emotional level. "It can be emotionally draining when your team loses but uplifting when they win," he says. "Sometimes, frustration or elation can cause emotions to run wild, cause mob mentality and violence, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved."

Hendryx can attest to this feeling of "living and dying" with the outcome of Cowboys games. He recalls being depressed for several days after the Cowboys lost the playoffs two years ago. These days, Hendryx gets so loud and excited during Sunday football games that he watches them upstairs to avoid disturbing his family. "I was having fits of glee," Hendryx says of a recent game that the Cowboys won. "But my family knows not to mess with me after the Cowboys lose."

Emotions invested in the game can also cause fans to become completely different people once geared into fan mode. While both Bah and sophomore Stefan Reckson, a self-proclaimed Ravens fanatic, are normally calm and reserved outside of the game, they both scream at the TV when referees make bad calls or players make mistakes. "It feels like being on an emotional roller coaster with all the ups and downs," Bah says.

Getting into the game and cheering for teams is okay until it begins to impair fans' ability to lead normal lives, says Najimy.

"When fans lose perspective and think the game can affect their life or an athlete is greater than life," Najimy says, is the point at which fan behavior is deemed excessive.

Anything for the team

Though most Blazers have not yet lost control of their normal lives to football, some would gladly do anything to show their dedication to their team.

Hendryx's new haircut is a prime example. To demonstrate his love for the Cowboys, Hendryx put his hair on the line by betting with Communication Arts Program teacher John Goldman that if the Redskins beat the Cowboys, Hendryx would shave his head. When Washington came out on top with a 14-13 win in mid-September, Hendryx readily agreed - after all, Goldman offered him the choice of either losing his hair or agreeing to wear a Redskins jersey, and according to Hendryx, the latter was unthinkable.

Hendryx's fanatic behavior spills into his room. Cluttering the sides of his television, just steps away from his Cowboys trash can, empty bags of M&Ms and old soda cans serve as a reminder of what Hendryx calls his last "binge of epic proportions" - in other words, last Sunday's game. For Hendryx, drinking Pepsi and eating M&Ms has become a ritual during his weekend Cowboys games.

For Bah and Reckson, game rituals run on a different note. Bah watches Sunday games while doing last-minute homework. "I always hope that if I finish my work before the game ends, they will win the game," Bah says. As for Reckson, simply donning his "limited-edition Ravens hat" during Ravens games is enough of a ritual to bring his team good luck and hopefully a win.

Though luck isn't always with these obsessive fans and - more often than not, their teams don't make it to the Super Bowl - these Blazers will stand by their teams. Year-in and year-out, through high-flying seasons and complete write-offs, they will repeat what Griffin proclaims: "They're going to make the playoffs this year. I guarantee it."

Ashley Lau. Born in Boston, Ashley is a huge Red Sox fan and sometimes wishes she could just live at Fenway Park. She loves to run, do tae kwon do, travel, cook, go to concerts and has a new obsession with the TV show 24. Someday Ashley … More »

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